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
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
For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com