I’m convinced there’s never a bad time to talk about pizza. After spilling the beans last week, I thought now would be a good time to take a return trip to the Pizza Belt. And by trip, I don’t mean that figuratively, I mean an actual trip to the Pizza Belt that existed long before the Pizza Belt most of us are familiar with grew into popularity. If the American Northeast is the Pizza Belt, this place is the Pizza Boot.
Of course, I’m talking about Italy, and more specifically, Naples. For those who are curious, the History Channel has a great summary of the history of Neapolitan pizza. Like many ethnic foods we enjoy today, pizza started out as peasant food eaten on the streets (and with the prevalence of $1 slice joints around New York it doesn’t look like much has changed).
A showdown between the Belt and the Boot is inevitable, but before that I’m going to show off my newly acquired food photographing chops:
Pizzeria BrandiMy first exposure to a true Italian Margherita pizza was at Pizzeria Brandi, which if you believe the stories, is also where the rest of the world was first exposed to Margherita. According to the story, the Margherita pizza was invented here while trying to prepare a pizza for Queen Margherita of Savoy. The ingredients were arranged to evoke the Italian flag (tomatoes, cheese, basil – red, white and green). She loved it and the pizza was named in her honor.
I always enjoy a good story with my food, but sometimes it makes me a bit nervous. All too often, places with a story (or that make up a story) often lean a little too hard on that story for their success instead of on the quality of their food. Brandi certainly broke this trend. The order of the day was 1 Margherita pizza, 1 prosciutto pizza and 1 clam pizza. All were absolutely delicious. There’s a freshness to the ingredients that’s hard to describe in words or even capture in pictures. Everything just tastes fresh – the basil, the cheese and especially the tomatoes. My first experience in the Pizza Boot definitely had me questioning what I thought I knew about pizza.
L’Antica Pizzeria Da MicheleThe next stop on my pizza tour was L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. I almost feel the need to recuse myself here, because if it’s run by another Michael, it’s got to be good! Ok, back on topic. Da Michele doesn’t complicate their offerings. There’s the Margherita and the Marinara. I actually prefer restaurants with smaller menus – it shows they are confident in what they are doing. Order up: 1 Margherita pizza.
You get the feeling that someone actually cared about making this pizza and wasn’t trying to churn it out before moving to the next one. Just like at Brandi, the ingredients here tasted unbelievably fresh. The crust was perfectly thin and the tomatoes fresh and ripe – no other toppings necessary. It’s an important reminder that it doesn’t take fancy ingredients or high tech preparation to make damned good food. Ok, I’m making myself hungry so I better stop here.
Time for the big question: which country has better pizza? In my original post on the Pizza Belt, I mostly ignored talking about Italy. After having gained some first hand experience in the matter, I still agree with my approach. They’re just different. I will dearly miss the fresh taste that I got from the Italian pizzas. I’ve had my fair share of pizza across the US and I have never tasted the pure, unadulterated, plain old simple elegance that the Neapolitan pizzas captured. That said, there’s just something about a NY slice that I just couldn’t do without. The best way I can rationalize it is to look at the culture in which these two types of pizza exist. Italian pizza is for going out to a restaurant, sitting down with some friends and enjoying with a bottle (or three) of wine. NY pizza is for grabbing a quick slice during lunch or at the end of a long night or for getting delivered when there are just too many people to cater to everyone’s wants and needs. At the end of the day, everyone loves pizza after all and whether it’s from the Pizza Belt or the Pizza Boot you can’t go wrong (just make sure it isn’t from the Pizza Hut).