See Naples and then eat pizza. To paraphrase the old saying made famous by Goethe, it is inevitable that a trip to Naples, however short and occasional, ends up resulting in the tasting of a pizza. Wallet-style, fried, by the meter, cartwheel, high hydration, battilocchio or montanara: whichever way you choose, it seems a natural gesture, as soon as you land in the chaos of the central station, head towards a pizzeria, a warm refuge with the scent of bread.
It is in fact the best way to get in tune with the city and in sentimental connection with the Neapolitan people. And with its neighborhoods, given that the city is “a thousand culures”, to quote Pino Daniele, a kaleidoscope of stratified worlds, in which even pizza takes on a different dimension and shape, depending on the colors of the alleys and habits of its inhabitants.
So let’s start a tour to tell some of these realities, without the pretension of finding the best pizza in Naples, an almost impossible mission that only a true Neapolitan could try to try.
Before setting off for Mergellina and Bagnoli, with a passage through the Sanità district, let’s make a premise by going up to Vomero, the hill overlooking the seafront. Residential district, bourgeois, young, panoramic terrace to visit for a look from above but also for the Baroque Certosa of the San Martino museum, for the medieval Castel Sant’Elmo, Piazza Vanvitelli, Villa Floridiana and other urban jewels.
As Dario De Marco recounts in his Looking for the perfect pizza (66thand2nd 2021), the first pizzerias were born in the center in the mid-eighteenth century. But something changes when the pizzerias move towards the richer, more bourgeois areas. In 1916 they opened Umberto a Chiaia and Gorizia al Vomero (still existing today). In this passage, pizza becomes bourgeois, it gives itself a new dress for a new social class. It becomes smaller, it doesn’t overflow from the plate like the “cart wheel” one. It is enriched with mozzarella, which previously served only to give color, and is accompanied by other dishes, eventually giving birth to the best-known variants of the margherita, starting with sausage and friarielli.
If you want to step back into tradition, you’ll be spoiled for choice, from Michele ai Tribunali’s pizza to the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Piazza Dante. Here we are in a widening of via Toledo, where a world made up of a myriad of bookshops and stalls begins, leading to piazza Bellini, the Conservatory, Spaccanapoli. To remain in the tradition there are also Ciro in Santa Brigida, Mattozzi in Piazza Carità, Lombardi in Forìa.
We begin our itinerary by looking for some new reality, given that the pizza makers of Naples have long since grown up, they are entrepreneurs who export pizza all over the world, open clubs in bursts (see Gino Sorbillo and Salvatore Di Matteo) and experiment, with high hydration doughs and quality flours.
This is the case of 50 Kalò, Ciro Salvo’s pizzeria: we are in Piazza Sannazzaro, between Posillipo, Mergellina and Fuorigrotta, the landing point of via Caracciolo, the seafront that flanks the park of the Villa Comunale and the Chiaia Riviera. Ciro Salvo is in his third generation of pizza makers. 50 Kalò is a strange name, which has its own explanation: “50” in the Neapolitan cabala is bread, while kalò in the ancient unwritten jargon of pizza makers means good, from the Greek kalos. The environment is minimal, modern, but the space is so large as to risk impersonality, coldness: plastic chairs, large photos of mozzarella on the walls. You don’t book, as in many Neapolitan pizzerias, but the queue goes on
The pizza is one of the best around, with a soft, digestible dough, with leavening between 20 and 24 hours and very high hydration. High hydration is one of the extra weapons of the new pizza makers (among them Guglielmo Vuolo) who, with the help of strong, gluten-rich flours, create a light, fragrant, high dough with an extraordinary honeycomb structure (the honeycombs are the holes found in the ledge, the edge of the pizza). This is Ciro Salvo’s pizza, which also excels in terms of raw materials: extra virgin olive oil at the end of cooking, Casa Marrazzo tomatoes, Agerola fior di latte. A daisy costs 6.5 euros, the others do not exceed 9.5 euros. As for wine, we drink a glass of Gragnano, an eruption of red foam that evokes Vesuvius and that goes well with pizza (better a sparkling red, or a sparkling bubble, than the usual beer).
If we want to get out of the narrow streets of the center and see a less holographical Naples, it’s time to go to Bagnoli, devastated by the steel mills and the subject of a thousand redevelopment projects, which for now have seen the birth of the beautiful City of Science. Diego Vitagliano, born in 1995, a young certainty of the new generation of contemporary pizza chefs, did not wait for futuristic projects, who opened here “10”, a large modern but warm restaurant, with a very long counter, a space for gluten-free pizza and a bakery.
On the beautiful iron tables, a bread crust flavored towel awaits us, but we are interested in this spectacular disc made with a dough with organic type 1 preference, a 36-hour leavening, high hydration and a very low amount of salt. The cornice is high, in a dinghy shape, with some slight burns. The Big Seven Travel website judged it the best pizzeria in Europe: we don’t feel like expanding so much, but it sure is a show. Thanks also to the raw material, all from Campania, with the exception of the Apulian Muraglia oil. Vitagliano experiments and on the menu there are also crispy and fried pizzas, the ones Sophia Loren was crazy about.
But for this chapter, i.e. fried pizzas, we move to Sanità, a working-class district of Naples. In this district there is a traditional classic: Concettina ai Tre Santi. But we try a young woman who is making her way, Isabella De Cham. First she cut her teeth in quality places: from Zia Esterina Sorbillo, at Masardona, and with Vincenzo Durante at Forcella. Then she returned to the neighborhood where she was born and she created her local lei: small, modern, with two floors.
If the idea of a fried pizza scares you, don’t worry, we are in the realm of lightness. Airy, scented fries, for batocchi (stuffed), montanarine (with tomato sauce, cheese and basil) and highly leavened pizzas, swollen, soft, acrobatic, with breathing alveoli. The batocchio costs 5 euros, the pizza 7 and is offered in many versions: marinara, complete (with cicoli, provola and ricotta), yellow diavola (with chilli pepper), tarallo (with ‘nduja), with fennel or octopus.
As for the wines, the restaurant leaves something to be desired (they recommend a prosecco), and the black leather seats are a bit out of place, but in any case what matters, as in all pizzerias, is what they bring to your table. And here the pizzas are worth the trip, as is the lively via Arena della Sanità, which contains two millennia of history in 200 metres.
Here are the Hellenistic burial ground, a stretch of the Serino aqueduct, Palazzo de’ Liguoro di Presicce and the splendid Palazzo Sanfelice, where Eduardo De Filippo turned These ghosts. To visit at the Sanità (for now it is closed, but the reopening is awaited) the Fontanelle cemetery, built inside a tuff quarry dug under the Capodimonte hill. There are hundreds of anonymous skulls, the abandoned souls of Naples. They call them pezzentelle, the little beggars. Or capuzzelle. Nameless bodies, coming out of the mass graves of the plague victims.