Naples: Pizza #3 at Di Matteo

Round three of pizza this morning. Our first stop was Di Matteo’s, which was less than a kilometre from our accommodation. We got there so early that it hadn’t actually opened so we stopped at a cafe for a rather expensive cappuccino (Luke) and lemon granita (me).

I absolutely hate queuing for things and so I like to arrive, if at all possible, when an attraction or restaurant opens. We keep watching docos or seeing pictures of pizza places here that are swamped with people but so far we haven’t had to wait for a thing.

Di Matteo only have a serving window so we bought one Margherita then walked down the road to a church and sat on the steps. When they hand you the pizza here it is in a sheet of paper and they fold the pizza in half then quarters to make it easier to take away. It cost all of €1.50.

We took photos and video before we ate, which isn’t as annoying as it sounds because it takes a couple of minutes for the pizza to cool down to eating temperature. I had brought along my trusty scissors and cut the pizza in half. Luke thought it would drip everywhere but using scissors worked well and I’ve been glad to have them on me.

We both liked the pizza a lot – Di Matteo has an excellent reputation. The sauce was piquant and the crust had a good texture and char but I think I prefer my pizza served flat. Folding means the topping and crust get squished. Plus serving on paper means the oil does inevitably start to drip and you have to watch out or it gets on your clothes.

After the pizza we took the funicular up to the Castel san Elmo and admired the view. There’s not actually a whole lot to do there apart from a small modern art gallery in the centre but the view from the ramparts is 360 degrees and positively stunning.

Tonight we’re going to another restaurant so I look forward to eating my pizza on a plate and maybe having another Aperol Spritz. I think it is a drink that will now always remind me of Italy, much as peach iced tea now reminds me of Turkey.

Lovely!

First Pizza in Naples!

I have never really heard anything good about Naples that wasn’t pizza-related. Perhaps a rumour about good museums, but when people talk about the city it is always as something of a cesspool of humanity and actual garbage.

To be honest, this photo could just have easily been taken in Rome or (language aside) London.

Perhaps it was to see if it was really as bad as people say that I decided I wanted to come here. I mean, could it really be more filthy than some Asian capitals like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh? And of course with Luke’s pizza obsession we were going to come here eventually.

We arrived by train and I was surprised at how new and shiny the main station was and linea 1 was entirely air conditioned too.

Also can I just show you this outfit that I took a sneaky photo of as this lady was getting off the train? Totally irrelevant but what an amazing item of clothing. Where would you even buy something like that? Not that I need to know since I’d never do it justice but… wow. Also I’d have it soaked in massive and undignified sweat patches within about five seconds of getting off the train but that’s a different matter.

When we reached our Airbnb flat the owner told us that the station is so nice because it is only a year old and it wasn’t representative of the rest of the network. Too bad!

Our Airbnb has also recently been done up and has some rather interesting lighting features – three colour-controllable LED strips in one wall and strip lighting around the ceiling. It’s more tasteful than it sounds and it’s actually a spacious apartment too, with lots of food available for breakfast and snacks. Pastries, biscuits, milk and juices. Very nice! We bought a litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the Croatian duty free ($35 AUD – bargain!) that we are taking with us from place to place for our evening post prandial drinks.

Also the apartment is on the ground floor, which is always nice! Especially in Naples where there are miles of stairs everywhere anyhow.

The atrium of our apartment block.

Now I have a travel tip for you!

We have gotten into the habit, if there isn’t an ice cube tray in our freezer, of pouring water into the bottom of some glasses before we go out exploring then freezing the whole. This means a nice cold glass into which you can pour wine or whatever when you get home after a day’s hard sightseeing.

So refreshing!

Luke had done some research and made a map of pizzerias that are generally considered top-notch. One was quite a walk from the others so we decided to hit that one first. Plus it had tables so we could dine in. Quite a few Neopolitan pizzerias are just grab-and-go storefronts.

It opened at 7pm so we had time to walk around a bit. Naples street art seems to be a cut above anything we saw in Rome. Which wouldn’t be hard since all we saw in Rome was tagging. Urgh.

We tried to find a bar for a drink but they all seemed to be stand-up affairs. I found a blog that said drinking isn’t big in Naples. What? Italians not big on drinking? This didn’t really fit all my stereotypes of Italian culture. More research will be required.

We got back to Starita as they opened and had already decided what we wanted. We were having their traditional Margherita and their specialty, a deep fried pizza. For this one the crust is deep fried until it is puffy then quickly baked with topping on.

I preferred the traditional, Luke preferred the fried crust but both were excellent.

While I would not go anywhere near so far as to say we are experts, we know a reasonable amount about pizza. Luke helped kick-start a pizza documentary that we have watched several times and if you read our entry on pizza in New York you’ll know how much we love it. I also like making my own from scratch at home so I was keen to get ideas on how to improve it.

Naples is the birthplace of pizza, but from Naples pizza spread via migrants to New York and Boston before being popularised in the rest of Italy. It began as a way for bakers to slightly cool the base of their ovens so that loaves of bread would not burn. To stop the pizza inflating like a balloon (as pita bread does), tomato sauce would be spread on it. This became a cheap early morning food for workers in Naples and then its popularity meant pizza was served all day. Putting cheese on pizza didn’t happen immediately – the Margherita was invented to honour a queen and the basil added to pay homage to Italy’s flag.

In Australia we think of ‘marinara’ as a seafood pizza but here it means a pizza with only tomato sauce and herbs, no cheese. Pizza here is very different to pizza in most other places. It is cooked unbelievably quickly – in as little as a minute – and the sauce is pure pulped tomatoes. The base is charred but the whole thing is a bit soupy in the middle and there isn’t as much cheese as we like to pile on at home. The joy of Neapolitan pizza is in the freshness of the ingredients. For the true traditional pizza the tomatoes must have been grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. The tomatoes taste so tangy and salty-sweet that, combined with the olive oil and cheese there is a buttery-richness that is magical.

All styles of pizza are good and pizza is a dish that is reinvented over and over around the world. Experiencing it in Naples doesn’t mean you have had the world’s best, it means you have added a dimension to your appreciation of it. At least that’s my feelings on the subject!

I would love to know what other people have thought of pizza they have eaten in Naples – or anywhere around the world! Where have you most or least enjoyed it?

Chicago: Deep-dish pizza (Luke)

While we’re on the subject of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza, I have to point out this fantastic Jon Stewart rant that was only aired a couple of weeks prior to our arrival in Chicago. The set up is that the new World Trade Centre building in New York is officially the tallest building in the United States, taking over from Chicago’s Willis Tower. While the Chicago media had to concede this, they couldn’t do it without bringing up something that, in their opinion, they have over New York – their deep-dish pizza.

That was too much for Stewart, a die-hard New York pizza fan. This is his response. Enjoy!

Two Nights in Chicago

We don’t like to rush our travels, so rather than catch the train from Waukesha to Chicago then go straight to the airport we thought we’d spend two nights in the city before flying to Vegas.

I didn’t really know much about Chicago before went went – Mafia, pizza and cold winters was about it. We booked ourselves a twin room in a hostel which didn’t get great reviews online but turned out to be fine. It was in the Greek District, about a 20 minute walk from downtown.

Downtown lights that had speakers next to them playing music.

Despite getting recommendations from people about what to do and where to go, we didn’t end up doing anything touristy. We walked around the shopping strips and bought a few gifts to take home and some clothes that were on sale. Our main goal was to try a proper deep dish Chicago pizza. In Australia our ‘deep pan’ pizzas are about half the depth of Chicago style ones.

CHEEEEEESE!

The Chicago pizzas have a crust maybe 3 inches high on the edge and the one we had started with a layer of meat and sauce, then about an inch of cheese, then more sauce then meat. It was really good – and despite looking quite different to ‘normal’ pizzas they taste pretty much the same – except you get so much more cheese. I loved it! They aren’t as enormous in circumference as NYC pizzas and because of their depth they retain heat a lot better. I definitely recommend trying them if you get the chance.

Apart from that, our impression of Chicago was that it was super cold, the shopping was great and there were lots of interesting things in the middle of town. We came across a German outdoor market selling lots of hand-made things and delicious food.

We also stopped for a drink at the House of Blues, an interesting folk-art style bar/club that was pretty much deserted mid afternoon but I really loved the decor.

The ladies’ toilets.

I didn’t take a whole lot of photos but it was an interesting city. If I got the chance I’d definitely go back and see the gallery, aquarium and museum.

The only down side was the begging – but that’s pretty typical of cities in the US. All the big cities we’ve been to have had numbers of homeless people that I find hard to comprehend in a developed country. Far beyond anything I’ve seen in Australia, Europe or the UK. In fact even in Asia and most of Africa I wasn’t asked for money as frequently. We’ve had discussions with people we’ve met here about the reasons for it and there seems to be a common conception that many people find begging easier and, in some places, more profitable, than actually getting a job. Whether or not that’s true I have no idea, all I know is that it’s shocking and quite confronting. I’m not sure how long I’d have to live with it to become blase about it.

New York: Food

We were so busy when we were in New York that I’m going to have to keep coming back to it to cover all the things I want to remember.

We had some great food experiences in New York. I think that if you’re even slightly passionate about food (like most of the planet) and visiting places you may never, or only rarely, come back to, you need to put some thought into your eating plan. What kind of foods appeal most? What is in season? What is the area famous for? Then get recommendations from online, from friends, from tv shows, from cab drivers and work out how and where to spend your few precious meals.

If I was on a holiday for a couple of weeks I’d have breakfast, lunch, dinner and at least two snacks in between in order to try everything. But when you’re away for a long time, as we discovered with alcohol, you can’t live every day like it’s the weekend or things go pear-shaped. When I say ‘things’ I mean ‘my torso’. Everyone who comes to the states on holiday warns that weight gain is unavoidable – so many good things to eat and everything comes with fries and sides, drowned in dressing and deep fried.

New York definitely wasn’t like that.Healthy food was pretty easy to get. They have these great places there, a type of deli, where it’s a bit like a canteen with help-yourself bain maries and they charge by weight. Sure, some are mac and cheese or deep fried chicken, but you can also get a pile of steamed broccoli or fresh fruit and it’s not too expensive. This was a very appealing option when we needed a break from eating pizza and cooking for ourselves wasn’t an option.

Pizza is something you have to do in New York. Luke’s a big pizza fan and obviously I don’t mind it either because I have tastebuds. Luke read up on the subject and it seems people in New York take their pizza very seriously. The criteria for pizza here is different to home. The base is usually super thin, although most pizza places also offer Sicilian or ‘Grandma slice’ which have a thick base. Topping are scanty compared to home, the focus is on the crust, the sauce, and the cheese. People differ in what they think makes for the best pizza – so all you can do is get a few names and go out and compare for yourself.

Don’t forget to call it a pie.

Here’s a list of the places we tried, all were recommended as being among the top pizza places in New York – although about a hundred pizza places probably fill that bill so don’t think of this as definitive.

John’s Pizza on Bleecker St.

This place is old and looks it – people have carved their names into just about every surface. We got there at 6 and still had to wait a few minutes. Get there any later and you could wait quite a while, although the service is extremely fast. You can only buy whole pies here and they’re about $20 depending on toppings for a small. Small is still pretty big though and was enough for the two of us (although we’re not really big eaters). The pizza here was definitely good but I discovered that there’s about a five minute window between thin pizzas being the same temperature as the centre of the sun and the cheese congealing. You just have to bow to inevitability and cram it all into your mouth as quickly as possible.

Joe’s Pizza

Also in Greenwich, this take-away place was featured in one of the Spiderman movies – or so their advertising says. They sell pizza by the slice and whole. There’s a few stools to sit on but mainly people just stand around eating or take their pies away. We tried their Sicilian. Again, really good and the base was super fluffy and the very bottom had a great crunchiness to it. We had a slice of pepperoni as well, which was also good but I liked the thicker pizza better.

Arturo’s Pizza

Our last stop in Greenwich, I’m not sure if Arturo’s do take away, it’s a proper restaurant and has a piano and people singing in a kind of informal manner. The vibe is really nice and, despite being pretty crowded (we could hardly get into one of our chairs) I’m sure that if we hadn’t been sitting next to a table of shouters it wouldn’t have been too noisy. We ordered a cheese pie and arugula salad. I’ve been in love with rocket and pizza since forever and the salad here was perfect – small leaves dressed in olive oil with a little parmesan – perfect for piling on top of the pizza. Another place where it’s worth getting in early – a rule that pretty much stands for anywhere good in the city, although locals seem to prefer lining up rather than eating before 7.

Best Pizza.

This time in Williamsburg and on the same block as our accommodation, we couldn’t go past somewhere called ‘Best Pizza’. We actually ended up eating their pizza twice. The first time was on our ‘down’ day when we pretty much stayed in bed and gave our tired feet a rest. We got a whole pizza to take away – they only do one size, 20 inches. Which is huge. The box was the size of a small coffee table. Their pizza is super thin though, so really… it wasn’t *that* bad.

The next time we went was on our way home from a night out and we just bought a slice each and did some people watching. The cafe itself is interesting – patrons draw on paper plates and then the plates are stuck all over the walls and ceiling which makes for lots of things to look at while you wait for your pie.

We hid the box under the bed because it didn’t fit anywhere else.

Speaking of NY pizza terminology, the word ‘pizza’ is often used in signage and on menus, but when ordering you either want a whole pie, or a ‘slice’ – not a piece. White pie is pizza with sauce and white cheeses on it and usually nothing else. I asked for ‘a pepperoni pizza to take away’ when we were in Best Pizza. I should’ve asked for for ‘a pie with pepperoni to go’. ‘Pizza’ and ‘pie’ have the same roots as ‘pide’ and ‘pita’. They all essentially mean the same thing.

We didn’t just eat pizza in NYC though. We ate a few times at a place called The Olive Tree in Greenwich. It did great mac and cheese and there were always tables free. We ate hot dogs from street vendors (not bad.. not great) and we also tried some hip bbq food in Williamsburg on the recommendation of two friends.

Fette Sau

One of Williamsburg’s most hip restaurants, Fette Sau does bbq food – you buy as much meat as you want (by weight), it gets heaped on a tray with the sides you choose and you sit at a long bench table with strangers. A tv on one wall shows a fire… I think it’s supposed to be ironic.

Our pork belly, pulled pork, rolls and broccoli. The cornbread was a new experience – tasted a lot like cake so we ate it for dessert.

Katz’s Deli

If one eating experience shouts ‘New York’ louder than any other, it’s Katz’s deli. The scene from When Harry Met Sally – you know the one – was shot here. The walls are lined with photos of famous clients and there is a protocol here that can’t be denied. You get precisely two seconds, once you get to the front of the line, to shout your order ‘pastrami on rye’ (if you choose) to one of the extremely beefy guys behind the counter and they carve about a pound of meat and slap it between two pieces of bread. I got the pickles too, which made a nice crunchy accompaniment to the sandwich.

The pieces of bread aren’t out of the ordinary – it’s the meat that blows your mind.

A trip to Katz’s is a must do (for the non vegetarians, anyhow) but do not go right on meal times. They’re open 24 hours on the weekends so a late night trip would probably make the experience less hectic.

Luke looking fearfully at the decor.

So essentially, there’s a whole lot of great food to eat in New York. We ate lots of it and barely scratched the surface. If you’re reading this and you’ve been to New York I’d love to hear about your best dining experiences. Tell me!