With an accent thicker than melted mozzarella, Andy Favilla fusses about the travails of professional pizza life, a physical and metaphorical place he’s inhabited for some 40 years (and he is only 51). It’s a world where the only constant seems to be hot ovens and long hours.
The Brooklynite does everything old school, from kneading homemade dough to avoiding photo shoots to dropping some cinematically salty commentary about past run-ins with dodgy landlords, unpredictable employees, and failed side ventures — plus the story of how his wife, Jeanette, became his second in command.
When they first opened their popular West Asheville location, says Favilla, he was working every day, all day long, without break. “I was dying,” he says. “My wife came to me and said she wanted to help. She said, ‘Teach me.’ I was, like, ‘What!? You’re like 4-foot-5! You’re a midget! What can you do?!’ But then she gave me the sad eyes.’”
And, as it turns out, she could roll out a damn fine pizza. “She stood on her tippie toes, and she put it in the oven. I said, ‘My God! Make me another one!’”
The couple ran their old, rather cramped location on Patton Avenue for ten years, gathering a feverishly loyal fan base, before closing it earlier this spring (it will reopen as a takeout joint down the road in Regent Park plaza). A few years ago, they briefly tried opening a second space on Merrimon Avenue, now also closed, partly due to a bad parking situation. It wasn’t until they discovered a space for rent in the Blue Ridge Commons Plaza — on Asheville Highway in Henderson County — that Favilla knew he’d bada-bing-ed his way out of his former logistical nightmares.
Here, there’s ample parking; there’s kitchen space to make a wide array of authentic pasta dishes, something he’s wanted to do forever; and, most significantly, there’s a local crowd hungry for what he’s got to give.
At first, Favilla’s Hendersonville was going to be takeout and delivery only. But then an army of moms demanded more.
“All these families starting driving up, coming out to see what we were doing,” says Favilla. “They saw what was going to be there, and they asked about a dining room, a bigger spot. I wasn’t expecting that. But I said, ‘All right, ladies, if you come back in a few months, I’ll have a nice restaurant for you.’”
Three months after opening, the restaurant has a takeout counter, a cute eat-in space, and an enormous menu laden with delicious familiar fare, including the seafood dishes Favilla loves to prepare: Shrimp Fra Diavolo, Mussels Marinara, linguine with clam sauce, and more. The appetizer fried calamari has a light breading and comes with a side of house marinara.
Favilla also rolls out five chicken dishes, namely Marsala, Piccata, Franchese, Caccitore, and Parmesan. The antipasto salad has ten ingredients. Pizza toppings number just short of 20.
The plates are heaped with food, served at remarkably reasonable prices. Favilla’s large pizza is actually very large indeed (and that’s not even the top dog, a Sicilian 16” square affair). The fantastic Eggplant Parmesan, one of many baked pasta dinners, is two meals’ worth, with garlic rolls and salad as part of the deal. Other specials are Pasta Carbonara, Baked Ziti Sicilian with chopped eggplant, and the Favilla version of the Fettuccine Alfredo classic that adds bacon, ham, spinach, and mushrooms to the mix. The list of gourmet specialty pies is 22 pies long; standouts include the Cream of Spinach pizza with a sesame crust and The Grandma, a thin-crust Sicilian pan pizza with fresh tomatoes and basil, olive oil, and mozzarella.
Favilla hasn’t forgotten dessert; he offers everything from New York-style cheesecake down to the much lesser-known spumoni (gelato with fruits and nuts), plus a cannoli in the lineup that proved to be the ideal blend of crispy and creamy.
Service was friendly and efficient, and the Saturday-night crowd was peppered with large, laughing families. Favilla’s Hendersonville has apparently found its footing, and the chef/owner dials down his bluster on a poignant note, acknowledging what’s most important in the rollercoaster world of the Italian restaurateur.
“It’s like Elton John said — ‘Thank God my music’s still alive.’ … Thank God my food is still alive.”
Favilla’s New York Pizza, 2111 Asheville Hwy., Hendersonville, open Monday through Thursday from 11 am-9pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am-10pm. Closed Sundays. Call 828-595-9973 for more information.