Salerno, Italy: Pizzeria da Riccardo
Or, "A Bronx Tail"
Of all the Little Italys across the U.S., New York City was blessed with the three best. From the original, in downtown Manhattan, to what was once the most authentically Italian, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and to the still-vibrant Arthur Avenue neighborhood in the Bronx. To quote Henry Hill, "It was a glorious time."
Gianluca Rottura (of Pizza and Coffee), who you might know as "nextgospel" here on Slice, dropped this dispatch in my inbox the other day. For all those wondering what the difference between Salerno-style and Naples-style pizza was, he covers it here, after the jump. Oh, and there are photos there, too. —The Mgmt.
I use the past tense was because sadly many "Italian" neighborhoods are empty of Italians, their descendants, the culture, and food. Others, like the original Little Italy in downtown Manhattan, are run by many who pretend to be Italian for business purposes and of course lack Soul.
The Bronx always depressed me for various reasons, and after living there for four years, the feeling got worse. That said, the Bronx's Little Italy on and around Arthur Avenue still offers the best Italian food shopping experience. Though many of the restaurants are not good (yes, I said it, suck it), the ones that are good....are very good.
Roberto's, a well-respected, landmark restaurant, is one of the best in the area. I used to go in the '80s when it was Tony & Roberto's, though have not been back since.
A few years ago, the owner, Roberto Piacullo, from Salerno, set out to open a cheaper version of Roberto's and offer some of America's best pizza. He named the place 089 [aka Zero Otto Nove, as some folks call it —The Mgmt.] after the area code of Salerno. So, what do you do when you want to make some of the best pizza? You get one of the best pizzaioli.
His name is Riccardo Rinaldo, and he, too, hails from Salerno, a beautiful and charming city that introduces the Amalfi coast to the Mediterranean Sea (Tyrrhenian, to be exact).
It is also the province where my mother is from and where I have spent much of my time. Thanks to Rinaldo's talent as a pizzaiolo, 089 served what many believed to be some of the best pizza in America. After eating there years ago, it certainly did live up to the hype.
As famous as he became for his pizzas, Rinaldo also became known for having lines of girls swoon over him as he stretched dough and added toppings. So, you get it now? "Bronx Tail"? As great as the American experience was, Rinaldo longed for Salerno and eventually retured to open his own place there, Pizzeria da Riccardo.
The pizzeria fulfilled a dream of Rinaldo's, which, oddly enough, was to make Neapolitan, not Salernitana pizza. As we discussed the differences, Rinaldo told me, "I never liked the style of pizza here. I never wanted to make that. I prefer the Neapolitan style, and that's what I make."
Compared to non-Neapolitan pizza, Salerno pizza is very similar to Neapolitan. The difference between Salerno's pizzas and that of neighboring Naples is that Salerno's are crisper, less puffy, less wet, and have a lower crust.
I always believed Americans would actually love Salernitana pizza and I always dreamed of opening a Salernitana pizzeria, not Neapolitan.
Though the pizza he made for me was Neapolitan, Riccardo does alter it a bit for his Salernitani customers.
The pizza he served me was fantastic. I mean very good. He's a true pizzaiolo because he actually gives a shit about every pie he makes and suggested I take a picture of it, before I even had a chance to pull out my camera.
Though his place is tiny, perhaps offering only 100 square feet of eating space, all of which consists of a few chairs and counters replacing chairs, the warmth of his reception was enough to fill Stadio Arechi.
His pizzeria is also a rosticceria, so other foods are available. Rosticceria? What a great word! Now some schmuck in America will capitalize on it because people in New York fiend for anything to quench their soulless thirst.
For Gelato I usually go to one of Italy's favorite gelato spots, called Nettuno, located on Salerno's promenade.
It's famous for its ice cream sandwiches, brioche buns filled with the gelato of your choosing, sometimes topped with cream. I chose a cone with hazelnut and ricotta-pistachio cream. As I caught eye contact with a stunning girl on vacation with her mother and aunt, I let a third of it drip on my hands as I completely ruined the mood. I somehow managed to walk across the street to the point where the land met the Mediterranean. Ahhhhh, exactly where I want my cremated remains to be scattered. There's no better place to be spread.