Yes, Naples Pizza IS!
At least, to my discriminating taste buds. I’ve sampled incredible pizza all over Italy. Rarely have I been left wanting. I’d almost fallen into a stupor that great pizza is easy-peasy for Italians (as long as it was cooked in a wood-fired oven). I’d gotten lazy and made some rather uneducated conclusions. But recently, a last-minute, twenty-nine-hour excursion south to visit and sample the artistry of two famous Neapolitan pizzerias has forever reset my expectations. Here’s the skinny:
Sorbillo and Vicenzo Capuano, here we come!
These two pizzerias sit right at the top of the list for authentic Naples pizza. We only had a little more than a day, so we kept our “test” to the two most lauded and time-tested. We found super-cheap last minute flights on easyJet, cashed in a credit for a night on hotels.com, and we packed our bags. Heavy rain was in the forecast, so we made sure to take our umbrellas.
We arrived late on Saturday morning.
We dropped out bags to be held at our hotel until official check-in time and headed to the city center (we were only a ten-minute walk away). The rain was steady, and we toured a few stall-crowded streets before plopping ourselves at the door of Gino e Toto Sorbillo, the original Sorbillo location (there are two others in Naples). It would be ten minutes before noon when they would open, and we were amongst perhaps a dozen people queueing up. But, the pizzeria doors already were open and they’d started seating people at a brisk pace. We were sixth or seventh to be seated, and we were pinching ourselves just twenty minutes later when we could see that the outside crowd had grown to eight-to-ten people deep.
We scanned the menu and placed our orders. I had the Arnaldo, whose featured topping, in addition to creamy mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil, was peppered pancetta (I doubled up). It arrived with a puffy outer crust and a soft, thin, inner crust. I cut a slice, folded it over (otherwise the ingredients slide off), and I fell headlong into my Naples pizza experience. Wow! Wow! Wow!
Our hotel concierge had tried to steer us away from this Naples treasure.
You know how this can go. People, especially locals, become suspect and jaded over the popularity of an institution like Sorbillo. If it’s so popular with the masses how good can it really be?
I’m here to tell you it is THAT good and I had to resist the temptation to chastise the concierge for trying to steer us away to one of her local favorites.
Our happy tummies decided to have “just one more.”
I know; glutinous behavior unchecked. But, why not? I’d been throwing care out the window. Why do this half-assed? Normally, I don’t even eat pizza since I’m usually a low-carb devotee (I can imagine the groans of disbelief as people read this) and I pretty much avoid gluten products because my nose starts running and my stomach protests. (Still, Sorbillo has another location down by the water that offers gluten-free options. Maybe I’ll test that out next trip.)
We chose the classic Naples pizza style and doubled up on anchovies.
At least we’d decided to split the second pizza, so don’t rush to judgment for my excesses. My only fear was that the people pressing up against the front doors and windows would see that we had delayed their chances for entry and we might be pummeled upon leaving.
It was just as good as the first.
Yeah, we devoured it in a flash (along with a second glass of the house white wine). And guess what? I didn’t have to push myself back from the table and prepare for an afternoon of self-flagellation for such unfettered indulgence. In fact, I had no bloating, no stopped-up nose, niente. My theory is that my body was just so grateful for giving it something so precious and delicious that it gave me a temporary get-out-of-jail-free card.
A bomb went off at the entrance to Sorbillo in early 2019
Fortunately, there were no casualties, and the restaurant closed for only a brief period of time. Early theories suggested that someone had intended to threaten the pizzeria (maybe a competitor?). It turns out that the bomb had been intended for the resident of the apartment just above Sorbillo and, instead, it fell in front of the entrance where it exploded. Read an account of the incident here at scattodigusto.it.
Saturday evening, a palate cleanser.
That evening we headed to a well-reviewed seafood restaurant. We dined without fighting the usual Saturday night crowds since most Neapolitans were at the stadium or crowded around a tv watching an important Naples soccer game.
Sunday took us to Vincenzo Capuano
We checked out of our hotel, parked out bags with the concierge, and headed out for another leisurely stroll through the city center (the rain had vanished). Naples has no shortage of characters and novel scenes playing out continuously. I was missing my Canon 5D Mark IV and my 70-200m lens. Oh well, next time.
Our flight was due to depart at around 15:45, so we had to time ourselves accordingly, arriving at this second legendary pizzeria for more Naples pizza just past noon.
Another defining pizza experience.
At Vincenzo Capuano, close to Naples Bay, we were seated immediately. I guess, especially on a Sunday, Neapolitans aren’t dining until after 13:00 (the restaurant was packed by then).
Naples pizzas are works of art. The featured photo is from this pizzeria. Again, a puffy outer crust, and a deliciously soft cradle of ingredients in the middle.
Check out the pizzeria’s chef in this lively YouTube video:
An American woman at an adjacent table behaves…uh, well, poorly.
Three American tourists arrived at an adjacent table. They seemed nice enough. Surely they were in the know and had come here for the pizza. Not so for one woman who spoke not a single word of Italian and asked for a “salad without meat.” The waiter nodded and eventually delivered a huge beautiful salad along with two pizzas. He proudly placed the salad in front of her. She stared at it, obviously dismayed. She shook her head and the bewildered waiter tried to discern the problem. After all, he’d delivered a beautiful salad sans meat. BUT, it did have mozzarella and I guess that was the problem. She must’ve wanted a vegan salad. He asked her what was wrong. Instead of offering an explanation, the woman waved the salad away with a regal flick of her hand. “Just take it away,” were her only words.
I usually try to take the high road and just ignore cringe-worthy behavior. But, not this time. I think this example is important to illustrate what kind of attitudes and behaviors give Americans a bad name. The two big offenders in my experience are:
- Expecting the world outside of the United States to do the work of speaking and understanding English.
- Expecting non-Americans to be mind-readers regarding our needs and wants.
Okay, enough said. I’ll climb down off my soapbox now.
In conclusion, what is the differentiating secret of Naples pizza?
I’m convinced it’s two things. One is the water. Think about New York bagels and how once you leave New York, you have the darndest time finding a bagel that matches up. People swear it’s the water. Even though we have a hopping Neapolitan pizzeria here in Treviso, run by people from Naples, the pizza just isn’t the same. Different water? I think so.
Second is the dough and its yeast (or the ‘mother’). I believe making pizza in Naples is so intuitive, so second-nature, that an important effortlessness comes into play and creates magic. Think about Amadeus Mozart and how his musical gifts just flowed while his contemporary, Salieri, studied and followed musical rules and formulas to near obsession, without being able to produce a result that remotely compared to Mozart’s brilliant works. I’m beginning to think that Neapolitans are the Mozarts of pizza.
Our twenty-nine hours ended.
Our flight took off, and in less than ninety minutes we were walking to the car park at Venice airport. We had embarked upon a playful mission and returned happy and sated. We’ll be going back, hopefully, sooner than later, and for more days and more Neapolitan pizzerias!