07 Sep Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Eating Pizza in Naples, Italy
In 2006, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. The first chapter was about her time in Italy. I had lived in Italy and everything she described about the culture, the people, the language, the sensation of being in Italy resonated with me. Except that is, when she wrote of going to Napoli and eating pizza.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote: “But he is Neapolitan, no question about it, because before I left Rome he gave me the name of a pizzeria in Naples that I had to try, because, Giovanni informed me it sold the best pizza in Naples. I found this a wildly exciting prospect, given that the best pizza in Italy is from Naples, and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that this pizzeria must offer…I’m almost too superstitious to say it…the best pizza in the world? Giovanni passed along the name of the place with such seriousness and intensity, I almost felt I was being inducted into a secret society. He pressed the address into the palm of my hand and said, in gravest confidence, “Please go to this pizzeria. Order the margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me later and tell me that you did.” So Sofie and I have to come to Pizzeria da Michele, and these pies we have just ordered—one for each of us—are making us lose our minds. I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair. Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she’s having a metaphysical crisis about it… There’s not a menu. They have only two varieties of pizza here—regular and extra cheese. None of this new age southern California olives-and-sun-dried-tomato wannabe pizza twaddle. The dough it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tried. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust—thin and crispy, or thick and doughty. How was I have to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise. On top, there is a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance, much the same one shimmering movie star in the middle of a party brings contact high of glamour to everyone around her. It’s technically impossible to eat this thing of course. You try to take a bit off your slice and the gummy crust folds, and the hot cheese runs away like topsoil in a landslides, makes a mess of you and your surroundings, but just deal with it.”
I read this part and my mouth watered. I dreamed of going to Naples and eating pizza. Finally, 14 years after reading this book, I went to Naples. I had two days in Naples and was on a mission to eat as much pizza as I could muster. I managed to eat 5 pizzas and 1 fried pizza (I did not finish everything on each plate) and without a doubt, pizza from Naples, Italy is the Please The Palate Pick of the Week.
I arrived from Ischia to the Naples port at 5pm and headed to my hotel in the historic center to check in. After dropping off my bags, I headed out on foot to my first destination(s). My walk took me down to the water and as I walked along, I passed restaurant after restaurant offering pizza. About one mile into my walk, I stopped at Ristorante Hachè, located with a view of the Bay of Naples.
Here I had my first Magherita pizza. The dough was soft and a little chewy and there were big pieces of fior de latte.
Via Partenope, 6, 80121 Naples NA
After I finished my pizza and wine, I continued my walk along the coast another mile to 50 Kaló, which is Neopolitan for “good dough”. Owned by third generation pizzaiolo Ciro Salvo, this place was packed on a Sunday night. At least 40 people were waiting outside and the wait was 30 minutes long. I added my name to the list and finally got a seat outside on the large patio. 50 Kaló is a lively pizzeria. The floors and walls are gray with pops of red tile. A team works the pizza line and then one man was in front of the pizza oven. This Margherita was next to perfect. The crust was crispy yet soft and chewy and is apparently low protein, high hydration and highly digestible. The ingredients are all high quality, from the organic Pelato, Corbarino and Piennolo tomatoes from the Casa Marrazzo company to the use of PDO and PGI products. The resulting pizza is light and delicious with just the right balance of fresh tomato sauce and cheese.
50 Kaló di Ciro Salvo
Piazza Sannazaro, 201/c, 80121 Napoli NA
The next day I woke up and took a food tour with Eating Europe. We visited various locations and tasting local Neapolitan dishes and of course, pizza was one of them. We went to ‘Ntretella Pizzeria, located on a hilly side street, not far from the Galleria Umberto I. Located in a former sawmill that has been converted to a modern yet warm industrial space, the Margherita pizza at ‘Ntretella was also delicious with thin, soft crust and melted fior di latte.
Vico Maddalenella degli Spagnoli, 19, 80132 Naples NA
After the food tour, I walked along Via Tribunali to Sorbillo. There are multiple locations of Sorbillo, including in the US, and I found the original location. It was a couple minutes before 3pm and they were about to close post-lunch. But, luckily, Anna Sorbillo let me take the last table. Considering Sorbillo is considered one of the best pizza places in Naples and always has a line out the door, I got pretty lucky. I ordered a Margherita pizza and less than three minutes later, a hot pizza appeared in front of me. It was exquisite. The quality of ingredients used by owner Gino Sorbillo, a member of one of the oldest pizza families in Naples, is top-notch with organically farmed flours and vegetables. As I finished up my pizza, I was approached by Salvatore, Gino’s father. He is the nineteenth of twenty-one children to Luigi Sorbillo and Carolina Esposito who started the pizzeria in 1935.
Via dei Tribunali, 32, 80138 Napoli NA
From Sorbillo, I headed up to the vibrant Sanità neighborhood. While wandering the streets, I stopped into Isabella de Cham for a fried pizza. Isabella de Cham is considered the young queen of fried pizza, a style of pizza that predates the baked pizza. The thin pizza dough is light and elastic and is fried yet not at all oily or greasy. It is then topped with ingredients and I selected ragu sauce and cheese. I was amazed at how light this pizza was an enjoyed it as I walked around.
Isabella de Cham
Via Arena della Sanità, 27, 80137 Napoli NA
As my final day in Naples was nearing its end, I had to go to L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. I was anticipating a long wait as I had heard it could be as long as two hours. As I approached, there was a crowd of approximately 30 people out front, which did not seem too bad. I walked to the door to get a ticket with a number to wait my turn, but when the guy at the door found out I was a party of one, he told me to wait by the door. Less than twenty minutes later, I was escorted to a table where I joined a family of three visiting from Udine in Italy. The two adult children spoke English and I was able to communicate with the mother in Italian and had a lovely evening with them. Choosing what to eat was easy as there are only two choices – Margherita and Marinara (not cheese). The pizza came out and was as good as I could imagine.