Here it is, New York, a real Naples pie! From Naples!
It was our privilege today to be flamed (very gently, more like being toasted) by Adam Kuban of Slice, the very venerable pizza blog. The subject, of course, was pizza, in particular our selection of Roberta’s of Bushwick as Best Naples-Style Pizza in our annual Best Of issue. His objection–which, we admit was fairly well founded–was that Roberta’s doesn’t really make Naples-style pizza at all, but some frankenpizza that is nonetheless desirable. He also lauds Roberta’s for “sustainorganica” (nice coinage) attitudes, great vibe, and especially for its non-pizza items.
Now, Adam and me go way back. In fact, long ago I contributed to his blog (which has since been gobbled up by Serious Eats, lining his pockets with green, I hope) the first pictures of actual Naples pizzas that have been taken by a Westerner. They show Naples pies in all their bland, less-than-puffy, plebian, scantly-topped glory. I have since been very vocal on the topic.
New York pizza parlors that claim to make Naples-style pizzas are a joke on several levels, though sometimes they partly succeed in making crusts that taste somewhat like those of Naples. But then they totally fuck the rest of it up.
Naples pizza parlors are workaday eateries, in which you see guys in dungerees covered with dirt rubbing elbows with ladies in business suits. Some of the best Naples pizzas are sold from carts on the street, and the only topping is a schmear of plain tomato sauce, with a single cube of fiore di latte (what we call homemade mozzarella) planted in the middle as an incentive to plunk down your 75 Euro pennies. Your rarely see anything that comes from a buffalo on Naples pies.
Here, Naples pizzas got all pretentious and weird, and hoisted prohibitive pricetags. And despite the superficial resemblance of the pies in some cases, the whole tradition has been totally betrayed on these shores. Here, the pies are often priced in the $15 to $20 range for a single small pie. In Naples, you choose your strew of toppings from a very limited list. Here, in response to what the owners cynically feel the public wants, pizzaioli throw all sorts of crap on their pies, stuff that doesn’t belong there.
Let’s take the current darling of the Naples-pizza set: Keste. I quote directly from their menu:
Pizza Del Re: fresh mozzarella, mushroom, prosciutto di parma, truffle spread, extra virgin olive oil 19.00
Truffle spread? Who the hell in Naples puts truffle spread on their pies?
Pizza De Papa: butternut squash cream, imported smoked mozzarella, artichoke 16.00
This is a ridiculous combo of ingredients, a total invention.
So, let me get this straight. If you claim to be making Naples pies in New York, you get all pious about the crust and the oven, and then you do whatever the hell you want when it comes to the toppings?
Note that the sainted Motorino also uses non-traditional ingredients (broccoli rabe, for example) on its pies. But Adam is right–the pies there are excellent, and I believe I was one of the first to review them enthusiastically. But they certainly aren’t Naples pies, either.
Another thing. In Naples what do diners wash their pizza down with? Your choices are usually limited to two beverages: Italian beer or Coca-Cola. That’s right. In Naples, you drink Coke (that most Italian of beverages) with your pizza. So what’s with the high-priced wine lists at our faux-Naples-style parlors? I almost wept at one of these places as I saw a guy drinking a bottle of Barolo with his pie. What a waste of Barolo.
As I’ve said on this blog before, if you want to drink wine with pizza, pick one of the light, fizzy, slightly sweet reds made in the vicinity of Naples. That almost works. Not quite as good as Coke, but it works.
So why did we pick Roberta’s as our favorite Naples style pie of the year? Because, in its vibe, genuine goodness, size of the pie, choice of local ingredients (very, very local), it comes closer than Keste or La Pizza Fresca or Motorino to capturing the spirit, and part of the taste, of Naples-style pizza.
Actually, come to think of it, Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano comes closer than all those places to the true spirit of Naples pies, in everything but size.
Rebecca Marx has just emailed me on the subject of the Slice flame: “I think it’s funny that his refutation was about three times as long as what you guys had originally written. He says we’re trying to spike readership and blog hits, but posts like his are written solely to accomplish the same goal.”
Yeah, and we’re guilty of the same thing. Gee, thanks, Adam, for giving us another opportunity to barf more verbal garbage onto the interweb.