Fanning the Flames
Jet City’s Via Tribunali shines with flair
Walk long enough in any one direction in Seattle these days and you’re bound to stumble into a pretty decent pizzeria doing brisk business. The Jet City has come a long way in the past decade in terms of its pizza offerings. And most discussions of Seattle’s top pizza end up including Via Tribunali in the mix.
Opened in 2004 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Via Tribunali has four VPN-certified Seattle locations. Founded by Michael McConnell of Caffe Vita fame, Via Tribunali is managed by a cadre of partners who are incentivized to actively operate with an ownership mentality. On our visit to the Capitol Hill location this summer, we were hosted by one such partner: Thomas Gray.
Enthusiastic about his role in the business and serious about providing customers a great dining experience, Gray says Via Tribunali’s ambiance and cuisine set it apart.
“It’s about giving people authentic Neapolitan pizza and great food,” says Gray. “It’s about pairing it with wonderful Italian wines and on-trend cocktails. People enjoy themselves when they come in here. They don’t get in a big hurry. They have a drink and enjoy the service.”
The service mentality, says Gray, is “absolutely” lost on most restaurants. “But we want the whole experience to be pleasant. That’s why there’s always a partner on the floor. Either I’m here or someone else is here. There’s a partner on the floor at all times to make sure everything is running smooth and things aren’t falling through the cracks.”
When serving up a few hundred pies a night, tight operational focus is a must. When things go well, guests don’t notice much besides the food.
“We try to pair the staffing level so that everyone is always busy,” says Gray. “The last thing you want is for someone to be standing around on their phone because they aren’t busy. That gives the diners the wrong impression.”
And with Via Tribunali, says Gray, impressions matter.
“We really focus on authenticity,” he says. “We want our fresh ingredients to be presented in a way that showcases them. When it looks perfect, there’s that wow factor.”
The Via Tribunali menu consists of 24 specialty pizzas as well as calzones, antipasto, a handful of pastas, desserts and espresso. Pizzas like the Spaccanapoli (smoked mozzarella, ricotta, olives, arugula and shaved grana padano for $16) and the Lupino (sweet coppa, Italian sausage, tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil and grana padano for $17) stand out.
“Our ingredients are what make our pizza special,” says Gray. “We don’t cut corners with them. We use fresh, quality ingredients that honor the tradition of excellence people expect of Neapolitan pizza.”
And the food is expertly paired with a substantial wine list, says Managing Partner Travis Hawkins, who oversees Via Tribunali’s wine program.
“It’s a 100-percent Italian wine list,” he says. “We keep about 100 different bottles on the list. And we try to rotate our glass pours every two to three months.”
Hawkins says Via Tribunali has also started private labeling wines that the company’s restaurants use as their house wines.
“That’s exciting and they do very well,” he says. “We have both red and white and during Happy Hour, especially, they do very well. I wouldn’t say they are our top sellers, but they certainly are way up there.” (Via Tribunali offers a $6 Happy Hour Pizza that is a big hit, too).
Hawkins says 25 to 30 percent of Via Tribunali’s checks include wine.
“We have always encouraged our customers to learn about wine and to pair it with their food,” he says.
Via Tribunali also offers a craft cocktail list that goes over particularly well during the 4 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to closing Happy Hours. From bellini to an Italian Old Fashion to the Vita Flatliner, there’s something for everyone.
“Our Vita Flatliner is pretty unique,” says Gray. “People love it. It has Frangelico, spiced rum and espresso. It’s a great drink to enjoy in the summertime after work.”
Another popular one is the Vespucci — Kentucky bourbon, grapefruit juice, Campari float and orange peel.
“It’s crisp and goes down smooth,” says Gray. “Cocktails are a big attraction here.”
JEREMY WHITE is editor-in-chief of Pizza Today.