An Evening With John Mariani at Austin's Backspace


We recently got an email from our friends at Crave Communications asking if we wanted to go to a book signing with John Mariani at Backspace. A chance to meet a renowned food writer, get a copy of his book, and get to eat some fabulous pizza, appetizers, and wine at Backspace? Hmmm let’s think about that one... Yeah, we went.

It had been a long day for me at work, so as you all can imagine this evening was just the thing I needed. Paula greets us at the door and immediately introduces us to Mr. Mariani. For those of you not familiar with him, Mr. Mariani is the food and travel correspondent for Esquire magazine as well as author of several books. His new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World, explores how Italian food went from being considered just another “ethnic” cuisine to being the highly respected and now ubiquitous cuisine that it currently is. At this point, I am about half way through the book, and it has been a fascinating read to say the least.

Not only did we get to meet a real luminary in the world of culinary writing, but we were also treated to some of the best pizza I’ve had in a very long time. The first was pretty standard — tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. The second one was a completely new experience for me. The crust was baked with a little olive oil then topped with arugula and a little cheese. I loved the simplicity. The arugula was nice and peppery and there was just enough and oil to lend a little extra. There was also a fresh cheese tray, olives, and a salad of farm greens, giardiniera, red onion, herbs, and pecorino romano. The meatballs were made from lamb and pork.

For me, that salad was one of the real stars of the evening. It was fresh, light, and a nice accompaniment to the other dishes served. And the meatballs were absolutely perfect. We also had the chance to chat with Shawn Cirkiel, chef/owner of the Backspace and Parkside. His passion for what he does was evident in the food served, and the in the fact that he knew every detail about his restaurant — from every ingredient in every dish, to the origins of the bricks enclosing his imported pizza oven. Paula, Dave and I had a great time, and as always thanks for keeping us in mind. Shawn, we look forward to coming back for a proper review!

— Mat

The Austin Food Junkies are Alex Artibee, Matt Braley and Dave Braley, "Two guys who love food, and one chef, trained at the Texas Culinary Institute." Check out their reviews of other Austin area restaurants on their blog, Austin Food Junkies.