Napoli. Home of pizza and mozzarella. Need I say more? Within one hour of disembarking the plane on Friday I was in queue for a seat at Antica Pizzeria da Michele, probably the most famous Pizzeria in Naples. For reference, this is the restaurant that Julia Roberts (or whoever her real life counterpart is) visited in Eat, Pray, Love. And on that point, please never, ever compare my trip to that book/movie; there is no viable comparison and the thought of it offends me. However, if Javier Bardem decides to show up at some point, I won’t complain.
Anyway, Michele is all about no frills tradition. There are two choices – the margherita (mozzarella, basil, tomato, and oil) or marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano, oil, no cheese).
Not a tough choice for me — cheese all the way. I was seated at a four top with three strangers. Although it was uncomfortable, groups of people could wait for hours for a table, whereas I sat down after waiting for less than ten minutes. The pizza arrived quickly.
To be honest, I rate the pizza only rated as only “good.” I have had better in New York, Grimaldi’s in particular. I thought they were too stingy on the cheese and basil. I’m not saying that the pizza needs to be slathered in cheese — I love the classic, light Italian style — but I didn’t think this was enough. The crust was good but a little too soggy in the middle. I knew I could find better.
The next night, my goal was realized. I had what was probably the best pizza of my life at Pizzeria Starita. I learned of the restaurant through the Frugal Travel column in the New York Times, and while Starita has received many accolades for its pizza, it remains off the beaten tourist track (possibly due to its location). Locals line up (well, the Italian version of lining up, which basically means crowd around) outside the door before it opens and I’ve heard they will wait even 90 minutes for a table. I ordered the Racchetta, a pizza shaped like a racquetball racquet. What would be the head of the racquet was topped with buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and crispy eggplant. The handle of the racquet was stuffed with ricotta and mushrooms. In short, this may be the greatest dish ever conceived.
There was a moment when I said to myself “Lacey, consider whether you should really eat the whole thing. You are going to get fat.” That thought quickly passed when I realized how I may never again have the opportunity to eat the best pizza of my life. I devoured the Racchetta.
Yesterday, I made sure to have one more mozzarella experience before leaving Naples. Mozzarella is made daily and is best only for that day. It is acceptable to eat it the day after, but certainly not after that. I now realize how much crap is sold in supermarkets and how much of a difference fresh, good cheese makes. Take this caprese salad. After looking at it, can you ever eat anything but fresh mozzarella again? I don’t think I can.
Coffee is another form of art in Naples. Many say it is the best in Italy and, interestingly, they serve an espresso, or “caffe” as it is called in Italy, already sweetened. I don’t usually put sugar in my coffee, but when in Rome, do as the Romans (or as the Napolitani, whatever). This is a pretty famous coffee shop called Cafe Mexico on Via Toledo.
Sometimes, rather than regular sugar, baristas use a sweet coffee cream with the caffe. I don’t know what this concoction is called, but it is delicious and was introduced to me by Michele (i.e. Italian for Michael and unrelated to the pizzeria), a co-owner of the B&B pictured below. I love the Napolitani.