1910 West El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040; (map); 650-969-4884; napoletanapizzeria.com
Pizza style: Neapolitan-style
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: Solid renditions of Neapolitan-style pizza with the added twist of an upscale version stuffed crust pie
Price: Pies, $12 to $17
It would be hard to imagine a restaurant more unprepossessing than Napoletana Pizzeria. Sitting in a nondescript strip mall, I might have rolled right by the plain blue lettering above the entrance if I hadn't been looking for it. And though a relatively high number of Yelp reviews attests to some local hype for the year-old restaurant in Mountain View, the buzz didn't get loud enough to reach up to San Francisco. It took Slice'r Blindman121 to draw my attention to the place, and then almost ten months for me to drag myself down there. But I'm glad I did, as Napoletana turns out a solid Neapolitan-style pie, including a stuffed-crust version that might serve as an eye-opener for Pizza Hut executives.
Costas Eleftheriadis, the owner and pizzaiolo at Napoletana, says he got a taste for pizza when visiting family in Naples. Eleftheriadis is half-Italian and half-Greek, if the name didn't tip you off already. The former commercial pilot and flight instructor gained some pizza bona fides beyond his heritage when he earned his VPN certification in May of 2010. He doesn't trumpet these credentials though—a small certificate hangs over his workspace towards the back of the restaurant—but instead lets the pies that come out of the oven advertise his allegiances.
It was the already-installed wood-fired oven that convinced Eleftheriadis to take this space in a strip mall. He says it's not the perfect oven—he wishes the floor were made of a single stone rather than three, which would result in more even heat distribution—but it burns plenty hot. While I sat watching him makes pies, his laser thermometer gave back a reading just over a thousand degrees, torrid enough to cause polka-dots of char to form almost instantaeously on the edge of the pizza closest to the oven's flame. Pies cooked in around 60 seconds.
One might hope for a bit more rise from the crust at Napoletana, but it has that tangy flavor from the char, and a gossamer layer of crispness around a tender interior. A chewiness develops as pies sit for a moment outside of the oven. Slices have Neapolitan-style droopy tips which seems to be the main point of contention amongst lovers and haters on Yelp, who act out a subdued pizza culture war in their reviews of Napoletana.
Eleftheriadis makes his Margherita with a medium-flavored sauce of Italian Roma tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. He applies whole leaves of basil generously which begin to blacken in the heat of the oven. (The color scheme of this pie more closely echoes the Yemeni flag than the Italian flag.) The only salt on the pie comes from a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and I wondered if some crystals of actual salt on top of the finished product might have made this pie really sing. But augmented with a pour of olive oil, the end result was still a faithful and tasty rendition of the Margherita.
Though Napoletana's Carcerato at first appears just like the Margherita, it conceals something far more unique. The giveaway is a crust that rises higher on one side of the pie than the other, where the bread encloses a cylinder of ricotta cheese.
Our waitress told us that, in Italy, these pies usually contain ricotta in only a quarter of the crust, but Eleftheriadis increased the cheese due to customer demand. I can see why the Italian version models restraint. With the rich ricotta at its center, this crust reminded us of cannelloni, but the cheese had enough sweet notes that it almost could have been dessert. In fact, chewing through a slice to reach that tube of fat-filled bread would be a pretty good way to cap a meal.
Napoletana offers a range of pies with Italian meats, and a few that play with smoked mozzarella. We kept it simple by sampling the restaurant's namesake pie, the Napoletana, basically a Margherita plus housemade sausage. The crumbles of pork offered lots of good fennely flavor, though serving it in such small pieces stole some of the pleasure one might have derived from biting into larger, meatier chunks. The basil on this pie had suffered a particularly brutal scorching.
Along with the oven, the space that houses Napoletana Pizzeria came pre-equipped with a mural of San Francisco streets. Mountain View residents should feel pleased that they don't have to make the 45-minute trip to those streets in order find themselves a likeable rendition of a Neapolitan-style pie.