Eat Pizza Love, what's your pizza story?
Ask any New Yorker where to find the best pizza in New York, and chances are you will get a story. About a place in the neighborhood where they grew up, or a pizza topped with caviar and truffles on the upper east side, or one about the Neapolitan guy who imports water from Naples to ensure his pizza is authentic. Whatever the answer may be, the important part is that a story is given, and pizza more than any other food, incites this. Its a declaration of passion, a taste memory that defies logic and reason. It opens the debates about styles, taste, and trends and almost every New Yorker has one.
My story is simple and fairly straight forward. Growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn there were pizzerias on every street corner. Most had a fine slice, the type that wasn't made to order but instead sat on a Formica countertop between mounds of garlic knots and a soda dispensing machine. On Eighteenth Avenue, the epicenter of Italian American commerce in Brooklyn at the time, stood a modest neighborhood pizzeria, Da Vinci. This was my neighborhood place, my slice. It was my favorite and even now I can vividly recall the simple ‘round’ pie, minimally topped with mozzarella and sauce, thin at the center with a gradual increase of dough to the crust where it ballooned with texture and char.
For as long as I could remember It was my place, my slice, my story.
My journey from Brooklyn to the streets of Naples was unintentional but not so unnatural. I spent most of my afternoons after school in my families Italian food shop, stocking shelves and packing bags. I was constantly surrounded by piles of imported dried spaghetti, gallons of extra virgin olive oil and massive tubs of bitter green olives. Now, it is where I spend most all of my time, though I am less of an observer and more of an active participant.
Overtime my taste changed and I began to develop a better understanding and appreciation for the raw ingredients that make a pizza what it is. For years I refused to eat a slice of pizza without crispy pepperoni with its edges curled and slightly burnt floating in its oily residue. Now I realized it was hot soppressata I was truly yearning for, I just didn't know it.
So now instead of looking for pizza sauce I ask about the actual tomatoes, their country of origin, the region, and even how they were treated. The dough became a key factor in my appreciation for the pie as well, and how it was handled became increasingly importance. Recently at a pizza demonstration by top rated pizzaioli from New York and Naples, one pizzaioli with little candor and much bravado compared his treatment of the dough to the same way he handles his wife, gently and with care.
Now more than ever pizza has become a serious matter.
Much of my appreciation and fundamental beliefs of pizza where developed in 2004 when I embarked on a life changing trip to Naples with Charles Scicolone, the Eat Pizza commander and chief. Here I discovered the birth and principal of pizza as its creators saw it. Simplicity was key, and less was almost to much. We traveled to pizzerias in search of what made a true pizza work. I discovered how fresh buffalo mozzarella could and should taste, and how clean and silky smooth it was. At the end we even made our own pie, exercising the restraint our the locals held so dear.
Now my story varies as do so many other things in our lives. Most always I can appreciate a good Sicilian slice, thick and charred on the bottom, oozing with cheese and a spicy tomato sauce. Other times crave a more classic Neapolitan approach reminiscent of my days in Spacca Napoli. I am not sure if I have a single spot, where you could find me eating my favorite slice on a regular basis. New York has become populated with so many great pies, each interpreted with such care and imagination.
Eat Pizza is an extension of this journey, a place where we can share our pizza stories, the good, the bad, and the sublimely delicious.
Many years ago on that fateful trip in Naples, I reevaluated what pizza meant to me, and i realized it was more than its availability, simplicity, and status as the ultimate comfort food. It also tasted really good.