Last month, on our way home from Sicily, the Euro Travel Coach team spent a few hours in Naples. Because our time was very limited, we decided to focus our energy on one thing and one thing only: pizza. We visited three outstanding pizzerias to determine which was our favorite. We enjoyed (at least) one Margherita pizza at each, and though the ingredients and ovens used were nearly identical, each pizzeria had a distinct style and the pizzas varied in flavor and texture. All were delicious, but at the end of the evening, there was a clear winner in our minds.
Some Background on Neapolitan PIzza
Naples is known as the birthplace of modern pizza, and the Neapolitan people take their pies extremely seriously. There is a governing board called the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) which awards certifications to pizzerias that qualify as traditionally Neapolitan in style according to their stringent rules. They deem that Neapolitan pizzas must be:
· Roundish with a diameter of 30-35cm
· Soft and elastic with a thickness of no more than .4 centimeters in the center
· Cooked in a wood oven at a temperature between 430-480 °C (800-900 °F)
· Garnished with ingredients from Campania (oil must be extra virgin olive oil and cheese can either be mozzarella or fiore di latte)
· Formed without the use of a rolling pin or mechanical devices
There are also rules about the recipe for the dough, the kneading time, the leavening time, the acidity of the dough, and more. Though there are over 800 pizzerias in the city, only 100 of them are certified by the AVPN.
The association sees their role as protecting the art of Neapolitan pizza making, but just because a pizza is not certified by the AVPN, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious and authentic. Straying from even one of their stringent rules means that you do not qualify for their certification. During our crawl, two of the three pizzerias we visited were certified and one, Da Michele (arguably the most famous pizzeria in Naples), was not.
The Three Contending Pizzerias
Due to our aforementioned time constraints, we were (sadly) only able to visit three pizzerias during our stay in Naples (hopefully we can make a bigger dent the next time we visit!). The first place we visited was Antica Pizzeria e Friggitoria Di Matteo on Via dei Tribunali. This shop was recommended by a friend who lived in and around Naples for a few years. Di Matteo is famous for being the Pizzeria that President Clinton visited during the 1994 G7 summit in Naples. 24 years later and they are still extremely proud of this fact – you can find a picture of Clinton enjoying his pizza on the front of their menu and framed in the kitchen. Though we sat down for a (very tasty) Margherita pizza, you can also grab a smaller pizza for take away as well as a range of deep fried goodies (hence the word “Friggitoria” in their name, which means “fryer” in Italian). Next we moved onto the famous L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele. You’ll find this old school spot listed in pretty much every Naples guide book and you can also see Julia Robert’s chowing down on their Margherita pie in 2010’s Eat Pray Love, a screen adaption of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book of the same name. Founded in 1906, Da Michele is a Naples institution and is frequented by tourists and locals alike. Our final stop of the night was Pizzeria Da Attilio, a cozy, family run restaurant which was recently featured on David Chang’s popular Netflix show, Ugly Delicious.
The Winner of our Neapolitan Pizza Crawl
Honestly, I was all ready to deem this place overrated. I mean, it’s one of the first results when you google “best pizza in Naples,” it’s frequently touted as “the best pizza in the world” by journalists, and there’s always a queue populated by Lonely Planet wielding tourists and Eat Pray Love fans; but it turns out that, in this case, the hype is warranted and the line is also made up of locals whose families have been eating at Da Michele for generations. Founder Michele Condurro had a goal of serving Neopolitan style pizza as it was originally conceived – unembellished and uncorrupted. Five generations later, the Condurro family is still in charge of this “sacred temple of pizza” and, in keeping with Michele’s wishes, Da Michele offers only two types of pizza: Margherita (tomato, basil, garlic, and fiore di latte) and Marinara (tomato, oregano, and garlic – no cheese). It’s not accredited by the AVPN, basically, because it doesn’t need to be. The pizzas are in a league of their own (plus they use sunflower oil as they feel olive oil is too flavorful to allow the other ingredients to shine). The crust is incredibly thin – it’s rather mesmerizing to watch the pizzaioli stretch the dough out over the wooden peels – and the pizza is baked in a blazing hot oven for less than 90 seconds. The end result is an incredibly tender, chewy pizza with cheetah-like charred spots dotting the crust (caused by the crust bubbling up when it’s inserted into the oven). In the words of Elizabet Gilbert (which can be found in frames alongside the many family photographs that line the walls) it was “Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise.” To accompany your pizza you can choose between beer (Peroni), Coke, or water. That’s it. While it usually takes us a good 15 minutes to peruse a menu and decide our plan of attack, here we were able to order pretty much immediately upon being seated – one of each pizza and three beers. There is something liberating about not having to choose! Service was brusque, but efficient and we were in and out in under 25 minutes and for less than €25 . It was perfect.
The Runner Up of our Neapolitan Pizza Crawl
For a more innovative take on Neapolitan pizza, we headed to Da Attilio. Founded in 1938, this cozy spot is run by Attilio Bachetti, the grandson of the original owner. In addition to being a master pizzaiolo, he is also a sommelier and an expert on cheese and oils, which is reflected in the menu and wine list. There are over 30 unique pizzas to choose from star shaped pies with ricotta filled points, to pizza al pesto, to saltimbocca (a folded pizza that some call a “pizza sandwich”). We decided on a Margherita (for comparison purposes) and a Pizza Fiore, which was topped with pumpkin flowers, smoked provola, fresh tomatoes, bacon, and pistachios. Despite the fact that we were all very full at this point, we managed to demolish both pizzas fairly easily – a testament to how tasty they were – and washed them down with a nice Aglianico. The crust here was slightly less tender than that of Da Michele, which, though slightly less delicious, did made the pizzas a bit easier to eat. The char marks on the crust were a little larger and less evenly distributed. The quality of the toppings was excellent and the Fiore was particularly memorable. I would definitely like to return with an empty stomach and room to enjoy more of their specialty pies!
Third place in our Neapolitan Pizza Crawl
Though our Margherita pizza at Di Matteo was very delicious, it just couldn’t quite compete with the other two pizzerias we visited on our crawl. The crust was good, though it was slightly thicker than that of Da Michele, and the toppings were less flavorful than those at Da Attilio. However, it’s definitely a worthwhile choice if the line at either of the other places is too long!
Pizzerias we Plan to Visit on our Next Trip to Naples
I’m sure this won’t be our last trip to Naples, so we have a list going of other places we’d like to try. In no particular order they are:
· La Masardona (for fried pizza, another Neapolitan specialty)
· Pepe In Grani (located 30 miles outside of Naples)
Though on second thought, maybe we’ll just go back to Da Michele.
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