Neapolitan pizza matters. Really. Were it not for the Neapolitani, there's a good chance we wouldn't have the various American-style pizzas we love and adore. And the story of the invention of pizza Margherita is iconic. It is lore among pizza geeks. But ultimately, I find it difficult to care about the pizza itself.
Yes, I've been to Naples and eaten pizza where it has the home-turf advantage. It was easily the best Neapolitan pie ever. Interestingly, the next best Neapolitan pizza I've had (after that of my own making) is in Salt Lake City. There's a restaurant in downtown Salt Lake called Settebello, started by a young Mormon gent who served his mission in Naples and apparently had a pizza epiphany. Since he hails from a regional, US-pizza culture where it seems pizza is largely made for feeding big families with dense slabs of dough hosting lots of cheese and toppings, some locals probably perceive Settebello as heresy. But if you're in SLC (or near one of its seven locations now operating in the west) and are a fan of Neapolitan-style pizza, it's a win. Ironically, in perpetually alcohol-challenged SLC at least, Settebello also has a good, affordable wine list.
I respect and appreciate what Naples has wrought. Ironically, perhaps, the city of Naples I visited a few years ago has the feel of early 1970's Manhattan. Much of it is rough, gritty, and covered in graffiti. But for my own palate, the evolution of pizza into neo-Neapolitan and New York-style is really where the humble pie wins me over. A more structured crust (made in defiance of the laws of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) gives it more bite, more crunch. A blend of cheeses beyond mere fresh mozzarella gives it more flavor. The American upgrades to the stock pizza are small, but their contributions are significant. Maybe it's all about first love. Maybe the kind of pie that we first learn to enjoy becomes imprinted into our genetic material.
I respect the pizza of Naples. But I love the pizza of New Haven and New York.
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Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the new, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, professional-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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