Tag Archives: neapolitan pizza

A Slice of History – Pizza Where (They Say) it All Began

Enjoying the oldest tourist trap in naples.

There are two things that Neapolitans all seem to be experts on: espresso and pizza. I have known people from Naples who brought their own tap water north to Italy’s fashion capital because they were convinced that it’s just not the same without their water.

The water idea is a bit overblown, but in the right place, I have tasted some of the best espresso in the world here (Bar Mexico in Piazza Garibaldi across from the main train station is one of the best http://wp.me/pfkhI-70 ). The real question is, can we really tell the difference between an excellent neapolitan pizza and a sublimely excellent neapolitan pizza? And if we cant’ get the best, is it really such a tragedy to settle for excellent?

Pizza at Brandi......

For some people living under the shadow of Vesuvius, it is. Which is why they frown on Brandi.

Brandi, on a side street of via Chiaia, not far from the San Carlo opera house and the Royal Palace, claims to be the place that made the first pizza named for Queen Margaret of Savoy, Italy’s queen in 1889. The “pizza margherita” is pizza at it’s most basic and essential – dough, mozzarella, tomato sauce, a drop of oil and a few basil leaves to give it the three colors of the Italian flag. Choice ingredients are one of the reasons why it can be so good: buffalo mozzarella from the town of Aversa and tomatoes gown in soil embedded with volcanic ash from Vesuvius are a large part of it. The art of the the few pizzaioli (pizza-makers) who know the exact mixture of flour the best timing for the yeast according to the weather can take whole mix over the top to pizza heaven.

Pizza and fried antipasti at Brandi, Via chiaia

Brandi, despite the history, is not considered the pinnacle of pizzerie like olther famous places like Da Michele, Starita and Sorbillo by the pizza lovers I know here.

In fact, among many it’s reputation in town is not very good. It appears for years it rested on the laurels of history and the convenience of its location and forgot the pizza part. But other friends her have reminded me they got their act together and have talented pizza makers again.

Which is good because the last time my girls were in town with me we happened to be around the corner from Brandi in Piazza Plebiscito just when our sore feet and grumbling stomachs caught up to us. It was early – only 8 p.m. – so we were able to swing the impossible on a Saturday night: the last of the eight little tables outside on the street. We ordered a plate of fried antipasti and four Pizza Margheritas. The two old men singing and serenading the guests had the place as their official territory, making their presence more friendly and less imposing and, of course, we sang along. The atmosphere was both touristy and authentic, and above all fun.

PIzza Margherita yum

Were we missing the best pizzas the world has to offer? Probably. But as we nibbled away at our our excellent pizzas in the cool evening air, we really didn’t care.


Antica Pizzeria – Ristorante Brandi, Salita S. Anna di Palazzo (on the corner of via Chiaia) http://www.brandi.it, Tel 081- 416928
Brandi dates back to 1780, but under another name.

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Espresso in Naples – Great Coffee in a Not So Great Area

Some Things Realy Are Better In the Shadow of Mount Vesuvius (Coffee Consciousness IV)

Italians believe in food, and Neapolitans are the true believers. Naples, as it has been for centuries, is a chaotic, bustling metropolis lining the Italian coastline, climbing over the bluffs above the bay. But, even in this crazy city you can find small corners of tranquility and solace –– almost always tied to something edible or, drinkable, like coffee. Expresso, to be exact.

I normally don’t trust restaurants near a big city’s central train station. These establishments are either soulless, standardized outposts of a branded chain or the sort of place that makes you wonder if you should disinfect the flatware as it’s laid out in front of you. But, last Monday night I was tired, and when the kind, small woman at the reception of my hotel told me that the place across the street was good, I decided to trust her. The kindness of strangers may be something to be wary of in the movies, but in southern Italy it is almost always a good thing. That, and that the place ––Trattoria Ettore –– had a few tables full of railway workers happily eating and laughing told me that I had made the right choice.

The crust of the pizza at Trattoria Ettorre’s was the perfect mix of chewy and tasty that has made Naples famous since Chef Rafaelle Esposito served the first “pizza margherita” to Queen Margherita of Savoy, when she was in town, in 1889. And, the lemon cake I had for dessert was fluffy and tasty. Paper thin slices of lemon skin decorated the chantilly cream on top, ensuring a light citrus scent with each forkful.

I have low expectations for coffee served in restaurants. There’s really nothing wrong with it ––industrial improvements in commercial coffee roasting and home espresso machines have made sure that coffee will usually be satisfactory. And, it is almost impossible to find bad coffee in Italy, but truly excellent coffee is found in bars, not restaurants

Although, not, it appeared, in Naples.

The tiny cup of espresso the tired looking, grey-haired man, in his timeless Italian waiter’s uniform, served me made time stop. Or, at least, move in slow motion. It wasn’t sugared (coffee, in Naples, is often served with the sugar already in the cup). Nor, was it bitter or acidic. It was so full-flavored; you could sense the taste of it with a wider part of the tongue. And, there was a hint of macadamia nut (part of the coffee, not an added spice). How could it be? They must have been cheating. Sure enough, as I left the restaurant, I noticed a small doorway to a very worn but traditional coffee bar next door. Mystery solved.

Coffee, or rather, espresso, is part of the fabric of Neapolitan society. Antonio, a friend from my studies in Venice, and my housemate when I first moved to Milan, was very, very attentive when he filled his Moka espresso pot.

On my way out of town the next day, I decided to test my luck. Across the square from my hotel a big orange sign read “Mexico.” With a sign like that it could only be a cheesy snack bar or a traditional espresso bar. The sun was as aggressively hot as the concrete jungle around the station, and I was feeling a bit too sweaty for coffee, but as I had survived the walk across the road, there was no turning back.

When I stepped inside I knew the bar was a promising place. Young men wearing the same uniforms, haircuts and chiseled expressions that their predecessors wore when the place opened decades before, worked behind the bar. Stainless steel and glass counters (worn but as shiny as when they were new) were probably the originals. Tins and foil blocks of ground coffee and beans lined the back wall ––the labels hadn’t changed for decades.

My espresso was even better than the night before. It was made with sugar, but the sugar was resting at the bottom, and not foamy like at St. Eustacchio’s in Rome. I drank it without mixing, then scooped up the coffee-soaked sugar crystal at the bottom of the cup with the demitasse spoon placed on the saucer for that purpose.
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They say that when you go to Rome, if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, you will return some day. When you leave Naples, have a wicked cup of espresso before you get on the train or plane. You’ll soon be dreaming of coming back for another cup. If you’re lucky, you will.

The Restaurant with bar is Bar Ristorante Ettorre, Piazza Garibaldi 95, Naples
Bar Mexico Henry Coffee is also in Piazza Garibaldi, but at 72 on the other side of the square.

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Eight Great Pizza Places in Italy

Joshua’s Ongoing Search for Great Italian Pizza.

If Italy is the birthplace of pizza, then Napoli is its crib. Pizza, as we know it today––a round flatbread topped with tomato sauce and cheese – was already a popular dish in Naples in 1889, when Raffaele Esposito, a local pizza maker, made one for Italy’s Queen Margherita di Savoia.   He had only to add a few petals of basil, and the Pizza Margherita was born!

It’s only natural that a food as tasty and simple as pizza would be replicated, to the extent that it can be.  Which is why pizza, in one form or another, can be found almost everywhere on this earth. I still remember skipping the organized lunch in Vilnius, Lithuania, when I was seventeen on a school exchange to the Soviet Union, to have lunch at a place with a sign that read “pizza” in Latin letters. I’m sure that the pizza I ate there, as well as much of the other food in the USSR, helped to convince me that I should study Italian and not Russian.  My friend, Emily, had a similar experience on a quest for Iceland’s best pizza joints.   My point is that wherever you travel, the best pizza is almost always in Italy.

I am not a pizza purist.  While, I do love the original Neapolitan margherita, I am also a sucker for other forms. Silvia used to joke that I had my own little via crucis of holy pizza by the slice places in town.  She was right.

Here’s a list of my favorite pizza places in Italy, from sit down to the original slice on the go (unfortunately, I have not made it to Naples in years, so we’ll have to settle for the rest of Italy – for now).  This brief list does not pretend to classify some of the best pizza I’ve enjoyed in order of greatness––comparing the classic Neapolitan margherita to fried bakery panzerotti in Milan is like comparing aged wine and beer. It is simply the beginning of a journey into Italian pizza and is destined to evolve and, more important, to grow.

Like my waistline.

1) And 2) La Bella Napoli / Vesuvius – L’Aquila 

These pizzerie, with entangled histories, were the only true pizzerie in L’Aquila for the Neapolitan pizza purists.  Vesuvio was one of the first pizzeria downtown. When it moved out to the crowded suburbs, to a place with parking, La Bella Napoli moved into its old location near the University and town hall. The only real difference between the two is size – Vesuvio is now bigger and spacious, the little rooms at La Bella Napoli made things more intimate and you felt closer to the couple who ran it. Both make exquisite pizza, with choice ingredients and crust with just the right amount of chewiness.

Vesuvio has re-opened since the earthquake (Via Australia 1, Pettino, AQ 67100, Tel 0862 313893). I have no word on La Bella Napoli, but I know its former location is completely off-limits.

3) Pizza Ciro – Roma

Pizza Margherita (foto from http://www.pizzaciro.it)

Instinctively, I resist chains, but Ciro in Rome is the best place in the Eternal City when you just want to sit down for a quick bite with friends.  The best of the chain is located next to the Sala Umberto prose theatre. The pizza here is the kind Naples is famous for, and the addition of buffalo mozzarella is worth the small surcharge. If you’ve never had mozzarella di buffalo, order a fresh ball on the side (with a basket of wood-oven baked triangles of focaccia). If it’s rained all day, and is too humid for proper yeast rising, order one of their excellent pasta dishes.  My favorite is egg pasta with zucchini, clams and pachino (cherry tomatoes).

Via della Mercede, 43-45, half way between Piazza del Popolo and the Trevi fountain, and other locations.  www.pizzaciro.it

4) Trieste – Pescara

The Trieste beach concession has been making small round pizzette for 40 years. Each pizzette is cooked in its own little saucer, connected on racks like a crazed muffin tray. These pizzette are a bit oily (local olive oil) and slightly crunchy. Ever since a friend dragged us there, from our beach umbrella a mile away, I’ve been daydreaming about it. The owners have since opened another place in the newer Portonuovo restaurant district just south of the river (open nights only). The pizzette here are as good on a blistering winter’s evening as they are after a day at the beach   Beach concessions and pizza at Lungomare Matteotti, 102, and more recently  in Corso Manthoné 27, but only after 6pm   http://www.triestepizza.com

5)  Luini – Milan

Luini is a bakery behind the historic Rinascente department store and just a few steps from La Scala and Milan’s cathedral (Duomo). The foccaccia is good, but they are most famous for their panzerotti (fried pocket pizzas). The panzerotti are delectable and quite affordable for Milan’s fashion and banking district.  But watch out, because you risk dripping sauce or cheese oil on your tie or jacket as you first bite into one. I’ve already featured them here (http://wp.me/pfkhI-v ). No place to sit down, but Piazza San. Fedele has a few concrete benches. (Via S. Radegonda 16, http://www.luini.it)

6)  Il Canguro – L’Aquila and Pescara

There are a few other great pizza by the slice places in L’Aquila, but “the Kangaroo” is the only favorite I can still find open––at least, one has re-opened in L’Aquila near the L’Aquila Est highway exit.  Luckily, there is another in Piazza Duca degli Abruzzi near my temporary home in Pescara. The pizza is like the Rome’s “pizza rustico” only, here, you pay by the slice, not by weight. Each slice has the surface area of a brick and is crispy on the bottom and slightly chewy below the toppings. In addition to their margherita, they are also known for pizza with cherry (“pachino”) tomatoes, smoked scamorza cheese, champignon mushrooms and sausage, or mozzarella, mushrooms and black truffle paste. 

7) Lo Zozzone – Rome

Lo Zozzone, great foccaccia pannini in Rome

Hidden in a side street near Piazza Navona, Zozzone is a hybrid between a sandwich shop and a pizza on the go place. They don’t really have pizza, but make all their sandwiches in front of you using freshly baked focaccia and whatever ingredients you point out. The name – literally “the big messy one” is probably because you’ll have olive oil dripping down from the sun dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts. Street food, they only have a few chairs and tables.

Via del Teatro Pace, 32 – Rome

8) Pane e Lavoro – L’Aquila

Pane e Lavoro makes the best bakery pizzetta in l’Aquila.  Round, wide as a coffee can lid, the ball of sizzled tomato sauce in the middle had just a whiff of mildly hot pepper. We made this our last stop on our way out of town for our family road trips. The bag was usually empty before we made it to the other side of the tunnel under Gran Sasso. Pane e Lavoro was the first of my old haunts to re-open after the earthquake. (http://wp.me/pfkhI-1A )

And, we’ve just started.

Why don’t you let me know about your favorites.

– Joshua Lawrence

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