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Of the many times I have been to Naples, I have usually avoided the big-name pizzerias. In the past few years, I picked up the habit of trading the no-name ones for the superstars.
My summer 2010 journey to Italy was filled with falling in love with every woman I saw, sightseeing, family, and, of course, food.
I know the articles on Slice should be kept short (the last time I made my article too long, Adam Kuban tied me to a hot furnace and force-fed me public-school frozen pizza), so let me jump into the culinary love hole right away.
I had to visit Europeo di Mattozzi. There are a few Mattozzis around Naples, but Europeo, just off of Piazza Borsa, is the navel. I went twice. Once to eat nonpizza items and the second to eat Enzo Imperatore's famous pizza after a day climbing Vesuvius. The other pizzeria I visited was Da Michele — you might have heard of it. That's a joke. Of course you have, unless you've been living in a cave for the past few decades.
Europeo di Mattozzi, But Not for Pizza
Europeo di Mattozzi serves exquisite food and pizza. On my first visit, I had a beautifully simple octopus salad as an appetizer only to prepare me for one of the best plates of pasta I have ever had in my life. I followed with paccheri with seafood. After each bite, I was in drowning in disbelief. I could not believe I was actually experiencing one of those moments where you realize each sensation would be forever remembered as monumental.
I almost cried but I did not want my salty tears to drip onto my food and bring out too much of the sea's flavor. I remember calling my father immediately afterward, just to tell him I had what was certainly one of the best plates of pasta (or anything for that matter) I have ever had.
I tried to put the Europeo experience past me as I told myself, "Love doesn't exist. It's all an illusion. Just be a slut and move on to the next. Don't get tied to this!" After hours of consoling myself with Pintauro's famous sfogliatella, numerous coffees, and, of course, buying purple jackets to match my other Italian colored clothes, I was ready to go to Da Michele.
L'Europeo di Mattozzi: Via Campodisola 4/6/8, Naples, Italy; 081-5521323
Pizzeria da Michele
I was tired, so I took a cab and listened to the cab driver, who told me to be careful when I get to Da Michele. The zone is known to be dangerous, but I grew up in the real New York, which (like I said in 1999) died in 1999, and since one of the crews I knew walked around with hammers, I was not that scared.
"Ecco. Via Sersale," the cab driver told me as I get out with three full shopping bags. I drop my stuff on a chair, go take a leak, and come back to tell the waiter I would like a Margherita pizza, which he urged me to change to a "double mozzarella." The pie came out with less mozzarella than a typical American pie, which gives you an idea of Italian proportions.
Looking around, you could clearly see by what, how, and why Anthony Mangieri (of Una Pizza Napoletana) was influenced. With only two pizzas on offer, the spartan ambiance was pure Neapolitan. I always thought I would like Da Michele but also had a feeling I would be underwhelmed.
I love being wrong. The pizza I ate there was one of the best I have ever had.
Da Michele's pizza is slightly larger than normal. They insist on using only sunflower oil, joining some Italians in expressing the belief that this delicate, almost-bland oil allows the flavors of the tomatoes and mozzarella to really come out.
Many in Italy are doing this. While this reasoning is good, it is also true that it costs less. Let's be honest.
The mozzarella is not made from water-buffalos' milk but from cows'. The fior di latte comes from Agerola, which is on the Amalfi-Sorrento Coast. Closer to Sorrento, they are known for cows and walnuts, among many other beauties.
The pizza got better with each bite. At one point, I almost took my pants off.
Europeo di Mattozzi, This Time for Pizza
After a peaceful hike up Vesuvius, my uncle Ciro and I realized it was not going to blow and left unsatisfied. We looked at each other and decided to head down to Naples.
We originally headed to visit Enzo Coccia. Coccia invited me to visit his Pizzeria La Notizia (Via Michelangelo da Caravaggio, 53/55, Naples, Italy; 081-7142155) when he came to New York to consult at Donatella Arpaia's soon-to-open pizzeria. The only thing was that La Notizia opens at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays. We were too early.
So Zio Ciro and I headed straight to Europeo, this time for pizza. The pies at Europeo would serve as a great introduction to those wanting to experience Neapolitan pizza but still fiend for some crispness.
I have no idea why, but the two Margheritas my uncle and I had came with smoked mozzarella. The pizza was fantastic, but I still do not know to this day if Enzo Imperatore accidentally added the smoked mozzarella, added it to "impress us," or it may very well be the way they make plain Margherita.
Either way, I did not complain. It was exceptional.
In Naples, even the pigeons eat better than most humans do.
It's sad to be back, knowing full well I surely have left fatherless culinary babies all over Italy.
Life is not fair.