Every couple has things that they love. For some couples it may be the beach. Others may stop at nothing to enjoy the theater or go to the symphony. For me and my fiancée Hanna, that love is food. Wherever we go we try to get the best, most unique food possible. We always say that we will stop at nothing to get the best food. In Naples, that theory was truly put to the test.
The plan was easy enough: take a day trip from Rome to Napoli, eat lunch and dinner there in order to sample the best pizza in the world. Our first red flag came when we mentioned to Hanna’s cousin Pauline that we wanted to go to Napoli. “No! Don’t go to Napoli!” she screamed. She and her husband Olivier continued to attempt to dissuade us over dinner, saying that Napoli was dirty, dangerous, and ugly. However, when we pressed them, they had to admit that the food was tremendous.
That was enough for us, and we decided to go through with our plan.
The menu at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is not complicated. They have two types of pizza, Margherita and Marinara, the difference being that Margherita has mozzarella cheese on it while the Marinara does not. You can get either pizza in a small or medium, and you have the choice of getting the Margherita “normale” or “doppia”.
The two young men next to us each simply ordered a “doppia,” which meant a Margherita pizza with double mozzarella cheese. He then came to us and Hanna said we wanted Margheritas. He asked “normale o doppia?” and, thinking of how much cheese we had eaten in the past few weeks, I answered “normale.”
As he walked away, the two guys next to us shook their heads. We looked at them and they said “doppia!” as if we had just made a mistake. Luckily the waiter double-checked our order before he gave it to the kitchen, and we were able to change the order to two doppias.
Their pizza arrived before ours and they dug in as if it was the first food they had seen in weeks. They tore the pizza apart, literally (Italian pizza does not come sliced; you have to cut it yourself with a knife and fork), and they were each done with half by the time ours came about five minutes later.
Wanting to prove that I had learned my lesson, I followed their example and started eating right away. I was somewhat apprehensive because I had watched the pizza come out of the oven (about five feet from where we were sitting) a few minutes ago, and I hate burning my mouth on food, especially hot cheese that sticks to the roof of your mouth. The pizza wasn’t too hot; in fact it was absolutely perfect…which gave me a chance to appreciate the taste.
After our first bite, Hanna and I each looked at each other with “that look.” It was the same look we gave each other when we tasted the foie gras ravioli at L’Atelier in Las Vegas, the same look we gave each other when we tasted the tacos from Loteria at the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, the same look we gave each other when we tasted the fried rice at House of Nanking in San Francisco. Suddenly we didn’t care that we had been delayed two hours on the train or that we had walked through dirty, smelly, trash-ridden streets of Naples hoping not to get mugged. There, in one glorious instant, we knew that this was the best pizza we had ever eaten. And that made it all worth it.
It all started with the crust, a perfect char on the outside with a moist, salty sweet dough on the inside. Next came the sauce…easily the best pizza sauce I have ever tasted. It wasn’t thick like the sauce we have Stateside, but rather a liquidy, almost watery texture that made a delicious “pizza soup” in the center of the plate. On top of that were tiny balls of mozzarella and a few leaves of basil in the middle of the pizza. This came as a surprise because in American Margherita pizzas, the basil is much more prominent.
We looked over and saw the guys next to us finishing up their pizzas, folding it New York style and eating it like slices. I found it easier to just cut out little pieces and eat them with the fork. I didn’t seem to draw any critical looks for my method, so I continued.
I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten so fast in my life. I was halfway through the pizza before I came up for air. At that point, the two guys next to us were trying to get the waiter’s attention to order one more “doppia.” Oh to be young.
Towards the end of our pizzas, I looked over at Hanna and saw the combination of too much mozzarella cheese and eating much too quickly start to get to her. She took a little breather as I finished mine up, but of course she powered through it and finished hers as well. She never would have forgiven herself had she left something on the plate. Of course, with me sitting across from her, nothing would have gone to waste.
We looked at pictures later that night and it brought on the typical Pavlovian response of salivation and hunger. Two things stand out from the pizza at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele: the sauce and the crust. I asked Hanna, “How can such a simple concoction be so much better in one place than in another?” She explained that there are thousands of different types of flour, so that plays an important part. The water (as New Yorkers claim) also plays a huge part in the dough. As for the sauce, well, just chalk that up to Michele who either created or inspired one of the best tomato sauces of all time.
It was definitely worth going into the warzone that is Napoli in order to get this pizza. It is something I will never forget and hopefully, when we’re old enough to afford bodyguards, we will return to L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele and experience that pleasure once again.
Read the full Chronicles of My European Adventures here.