(Pizza Margherita from Da Michele in Naples)
I’m talking Pizza Margherita from Naples today, and a story of two pizzerie. One is from the famous Da Michele, most recently highlighted in the book and movie Eat Pray Love, and, the other, from Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro.
Pizza is the pride of Naples. They boast being its creator, so much so that there is an association for the Verace Pizza Napoletana (real Naples pizza). If you follow VPN's strict eleven-page "Method of Production" (regulating everything, even the temperature at which you bake the pizza), they will give you their stamp of approval, a sign with Pulcinella as pizza maker for your storefront.
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Since it's such serious business, I asked locals and expats living there, “Where is the best pizzeria in Naples?” A definitive answer should be easy, right? Not! What I got was the name of a different pizzeria from each person I asked. It’s like asking a Parisien, “Who makes the best baguette?” It’s personal, and each person has a strong opinion on the subject. I had to find my own “best pizza in Naples.” There was only one problem; I wasn’t going to be there long enough to try every pizzeria, not even when I narrowed it down to a list of best pizzerie in Naples or this list, or this, or even the list of Verace Pizzerie in Napoli (Certified “real pizza of Naples”). Instead, I went to two, Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro and the famous Da Michele.
I went to Trianon da Ciro first. My friend and I, both Naples pizza-eating virgins, and our virgin status was obvious from the moment we stepped into the doorway. Wide-eyed, anxious, and enamored with the pizzaioli (pizza makers), we stared open-mouthed while watching them work. You would think they were performing some life-saving operation instead of stretching dough, topping it and sliding it in the wood-burning oven. We asked the rock star, uhm I mean, pizzaiolo if we could take a picture with him. His smirk was one of amusement as this is a typical question of tourists, and he appeased us, even dressed me in his hat and apron. The three-story pizzeria was crowded with Napoletani shouting out their orders to the waiters as if they were asking their moms to make them a pizza, “Mi fai una marghertia…” (Make me a Margherita). My friend and I each ordered the house specialty, the Margherita DOC. It’s a pizza with buffalo milk mozzarella, freshly sliced tomatoes, and topped with olive oil and basil, no tomato sauce. The crust was crisp on the outside, and soft and chewy inside. It was loaded with milky mozzarella and sweet tomato flavors, with an occasional burst of basil here and there. Simplicity, intensity, perfection in each bite. We each ate our whole pizza, moaning, slurping and sighing the entire time. Our reactions more closely resembled Meg Ryan’s restaurant scene in Harry Met Sally than Julia Robert’s “Embrace your muffin top" discourse in Eat Pray Love.
After a walking tour of the old streets and churches of Naples with Bonnie from NapoliUnplugged, she and I checked out Da Michele. She had never been to Da Michele, either. (Her favorite pizza Napoletana is actually on the island of Ischia.) Outside Da Michele was packed with people, many were guide-book toting travelers, waiting for tables. I was both relieved and suspicious when they gave us a ticket with a number on it. We would only have to wait for our number to be called, and not have to elbow our way to the front. But, really? Numbers, organization in Naples? Confused and taken aback, I wondered, was I still in Italy, in Naples? Our number was called; we were rushed to our seats. The waiter came, stood above us and waited for our order. He might have even spoken in English (it all happened so fast, I’m not sure). We had only two choices, pizza margherita (fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, salt) or pizza marinara (fresh tomato sauce, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt), both 4 euros. We could get doppia mozzarella (double cheese) for 1.50 euros extra, but we didn’t. He came back about 5 minutes later with our orders. It was an authentic, traditional pizza margherita. The shape was oblong, with the required bubbling edges and char marks, but the crust was neither chewy nor crisp. The sauce lacked the sweetness that I’m used to in San Marzano tomatoes. The cheese was fior di latte—cow's milk mozzarella, normal in pizza margherita. I prefer the more milky flavor of buffalo mozzarella, and I should have had the doppia. There was no excitement as we ate, no fireworks. It was good, sufficient, nothing more. We ate, we paid, we left.
Obviously for me, Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro is the winner in this pizza face-off. Were my expectations too high because of all the hype surrounding Da Michele? Was it an off-day for them? Will nothing be as good as my first pizza Napoletana experience? I don't know, but as I said, pizza is personal, and I am certain in my pizzeria preference. There is much more to the food of Naples and to Naples in general, than just pizza, but I’m definitely going back on a longer pizza-eating mission.
After Bonnie had me laughing at the antics of the Napoletani on New Year’s Eve, I’m hoping to be there then. One thing is certain, I will always remember the magical night at Trianon da Ciro and my first pizza in Napoli.
Trianon da Ciro (via P. Colletta 46) and Da Michele (via Sersale 13) are actually across the street, or across the little piazza, from each other. Both can be reached by bus R2 or any bus that runs along Corso Umberto (Take the stop at Via Colletta)
Where is your favorite pizzeria, in Napoli or elsewhere?