3077 North Park Way, North Park
Tribute Pizza has been in soft opening mode for the past month or so, but this review begins about two years earlier. The setting is BLVD Market, San Diego’s premier prepared-foods monthly on El Cajon Boulevard and Utah. My girlfriend at the time and I had nibbled our way from one vendor to another before arriving at Tribute’s portable wood-fired oven, where we ended up chatting with pizzadude Matt Lyons until the pop-up came to a close.
After packing up, Matt invited us back to his nearby house to continue the conversation. There, he pulled a lump of dough from the fridge and hand-pressed a vegan pie. To accompany, he poured a few homemade sodas and we all ate and talked late into the night. We told him about our bicycle adventures, and he told us about his eight months in Nairobi opening a Neapolitan-style pizzeria. He’d since been slinging pie from the back of North Park’s Coffee & Tea Collective.
We ended up crashing on the couch, making banh mi sandwiches for lunch, going for cocktails, and crashing on the couch again. When I awoke the following morning and biked off, I was blown away at how warmly and effortlessly Matt had taken two strangers into his home, fed them, and genuinely befriended them for two evenings in a row. It’s not the kind of thing people often do.
The mystic in me likes to believe that congenial character translates into soulful cuisine, so when I saw that Matt had opened a brick-and-mortar Tribute at the modernized North Park Post Office, I jumped at the opportunity to try more. True to its name, each pie is a tribute to a specific shop or style, including an al pastor pizza inspired by Tijuana’s Tacos El Gordo.
I called in two for pick-up: the Biancoverde (mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino, fresh garlic, crushed red peppers, arugula) and Brooklyn’s Best (mozzarella, ricotta, caramelized onions, parsley, and — get this — a sesame seed crust suggestive of a New York bagel). I was not disappointed.
Cooked over fallen white oak in a 1500-pound oven, Tribute’s top-quality Central Milling flour and reverse-osmosis water make for an unbelievable dough that is pillowy yet crisp and full of bounce. It moves like memory foam and tastes like a fresh loaf of artisanal bread. I’ve never had anything quite like it.
When I went to pick up the pies, I spotted Matt across the kitchen, running around with the same serene concentration that he’d had cooking in his own home years ago. I realized all of San Diego would now have the opportunity to experience the same slice of hospitality that he’d bestowed upon two strangers many nights ago. And that’s something worth paying tribute to.