Since this is a part of the trip I’ve been looking forward to, I thought I’d write my own post about the experience. I imagine quite a bit of it will be doubling up on what Amanda has already written, so apologies for that.
Although I definitely appreciate pizza more than some others, I could never call myself an aficionado. Not when I know there are people out there that obsess over all aspects of pizza making. As Amanda mentioned previously, I was a kickstarter backer of a documentary focused on Scott Weiner, of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York. Now THERE is a guy who is an aficionado. A flour company that specialises in products for pizza makers once flew him to Italy to consult on upcoming products before releasing them to market. The guys who make the pizzas say that Scott knows more about pizza than they do.
All this is to say, I’m just a guy who enjoys a good slice. (Also watch that documentary if you get a chance, it’s really fun and interesting!)
I’m not going to go too heavily in to the history of pizza (Amanda touched on it briefly), suffice it to say that Naples is the birthplace, so any pizza lover owes it to themselves to try the pizza here if they can.
They have two “traditional” pizzas in Naples:
- The Marinara, which is topped with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra-virgin olive oil.
- The Margherita, which is topped with tomato, sliced fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Neapolitan pizza, or pizza Napoletana, is a type of pizza that originated in Naples, Italy. Neapolitan pizza is prepared with simple and fresh ingredients: a basic dough, raw tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and olive oil—no fancy toppings. One of its defining characteristics is that there is often more sauce than cheese, leaving the middle of the pie wet or soggy and not conducive to being served by the slice.
Because of this, Neapolitan pizzas are generally pretty small (about 10 to 12 inches), making them closer to the size of a personal pizza. Neapolitan pizzas are cooked at very high temperatures (800 F-900 F) for no more than 90 seconds.
I like cheese too much not to go for the Margherita, so that’s what I decided to try at each pizzeria…
…except for the very first one! The first pizzeria we went to on the evening we arrived in Naples was Pizzeria Starita, which, I’d discovered, is known for its fried-base pizza called the Montanara. Everyone said it was the thing to try, so we ordered one of those and a Margherita and ate half each.
It was honestly hard to say which pizza was better. The Montanara had a delicious light crispy crunch to the base due to the frying, and the sauce was wonderfully balanced against the cheese to make a sweet and tangy topping. I noticed the base wasn’t as heavily charred as it might have been, so the bitter smoky taste only came through around the edges of the crust. Contrast that against the Margherita, which was an explosion of rich, tangy tomato which complemented the more smoky dough. Both pizzas were exceptionally good! It was entirely possible we had just had the best pizzas of our lives…
The next day we went on a food-focused walking tour around Naples. Amongst other things, we tried one Margherita pizza from Antica Pizza Fritta da Esterina Sorbillo.
Overall I wasn’t super impressed. It certainly lacked the wallop of flavour of the pizzas from Starita. I’ve heard that Sorbillo is supposed to be quite good, so I’m not sure why we got something substandard. I think there’s three separate eateries all named Sorbillo, one of which is the really famous one you hear heaps about, and another which is the bit we were in. I suspect that if you went to the proper one during the “queue for an hour to get one slice” time rather than when we were there for our food tour, it might be quite different. They did, however, have a pizza (more like a calzone really) that was deep fried and filled with ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, provolone and ham. That was super good!
Our breakfast pizza the next day was from Antica Pizzeria e Friggitoria Di Matteo in the old district. One small Margherita to share between the two of us.
This was a classic Naples Margherita street pizza. Hot, cheap and served in some grease paper folded in to quarters. The ingredients were runny but not too soupy, and there wasn’t too much or too little of either sauce or cheese. There was evenly spaced charring across the base. There was the telltale tang of the sweet regional tomatoes mixed with the salty mozzarella. In a word, for a hit-and-run Naples street pizza, it was perfect. As you can see the ingredients had slipped due to being held sideways while we were walking, but you can eat the pizza sideways so as to mash everything together anyway. It certainly didn’t detract from the taste!
That evening we went out to dinner with some friends who also happened to be in Naples. We went to Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro as they had a good range of pizzas and had a large amount of seating, which made it good for a group. Again I ordered a Margherita, although this time I decided to try one with additional olive oil.
The extra oil didn’t make that much of a difference for me, so I probably won’t order that again, but the pizza certainly tasted good. Not as good as Starita, not even as good as the street pizza from Di Matteo, but it was certainly tasty. And huge! So much bigger than all the pizzas we’d had so far.
As we neared the end of our time in Naples, I’d only have time to fit a few more places in. So I chose Antica Pizzeria Di Michele for the next day’s first pizza. This is the pizzeria made famous (apparently?) in the movie “Eat Pray Love” but it was certainly very popular before then.
After we worked out that we had to go and collect a ticket from the doorman to secure our place in the queue, we waited for a table. Considering the amount of people there were, and how few spaces there are, it was surprisingly quick.
Di Michele only has two pizzas on their menu – the Marinara and the Margherita – and a very small selection of drinks. You’re there for the pizza, not a dining experience. The time we were seated to the time we walked out the door was less than thirty minutes. And at least half of that time was spent eating super delicious pizza.
Here was where our research bore some fruit. We could tell that the Di Michele Margheritas were very good, but we noticed some differences against the pizzas from Starita.
These were charred a bit more on the base, and either they were using different tomatoes, or the smoky flavour cut against them too much, because they didn’t have the same burst of flavour. But they were still excellent, delicious pizzas, and not even as soupy as I’d been expecting – although there’s no way I’d attempt to consume one without a knife and fork.
That night we were meeting up with another friend of ours for dinner, and because she was coming in via boat and only had a small amount of time to spare, I suggested an upmarket pizza restaurant called 50 Kalò, as it was close to the marina and I’d read that it was supposed to be good.
Although there were a great number of pizza toppings and flavours on offer, I decided to stick with the Margherita so as to make it a fair test against all the others. And despite the fact that the restaurant was clearly popular – it was teeming with people and there was a massive queue to get in by the time we left – my pizza left a lot to be desired.
I can’t even describe it to you. At the time, I remember thinking that it just tasted like… nothing. None of the flavours took centre stage, or were very bold.
If ever there was a clear marker of just how amazing pizza in Naples CAN be, this pizza, by failing to make any sort of impression, was it. I had been spoiled with amazing flavour up until this point. It was a bit of a rude shock, and a sad segue back in to non-Naples pizza.
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to angle for some great slice in other parts of Italy, of course! 😉
If I had more time in Naples, I would have liked to try the pizzas from El Presidente (owned by the brother of the guy who runs Di Matteo, so I’d hope the pizzas would be of similar quality), Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba (widely regarded as the very first pizzeria in the world – although apparently the quality has gone downhill) and Pizzeria Brandi, which is the Pizzeria that (allegedly) invented the Margherita. Maybe next time?