The men behind Kermit Pizza are about to open their first branch far from the beach, in Poblacion, Makati, and their apprehension is palpable.
Marine biologist turned restauranteur Gianni Grifoni—the Italian owner of Kermit Pizza in Siargao—is remarkably astute about the pressure that comes with setting up shop at the business district.
“Of course, people here are more critical,” he points out. “We are no longer at the beach where people are on vacation and they are relaxed. Here, the guests come in and they’re stressed out from work. They expect you to make their day better.” As if to confirm his apprehension is his business partner Eric Matic, who handles the business end of things. His wife Tin Magsaysay-Matic (of Locavore) looks over at her husband's unfinished pizza and complains, “Hay naku, he hasn’t been eating well.”
A quick scan of Kermit Manila shows that the massive loft-like space is tastefully designed to have that modern tropical-meets-industrial look that is both cool and inviting. Murals adorn the walls along with lists of food offerings. The bar downstairs invites passers-by to just walk up off the street and order a beer or icy cocktail. Upstairs, a pizza oven lords over the dining room, in front of which is a granite table top where you can watch the pizzaiolo knead dough and assemble pies. The smell of baking yeast and burnt cheese permeates the air.
While the vibe is relaxed, the look is not sloppy. This attention to detail in their aesthetic extends to the food. “Italian cooking is actually very simple,” Gianni imparts. “Just a few ingredients, but we always use the best.” Prosciutto and salami are sourced from Italy. Local tomatoes tend to be watery and bland, so they are reduced with bottled passata to get the desired flavor for the sauces. For their pastas, only Barilla and De Cecco deliver the right texture in Grifoni’s opinion.
Some dishes do require fresh pasta, and they confidently make these in-house. The tagliatelle alla tartufata is green thanks to the spinach or kale into the dough; it's cooked swiftly so the pasta stays taut. The fragrance of truffle and salty prosciutto turns it into a truly indulgent dish. Gnocchi, which can be tough and gummy in the hands of an inexperienced cook, is cooked fresh as it should be. Grifoni’s kitchen manages a good show with their pillowy dumplings drenched in a flavorful pomodoro and baked topped with gooey cheese.
Prosciutto sourced from Italy
While nothing beats a seaside view, a restaurant in the city does have its advantages. Supply is abundant and Grifoni plans on adding more meat options. Food personality Erwan Heussaff is a friend and brings in Argentine beef which, according to Grifoni, is closest in characteristics to Italian beef. Soon they will be braising osso bucco in their imported oven. For dessert, tiramisu will be served alongside their signature mango float. “My grandmother’s recipe, of course,” Grifoni smilingly shares.
Gin Basil Smash
Maintaining island prices proved to be the challenge with the obvious expense of providing creature comforts to city dwellers, such as air conditioning and actual walls, but they’re committed to keeping things friendly. Cocktails such as the Spicy Melon and Gin Basil Smash use top shelf Hendricks gin but is quite affordable at P220. While they serve Tagaytay craft beer Monkey Eagle on tap, they made sure ice cold San Miguel is also an option.
But, are the pizzas good? Yes, and probably as good as the best the city has to offer. Their dough is always made fresh and never frozen, prepped the night before and kept in palanggana-sized bowls ready for the next day’s business. Their Neapolitan-style pies are thin and chewy, topped with the guest’s protein and vegetables of choice. One tends to go to town when faced with too many options, and Grifoni and his staff are always willing to give recommendations. “Like certain pastas are good with certain sauces, pizza toppings are also about matching things together,” he explains.
As any entrepreneur facing opening day, its only appropriate for Grifoni and Matic to feel the jitters. However, Kermit offers food that is delicious under any circumstances and in any location. If there’s anything they have over the competition it’s that calming island vibe, which is something they can definitely call their own.
Kermit Manila is at 4636 Molina Street, Poblacion, Makati City.