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Nov 3, 2010 05:33 PM

On Neapolitan Pizza

Warning: high horse.

I think Neapolitan pizza is one of the most confusing types of food for foodies, and I use that term with some sarcasm. The real thing is a very particular beast, made with minimal ingredients and a crust that is everything the average American doesn't want in a pizza. On one side, you have influential food bloggers who know what it is supposed to be, who geek out over the details, and reward the dedication of particular hard-working pizzaiolos with positive press on their blogs. On the other side, you have legions of people who read food blogs, who think they're seriously knowledgeable about food, yet are ultimately so ignorant that they think that their platonic ideal of pizza, formed in their youth in a booth in Dominos, should match some food blogger's recommendation of an excellent Neapolitan pizza. When they don't like it, the cognitive dissonance is hard to take, and they must ask themselves: is the well-known food blogger who recommended this place wrong? Is my palette wrong? Are my tastes pedestrian? Do I just not get it? Is the restaurant overrated?

Some go quietly into the night, some wake up and try to learn more, and some go out and scream from the rooftops through their keyboards that Pizzeria Napoli Number Nine is overrated.

I have been, at some point, each of those people.

I say all this as someone who in part thinks Neapolitan pizza is not nearly as good as many other styles of pizzas, someone who has eaten them at the "best" places in Napoli, yet still someone who enjoys the sensory memory triggered by a real Neapolitan-style pizza, that can bring back memories of gritty, thieving, criminal Napoli, with its beautiful museums, amazing shellfish, and nutella-filled bombolini warmed up in microwaves, in the way of the local tradition.

Can we all just have a moment of sanity, and agree that the true Neapolitan Pizza is not really a crowd pleaser? That it is a bit eccentric and odd, in the way that a perfectly good donut, subjected to a microwave, is a bit odd? That it might satisfy you in certain ways, but leave you wanting something a little different in other ways?

Can we also agree that the proliferation of pizzas made in wood ovens is a Good Thing, to borrow a phrase from Martha? That putting good fresh mozzarella on pizzas, rather than fake pre-shredded cheese, is a good thing? That we don't all have to like the same things?

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  1. We definitely don't like the same thing.

    2 Replies
    1. re: scarmoza

      Where's my copy editor? I mainly wanted to focus on what might generate so much confusing discussion about Neapolitan pizza. My statement that Neapolitan pizza is not nearly as good as many other styles of pizza is indefensible, and I caught myself in my own cross-hairs. I don't think it's my favorite type of pizza, but I still love a good one.

      1. re: SteveG

        I've been through Naples once, and that was driving a little Fiat with my mom and sister, trying to follow the signs to "Camping Vesuvio". When we got there the giant outdoor pizza oven was undergoing repairs (by two German students in exchange for free food and their camping space), so we had fried seafood from the ristorante next door. The only pizza I had in Italy was from a wood-burning oven, yes, but over in Puglia, at a place favored by the Americans from the NATO base nearby.

        I do agree pizzas in wood-fired ovens is in itself a good thing, that the simplest ones made with sterling ingredients are the best ones. The first Margherita of my experience was dough, olive oil, a bit of salt, cheese, fresh basil and sliced plum tomato, period, and I adored it. Was it True Neapolitan? How the hell should I know? It was in a brew-pub in Nashville.

    2. Warning: sane horse.

      "...platonic ideal..." "...cognitive dissonance..." "...tastes pedestrian..." Yeah, that is one high, snooty, sounding horse. Foodie type snobs will never get through their pretentious minds, that pizza is pizza, meant to be cheap, peasant style food, not some monster created from the hands of puck. There is bad, electric oven, bizare topping, production line style pizza, and better quality, simple, coal fired, crispier crust kinda pie. I would agree, however, that the pizza you grew up with, is one that you might always favor later in life

      16 Replies
      1. re: BiscuitBoy

        " Foodie type snobs will never get through their pretentious minds, that pizza is pizza, meant to be cheap, peasant style food, not some monster created from the hands of Puck."

        I agree with that. You can take your California Pizza Kitchen and your avocado-kumquat-peekie toe combo, and, well, take it. It's good old pepperoni and mushroom, or hamburger and jalapeno, or salami and fresh garlic, for me. This gourmetization of pizza is rebarbative.

        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          And when the late owner of the most beloved pizza joint in our section of LA County insisted, for all to hear, that the only proper mushrooms for pizza were CANNED, you couldn't have thrown a rock through the flock of horrified foodies that responded to that one. Probably the same ones who think vitello tonnato ought to be made with fresh tuna...

          1. re: Will Owen

            Canned mushrooms are an abomination, on pizza or elsewhere.

            And I like my vitello tonnato with canned tuna (or fresh tuna carpaccio with a nice veal sauce.... but that's probably too 'high horse' for some out here)...

            1. re: linguafood

              High horse? I eat any kind of horse, even on my pizza. Reindeer meat in Norway & finland too.

        2. re: BiscuitBoy

          If I rewrote that post in more low-brow language, would you have a different response? What vocabulary should be used to discuss Neapolitan pizza?

          Hint: I went over the top on purpose. Discussion about pizza deserves a little bit of self-aware humor.

          And last, limiting pizza to cheap peasant-style food is just as bad as limiting pizza to the province of fancy wood-burning stoves installed at great expense with permit wavers in urban centers. Pizza should be for everybody--and that means that there should be cheap pizza and expensive pizza, targeted at different consumers. This isn't the USSR.

          1. re: SteveG

            I don't think he suggested building a gulag.

            1. re: SteveG

              I lived a year in the USSR. there was no pizza; bad metaphor.

              1. re: Passadumkeg

                Not a metaphor. Just a statement that the USA is not a command economy. If someone wants a pizza made with fancy expensive ingredients, I would encourage someone else to make and sell them that pizza. The snobism wrapped up in discussing Neapolitan pizza gets ridiculous, but so too does the anti-elitism that goes on when some people get so distracted by a pizza costing $18 that they can't even bring themselves to give it a fair shake, flavor-wise.

              2. re: SteveG

                Anti-snobbery and high-falutin' language rarely go well together.

                I think what you're saying is essentially true: Neapolitan style pizza isn't for everyone. Whether that's due to taste, style, price, a perception of elitism, probably varies from person to person.

                1. re: tommy

                  Tommy, help me. I grew up in the New Brunswick/Perth Amboy area in the 50/60's. I have eaten pizza in Italy and Naples. Is the Jersey style pizza Neopolitan style? I always felt it was.
                  Bon Jovi and I are alumns.

                2. re: SteveG

                  It sounds as if you just finished a creative writing course, taught at night, by some novel writing wannabe, with all those fancy phrases (uh oh, semi-alliteration!). Write like you talk, man!

                  There shouldn't be expensive pizza, and THAT makes it for everybody. Like panna cotta, pasta fagioli, and broc shouldn't be twisted and adulterated by a trendy cook and upcharged. And finally, in the region I live in, neopolitan style pies are the standard all others try to duplicate. Coal burning ovens, not wood

                  1. re: BiscuitBoy

                    I'm not sure if you're referring to CT and Sally's and Pepe's and their ilk, but that's likely not the style of pizza the to which the OP is referring.

                    I don't really talk that way, but it makes me seem smart.

                    1. re: tommy

                      T, what is Nepo. pizza to you?
                      Just a Jersey Pollack,

                      1. re: tommy

                        Oh no, not you Big T, I was playin with the OP

                      2. re: BiscuitBoy

                        Why can't people do with/to their pizza whatever they want? If you want pineapple on it fine. I'm not eating it, but you are welcome to it.


                  2. Very well said. Bravo for taking the time to write this piece.

                    1. There were, at last count, 67 different types of pizza including Neopolitan, Sicilian and Brooklyn They are all excellent.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: beevod

                        I'll say quite honestly I've hated only two pizzas that I can remember. One tasted okay but destroyed the roof of my mouth, the other had a tomato sauce that tasted exactly like Campbell's tomato soup. Some have been boring, a few have been deliriously good, but even boring pizza is better than none. Red Baron, anyone?

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          Totino's, even. I will happily polish off two at one sitting.

                      2. I have had good Neopolitan style pizza and bad. I've had it from the same pizza place. Cooking consistent pies in a wood fired oven is an art. Leave it too close to the fire or too long on one side and you have a pie with burnt crust. If you're sloppy with the sauce and leave too many bare patches you can get burnt pie. If you use bad ingredients...bad pie. So many variables it's no wonder people decry the simple margarita. Add in what Americans are used to and you are headed for confusion.

                        When I make pizza at home I never make them as simple as the Italians, but they're not meat megalopolis' either. A little red sauce and a few thin slices of tomatoe. I like two different cheeses, mozzarella and robusto and a sprinkle of Parmigiano. I guess that's three. Some good, dry salami and some pinches of italian sausage. And of course home made dough. Mmm, I'm getting hungry.