Always Eat Your Crust

How musician Giustino Riccio became one of Richmond’s best pizza makers.

Giustino Riccio

Photo by Markus Schmidt

As the percussionist for Richmond’s salsa sensation Bio Ritmo, New Jersey native Giustino Riccio knows how to pound the drums. But lately, he has spent more time pounding dough at Galley Go-To, where he opened Giustino’s Pizza last fall. Riccio, 44, takes his craft as a pizza maker as serious as his musicianship – and the proof is in the pudding, err, pie. Within months, his little business has become a mecca for Richmond’s pizza aficionados. We talked to Riccio about his love for the mighty pie.  

Where did you get your passion for pizza?

I’ve been playing with Bio Ritmo since 1992 and for a lot of that time I’ve cooked for them. A lot of what I cook is pizza. I’ve always loved to cook for my friends and family. Bio Ritmo is family. I approach making pizza the same way I approach playing music. If you want to get really good at something, you have to have a passion for it, maybe bordering on obsession, so that all of the hard work almost becomes fun because you love it and need it so much. Well, a little fun and a little torture. That’s the art of it.

There’s no shortage of bad pizza in these lands. What makes a good pizza?

It depends on who you ask but since you’re asking me, it’s the dough. Pizza is bread, let’s face it. It should begin with really good bread. People have been fooled into believing that more toppings means higher quality pizza or something like that. On the contrary, more toppings usually means that they’re trying to hide something. And that something is crappy, wonder-like bread. Trust me. Let the bread be the beginning and the end. Then everything else in between will taste a lot better and life will start to make a lot more sense. Seriously though, it’s about balance in everything. Unique, high quality toppings – I hate the word toppings – and the very best dough. And please, always eat your crust.

How long did it take you to develop your craft?

I’ve been cooking for years and making pizza for about 10. I started making pizza at home but didn’t really have much practical knowledge until I started working for Andrew Wisniewski at Tastebuds on MacArthur Avenue. He’s another Jersey boy and shares a passion for good pizza and all food that’s good. He really taught me a lot and gave me plenty of opportunities to experiment in the kitchen. I worked for Andrew from 2007 until just a couple years ago. For a while after that I would only make pizza every few months for the fun of it. Then last year, I found out about this amazing opportunity to make pizza for Manny Mendez, Johnny Giavos and Chris DiLauro here at Galley and I decided to hit the woodshed. I spent about eight months making pizza almost every day, eating pizza every day. Memorizing formulas, then writing my own formulas, getting a little better at math, getting a lot better at pizza. It’s an art and a science and it turns out that I can do both, at least a little bit.

You have gas-powered ovens in your kitchen. How important are these tools?

If I weren’t using these two old, beautiful Blodgett ovens, I’d have a very different dough recipe. Honestly, from the first pizzas I baked in these ovens I started tweaking the dough recipe and overall pizza approach. I really feel like I’m starting to know these ovens just like I got to know the dough. No matter how crazy it gets in the kitchen, when the dough is just right and the ovens are firing up to their full potential, sometimes I can find some real peace back there. Sometimes.

What’s the best pizza you have ever made?   

I’m 99-percent certain it was a margherita but I’m 100-percent certain it was for my wife. Once I knew that she was impressed by my cooking I had the confidence to ask her to stick with me. She’s been a believer in me and the pizza from the beginning, and Giustino’s Pizza was actually her idea. I wouldn’t have attempted this without her and I wouldn’t be doing this now if I wasn’t the luckiest guy in the world. I must have put a lot of love in that margherita.

Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday through Sunday.

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