Naples, the capitol of pizza, has always held a fascination for all of us who love a good pie. Claiming their pizza to be “Neapolitan” has become a common practice these days among pizza parlors. We often see restaurants including the word “Napoli” or “Neapolitan” in their names, but the pizzas are not strictly Neapolitan. So, how do we know if we are actually eating real, authentic Neapolitan pizza?
There are already pages and pages of articles on the Internet that tell us what makes an authentic Neapolitan pizza. Use finely milled Italian OO flour. Add nothing except water, yeast and salt. Shape the pizza crust by hand. Cooking in a 900 degree Fahrenheit brick oven. These are all well-known requirements we can easily learn about. But as diners, we wouldn’t be informed by the restaurant about their brand of flour or the oven temperature. It’s up to us to figure out, based on the end product, whether we are eating the real deal.
Of course, one may say that the VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) certification will give us a clue. However, not all good restaurants opt to get certified by the AVPN organization. A restaurant can cook up an authentic pizza without the certification. So again, it’s on us to be the judge. In this short blog post, I will show you a few tricks for spotting an authentic Neapolitan pizza, through the appearance, texture, and taste.
The Key to Good Neapolitan Pizza Is The Crust
We Americans tend to throw way the edges of the pizza crust. I do that too, but only to bad pizzas. With a real Neapolitan pizza, the edge is the best part.
Yelp Before You Go
Before you even pick a restaurant, look at the Yelp pictures. Pay close attention to the crust. Does it have any black charred spots? If no, then it’s definitely not Neapolitan.
What you are looking for is a lot of small black charred spots spread across a grey-ish crust. The 900 degree oven would produce tiny blisters on the crust and char them very quickly, resulting in the tell-tale polka dot pattern. Some restaurants brush oil on the crust to achieve some charring in a low-temperature oven, and the result would be a few large charred areas over a yellow crust. That is not authentic.
Also, the edge of the crust must be thick and puffy like a doughnut. A flat edge is an indication that the pizza crust was rolled out instead of shaped by hand. Again, only hand-shaping can help preserving the little air bubbles in the dough, which will turn into charred blisters.
Tasting The Crust
Hopefully, you are able to find a desirable candidate through the prescreening with online pictures. Once you have the pizza in front of you, lift it up and inspect the bottom side. Again, you should see a lot of small black char spots. The surface should also be dry and free of grease or cornmeal.
Now take a bite on the edge. It should be soft, airy, and still somewhat resistant to the bite. Except the black blisters, there shouldn’t be any crispy texture. If the crust tastes crispy, it probably has oil brushed on. You should also notice a strong sour taste from the fermentation. A good pizza dough should be fermented in the fridge at least overnight, producing the tangy and fragrant sour-dough flavor.
Soggy or Dry?
When you lift a slice of pizza, you will notice the thickness of the crust under the sauce and toppings. For an authentic Neapolitan pie, this part of the crust should be very thin. As a result, the juices from the toppings and sauce will likely pool up since there isn’t a thick crust to absorb them. This is OK, as long as the cook gives the pizza enough time (about three minutes) to rest after baking. The resting step allows some moisture to evaporate and settle back into the toppings, instead of leaking to the bottom once the pizza is sliced.
Of course, in Italy the pizza is served uncut, so you’ll have to do the honor. By the time you get to the center, there will be enough resting time and sogginess is kept to a minimum.
What about The Toppings?
Traditional Neapolitan pizza only has two types of toppings: Margherita, and Marinara. Margherita pizza has tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella cheese, while Marinara pizza only has tomatoes and oregano. Both are extremely minimalist, which can get pretty boring even though it’s the authentic way. I’m OK with restaurants going creative with toppings, so long as the cheese is treated properly.
In America, we often celebrate the abundance of cheese on our pizzas, which should cover the entire surface and stretch into mouth-watering strings as commercials have taught us. But with a Neapolitan pizza, the cheese is just another topping, located sparingly here and there. This way, not every bite of the pizza is cheesy and rich, and the taste won’t become dull.
The thickness of the cheese is important. If the cheese slices are too thin, the high heat will quickly break it down into dry curdles. The image below is a vegetarian pizza I had from New York City. The crust was perfectly executed, but part of the cheese broke down. You can see how the melted cheese forms a beehive structure when the protein seized.
Neapolitan Pizza in Dallas
As far as I know, there are only three restaurants in the Metroplex who serve authentic Neapolitan pizza. There are a few more places that come close, but not quite. I certainly hope I have missed some! Please comment and let me know – I’m eager to discover more authentic pizzas.
Probably the first ever VPN-certified pizza in Dallas. Jay Jerrier, founder and owner, left his corporate position to bring mastercraft pizza to Dallas. Thanks to him, I was able to have my first experience of “real pizza”, and there was no going back. Cane Rosso enjoyed immense success, and since opened many more locations all over Texas.
Quietly tucked in a small shopping center on Stacy Rd, Mio Nonno is a hidden gem with big flavors. To this day I still clearly remember the Linguine Puttanesca from Mio Nonno, because I have been trying to replicate this dish at home again and again. And of course, their pizza is rustic, down-to-earth, and fully authentic.
I wish I could give it the same level of praise as Cane Rosso and Mio Nonno, but Sixty Vines simply makes their pizza way too salty. Nonetheless, due to the convenient location in West Plano, it may be the only option for some to experience authentically baked pizza. At least they have wine through the tap!