Bufalina owner Steven Dilley has mastered the art of the unexpected transition.
After moving from Austin to New York City to attend law school, he segued into a career in finance.
Ten years later he moved back to Austin, not with a juris doctorate but with an education in New York’s restaurant scene.
Dilley then began a career as a restaurateur, opening Bufalina on the near east side in 2013 and Bufalina Due on Burnet Road two years later.
“At the time I was cooking pizza, and I had kind of fallen in love with this style because it had become somewhat prevalent in New York, but it really wasn’t something that was available [in Austin],” Dilley said.
By focusing on one thing—Neapolitan pizza—Dilley hoped to manage quality and keep costs down.
“I wanted to kind of simplify my life,” Dilley said of the restaurant’s early years, when it was only open for 30 hours a week and maintained a small staff.
This approach also helped the restaurant circumvent the issue of not having a proper kitchen. Instead, the dining room shares space with a plating area, some convection burners and a wood-fired pizza oven covered in white tiles and capable of reaching temperatures of 900 degrees.
Today, Dilley oversees both restaurants as well as their robust wine programs, which focus on wines from “places that historically were maybe less heralded,” Dilley said, such as the Loire Vallery and Jura region in France, and that are more affordable.
Bufalina’s menu also includes a number of natural wines, which are made with minimal intervention and adhere to Dilley’s philosophy: “Basically as close as you could get to from-grape-to-bottle,” he said.
The original Bufalina offers a selection of more than 400 wines, a stock that has tested the limits of the restaurant’s small space and led to what a front-of-house employee calls “wine Tetris.”
Rather than expand the program further, Dilley may be in for another transition. “I would like to, maybe, open a wine-related project,” he said.