Settling It Forever: Where Is The World's Best Pizza?
Finally! Which Neapolitan Pizzeria Is The World Champ?
I've eaten pizza in 34 countries. Lots and lots and lots of pizza as anyone who is familiar with my ever-expanding girth can verify. I've had the best Australian pizza, the best Canadian pizza, the best British pizza, the best Chicago pizza, the best New York pizza, the best California pizza, and just about the best everything else pizza.There are just a few things about pizza I can state with absolute certainty.
1) What passes for pizza in North America, UK, etc. is a very tasty savoury pie. It is nowhere near what is really a pizza.
2) The vast majority of pizzerias in Italy, the nation of pizza, have no clue on how to make real pizza.
3) The vast majority of pizzerias in Naples, the birthplace of pizza, have no clue on how to make real pizza.
That's a really powerful statement considering that there are over 12,000 pizzerias in Naples and some 25,000 in Naples' region of Campania. Naples is true Pizza Paradise, and the Neapolitans can never get enough of it. You will hardly ever meet a Neapolitan who does not enjoy a pizza at least once a week.
Keep in mind that original, real pizza is margherita. Dough, Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Basil and Oil. No pineapple/anchovy/chili/dogfood combinations here.
The spiritual home of pizza is Naples and only the 100% original, true Neapolitan pizza is recognised by the European Union as a "copyrighted" traditional specialty and carries a DOC, like fine champagne. According to the European Union rules a proper margherita pizza has to have mozzarella "from the southern Apennines," and be served with tomatoes grown strictly locally and only a leaf or two of fresh basil. The shape and size is governed as well. The official pizza has to be round and no more than 35cm in diameter, and if the rim is more than 2cm high, it's instantly disqualified. It's tough being an official pizza!
There are three items which are the subject of constant debate in the streets and cafes of Naples:
Therefore when seeking the ultimate pizza, you must consult with the resident specialists, the old men playing cards on straw chairs outside their tiny antique "vascio" basement apartments; the sweater-wearing "guaglione" winking at the passing girls while straddling his parked Vespa; and most importantly, the local police. There is no one better informed than Neapolitan police officers on where to get great pizza. It's like asking a Canadian policeman where to get the best donut in town. You know they're the experts!
You then have to balance their input with the results from the latest Annual Naples Pizza Championships where the area's elite pizzaioli square off in the ultimate taste test to determine who will wear the crown for the current year. Once you have all that information for calendar year 2007, you will boil the 25,000 pizzerias in Naples' Campania province to just these seven pizzerias (in alphabetical order):
Via Giulio Cesare 156, Napoli, Tel: +39 081 2395281
Pizzeria Da Michele
Via Cesare Sersale 3, Napoli, Tel. +39 081 5539204
Pizzeria Di Matteo
Via Tribunale 94, Napoli, Tel: +39 081 455262
Pizzeria La Sorrentina
Via Domenico Pirozzi 37, Fratta Maggiore, Tel: +39 338 3248615
Via Orofino Torrione, Salerno, Tel: +39 089 9951260
via Nazionale 53, Napoli, Tel: +39 081 5538614
Via Casalanno 27, Marano, Tel: +39 081 5862002
This is not to say that the other 25,000 pizzerias serve sewer sludge on a plate. But if you want to experience the most incredible, original, memorable, unforgettable, unique, best pizzas in the world, you have to visit one of these seven pizzerias.
This list changes a bit from year to year. Some pizzerias like Cafasso, Da Michele, and Pellone have inhabited the list for years, and even decades. Da Michele has been in business for about 150 years! Pizzeria Trianon was one of the foremost on that list for decades. However, in the past few years, Trianon has been abandoned by its pizza-gourmand clientele as the quality of its pizza has plummetted. You can walk down Via Cesare Sersale at any time between noon and midnight and you will see at least twenty people queued outside Da Michele waiting to get inside and right across the street you can shoot a cannon through the Trianon and not hit anyone.
Also interesting that Pizzeria Brandi, where the margherita pizza was invented, has never been on this rarefied list. In this case, the originator has been surpassed by the imitators!
The current hotshot and winner of the last Annual Naples Pizza Championship was La Sorrentina. Therefore if we take our weighted averages, we should find that La Sorrentina has the best pizza in the world? No. Absolutely not.
La Sorrentina's everyday pizzas are not exactly like the ones they enter into the Championship. Therefore, if you want to taste their ultimate pizza you have to show up just once a year. In my humble opinion that does not make a Champion. The real Champion is the pizzeria that will serve you the best pizza in the world day in and day out at any time of the day or night.
Cafasso, Di Matteo, O'Scapricciatiello, and Tappost all prepare and serve astounding pizzas, but ever since I was knee high to a basil plant, I've spread the gospel far and wide around the world that Pellone makes the best pizza in the world. It's an absolutely amazing presentation and taste triumph. First of all, as they toss the dough in the air, they toss the European Union's size restrictions right out the window. Pellone's pizza is at least 60 cm in diameter, an enormous disk of dough that droops over the edges of their extra-large plates. The mozzarella covers virtually every square cm of the topping, the sauce tastes like the tomatoes were picked 10 minutes earlier and the gigantic basil leaves are still crunchy. Ask for it specially made, easy on the oil, and extra-burned, and be ready to send your tastebuds to heaven.
My opinion runs counter to the Neapolitan prevailing wisdom which places Da Michele as the overall long-term reigning champion. That factor is reinforced by PBS travel show host Rick Steves who has glorified Da Michele on American TV. Don't get me wrong. Da Michele makes incredible pizza, but I'd always given Pellone the slight nod.
And then it happened... in an event which surprises no one on Naples' crime-ridden streets, a customer was shot to death inside Pellone. It would have been of no interest to the long-term Pellone customer except that right after the shooting, the Pellone pizza recipe changed! Nobody will officially confirm the connection, but I can assure you that the pizza is quite a bit smaller, the dough is soggier, the tomato sauce tastes canned, the amount of mozzarella is down by a third, and generally it has significantly fallen from its previous zenith.
Therefore, given my latest tasting (March, 2007) I have to bite my tongue, swallow my pride and declare that the single best everyday-served pizza in the whole wide world is... Pizzeria Da Michele!
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