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Vegan Friendly: Tribute Pizza in North Park

In a tribute to love, Matt Lyons assembled his best vegan dishes into an everyday plant-based menu.

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PHOTOGRAPHY by
Kelly Bone
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There are two types of people: Those that love a specific style of pizza, and those who love supreme examples of EVERY style of pizza. Tribute Pizza—where pizza topping combinations are inspired by all the American greats—is for people who love them all.

The cavernous hall of the old North Park Post Office seemed an audacious choice for a debut restaurant. But attention to detail and a sweeping love of pizza quickly attracted customers.

On most nights, the restaurant is packed.

The interior is hardened by modern design⁠—concrete floors, wood tables tops, and soaring rafters that bounce the sounds of the open kitchen and eager diners.

The main room sprawls with a collection of booths and tables, with one mega top tucked away behind cords of white oak.

In the corner, communal bar is usually filled with guests fingering through the wine list while watching basketball or a spelling bee on ESPN.

The Food

Tribute Pizza always had vegan options sprinkled into every section of the menu, but in October, something changed.

“Ammanda and I were married. She’s vegan,” said chef-owner Matt Lyons, a vegetarian himself. “Offering a more comprehensive⁠—formal, printed⁠—menu of plant based, vegan stuff was logical. Not only to accommodate my wife, but also because it’s our restaurant now.”

Earlier this year a Vegan Menu was launched and, just like the main menu, each vegan pizza harks to an American great.

From the seemingly simple arugula and black pepper topped OG Vegan—based on Portland’s coveted Apizza Scholls—to a Hawaiian spin on Brooklyn’s Da Kine pie from Roberta’s, finished with a meta spiral of cashew ranch to stick it to Ben Adler.

While the toppings are tributes, the crust is a San Diego original.

The wood fired dough is built for crisp stability, with a rising lip crusted like fine levain loaf.  The pizza is not Neapolitan, despite the wood-fueled Renato oven, and the crumb is far too tender to ever be confused with NYC-style pies.

Like his idol, James Beard Award-winning chef, Chris Bianco—whose mod portrait looms over the dining room—Matt is following his own path.

On all levels Tribute Pizza has taken Chris’ advice to heart, “use the best ingredients possible, don’t do too much to them, and let them shine.”

What to Order

We’ve been conditioned to think of bread as free.

The House-made, award-winning sea salt focaccia ($5), served with olive oil with a floating eye of balsamic vinegar sweetened by 18 years, is a craft no one should be giving away. It is well worth the carbs even if you are ordering pizza.

A remnant of the day that Chris Bianco joined the team, the Spring into spring market salad ($14) he and Matt developed together lives on.

Bits of baby greens and castelfranco radicchio come hidden in cuts of pink lady apples and cara cara orange supremes. Spotted with sparkling rosé soaked blueberries, the salad sits atop swirls of fragrant d’anjou pear and cara cara vinaigrette.

The Market Wood Roasted Vegetables ($15) started as a vegetable version of the meat and cheese board, but over a few months, the dish was pared down to its essence: a wide bowl holding the farmers market’s best vegetables, char-studded and tenderized in the heat of California white oak.

The veg are seasoned with Icelandic sea salt and served with grilled slices of you-can-never-have-too-much focaccia.

The Super Vegan VII: [censored] ($16) is one of the few pizzas that is not a tribute to anyone.

Although vegan pizza has come leaps and bounds, there are still few worth emulating. The Super Vegan series is distilled direct from the prudent mind of Matt.

In this, the longest running iteration, purple beets are roasted to the cusp of structural stability until they melt into an intensely earthy puree, rich with natural sugars.

It comes topped with dollops of house-made almond and hazelnut ricotta and a rainbow of red onion, pickled sweet peppers, green castelvetrano olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and ribbons of fresh basil.

A candy-like crust of cashew, almond, quinoa, and local dates cradle a not too sweet 58% dark organic Columbian Vegan Chocolate Mousse Torte ($8), which comes finished with toasted marcona almonds or delicate strips of peak-season strawberries.

Pro Tip: If you can snag it, get one of the 4 seats at the bar facing into the kitchen. From there you can watch the nimble choreography of Tribute’s pizza theatre.

Visit Tribute Pizza

3077 North Park Way, North Park

tributepizza.com

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Kelly Bone
Kelly Bone is a vegan food writer, photographer, and pizza nerd. She has served as a food judge at various US festivals and is part of the Vegan in San Diego team providing resources and hosting charitable vegan events in San Diego. You can follow her work on Instagram at @KellyBone or on her blog The Veg Foodie.
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