Category Archives: Naples Italy

Pizzeria Sorbillo Naples Italy Best Pizza

This post was written by Margaret who moved to Naples with Augie. One of the first pizzas that I ate in Napoli was the pizza Mari. After tasting it, I giggled to myself thinking, “oooh boy! Love at first bite!” My dorkish sentimentality was genuine. To me this is an indication of true love.
Mari is a white pizza. The ingredients are gorgonzola cheese, red or white onions, thinly sliced salame, fior di latte cheese, and burn spots.

Trattoria Pizzeria Cilea in Vomero Naples Italy

Most of the pizzerias I review on this blog are already fairly well-known, at least in Naples. It’s for that reason that I’m particularly pleased to review Trattoria Pizzeria Cilea, a small, 8-table pizzeria located  in Vomero. We happened upon Cilea the first day I went searching for my pizza school. It was late in the afternoon, the place was empty, and I had eaten only two hours before. But I decided to give it a shot. I knew after the first few bites of my margherita that I was eating something special. For the rest of the afternoon,  I couldn’t stop talking about how surprisingly distinct the tomato sauce was. Now I’ve been going there for over two months and I’m convinced that Cilea has the best red sauce in Naples.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the dough. A few days ago, Margaret and I tried to compare the excellent dough at Cilea with the equally excellent dough at Pizzeria Sorbillo (a review is soon to follow). In my mind, these are two top notch pizzerias that occupy the opposite ends of the dough spectrum. Here is a list of adjectives we came up with to describe the two doughs:

Cilea: dense, moist, bold, chewy, airy, succinct, whimsical, doughy.
Sorbillo: crisp, resilient, pliable, resourceful, doughy.
(New York Times here I come!)

As for the cheese: The fior di latte was remarkably creamy without causing the same soupy effect that mozzarella di bufala causes (I’ve got to say “soupy” at least once in each review).
The sauce: What can I really say except that I’ll have another thing to weep over once I leave Italy. It was distinctly salty without going overboard. I’ve noticed, even in Naples, that tomato sauce is often used as a filler. But this stuff took command of the pizza and everything else was a delightful aftertaste.

At first, I was afraid the pizza bianca would pale in comparison to its red brethren. But I was quickly proven wrong. The arugula was fresh. The parmigiana was strong, and the red sauce was replaced with extra virgin olive oil and seasalt. If you want the best white pizza in the world,  go to Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AZ. If Bianco’s is closed, hop on a plane towards Naples, go to Vomero, and try the pie at Cilea.

End Note: Cilea also takes the award for having the most bang for its euro. At 2.60 euros for a margherita to-go, you might as well order four.   I will give Trattoria Pizzeria Cilea 7 out of 8 slices.  Only thing keeping this from getting a perfect 8 slices, is the fact there are way too many pizza places I haven’t tried around this region.

Pizzeria Vesi Naples Italy

Margaret and I have dubbed Via Tribunali, a crooked crowded street in centro historico district of Naples, “Pizza Alley”. Between the speeding vespas, ancient churches, and begging gypsies, there is some fantastic pizza. There’s Di Matteo- a staple among Neapolitans, there’s Il Presidente – the spot Bill Clinton went while visiting Naples, and there’s, of course, Sorbillo- the favorite pizzeria of italian actress Sophia Loren. Just down the street from  these giants in the pizza world is Vesi, a lesser known but equally deserving pizzeria. After living here for two months, Vesi has easily become one of my most frequented pizzerias in all of Naples. The pizza here can hold its own against Sorbillo and Il Presidente, and if you pick the right pie, even surpass them.

Try the D.O.C. Fresh mozzarella di buffala and pomodorini (small, sweet tomatoes) from the base of Mount. Vesuvius itself. Throw on a little extra virgin olive oil and that’s it. This pie speaks directly to the neapolitan pizza philosophy that excellence is achieved through simplicity. If you are going to use ingredients of the highest quality, you don’t need more than a few of them. In fact, I’d say that any additional topping might ruin the very delicate, almost perfect balance between the pomodorini and mozzarella. The first time I ordered this pie, I could smell the cooked pomodorini before the waiter had put it on the table. The juices of the pomodorini become infused with the cream of the mozzarella. You find yourself mopping on the oil and cheese directly from the plate. I’ve already made a few posts about soupy neapolitan pizzas and how, generally, I like a drier pie. But the D.O.C at Vesi is one of the few exceptions.

Vesi has a wonderful outdoor patio on Via Tribunali. If you can ignore the honking of the passing cars (something you’ve got to do pretty much everywhere in Naples), you’ll enjoy a wonder pie in a great location. The staff is friendly and very dedicated to making quality pizza. I will give Pizzeria Vesi in Naples 7 out of 8 slices.

Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba Pizza Naples Italy

Antica Port’alba claims to be Naples’ (and the world’s) oldest pizzeria. Opening its doors in 1830, this unassuming restaurant can be off of Piazza Dante. Stuck between a number of used book stores, you don’t see it the first time you walk by. We didn’t at least. In fact, I was hesitant that I had even found the right place. Sitting outside was the restaurant’s pizzaiolo, a somber sad eyed man who motioned for us to sit down in a shaded patio area.

What I ate: Pizza diavola (a “deviled” pizza)
What Margaret ate: Pizza margherita

The Crust:
This was arguable the best part of both pizzas. Even as I watched our waiter carry our pizzas across the alleyway, I could see a golden brown crust that almost glowed in contrast to the white buffalo mozzarella. Before I even took a bite, I knew I was in for something exceptional. How did I know this? Well, for one, I could hold the slice in my hand. After being in Naples for about a week, and eating at least one pizza a day, I’ve already had my fair share of what food critic Ed Levine calls “soupy” neapolitan pizzas. These are hot, freshly cooked pizzas that don’t have the structural integrity that most American pizza eaters take for granted.  In many neapolitan pizzerias, often the amazingly creamy buffalo mozzarella and the locally grown tomatoes, once cooked, liquify into a deliciously white and red puddle that forms at the center of the pizza. This puddle, while delicious, is also difficult to eat.  Most crusts are too thin to support the center of the pie, and as a result, become soggy and hard to pick up. The pie loses its crust, it’s texture. It’s something special.
This, however, was not the case at Antica Pizzeria Port’Abla. The crust here was slightly thicker than its other neapolitan brethren and singed to a lightly golden color. It was a comfort to eat a pizza with my hands again. But at the same time, I didn’t find many dark, charred spots on the edges and bottom of the crust (a neapolitan signature and also one of my favorite parts of a good pizza).

The Cheese (Mozzarella di buffala):
Both the margherita and the diavola were topped with mozzarella di buffala. This cheese was creamy, fresh, and by american standards, exceptionally good. But in the city that claims to have invented pizza, nothing made this mozzarella memorable. Since I’ve arrived, I have tried better mozzarella (on worse pizza) in other pizzerias around Naples. I will say, however, that the cheese seemed to work better on the margherita than it did on the diavola. To be honest, I think this is probably more of a reflection on the salumi on my pizza than it is on the mozzarella itself.

The Sauce:
The sauce on both our pizzas seemed to fit into the same camp as the mozzarella. In America, I would probably be quick to rave about it as being above par. But graded on a neapolitan scale, this sauce was good enough not be noticed, really. Not too sweet. Not too tangy. It seemed to hover in that spot where mediocrity and blandness meet (did I really just use mediocrity to describe a pizza sauce?).

The toppings:
Perhaps the most disappointing element of the pizza at Antica Port’ Alba was the basil. For me, adding basil to a pie is as much a symbol as it is a culinary choice. A freshly cut leaf of basil represents the freshness of a pie’s ingredients and the labor of love that has gone into bringing those ingredients together. All that amazing flavor and aroma packed into one small leaf. Biting into that leaf should be a punch to your taste buds (Sometimes when I’m feeling really sinister, I’ll plan how I’m going to eat my pie according to the placement of the basil and rearrange the leafs to better suit each bite). But at Antica Port’ Alba the basil was dry, flavorless, and burnt. This was particularly frustrating considering the fact that good basil could have really helped draw out the flavor of the mozzarella and sauce. Why was the pizzaiolo so sad looking when we approached? Perhaps he was lamenting his herb selection.
As for the salumi on the pizza diavola, each slice was cut into awkwardly shaped squares that drew attention away from its flavor, which was actually pretty good. Keep ’em thin and flat, I say.
One more thing I’d like to mention about the actual pizza at Antica Port’Alba: one of my biggest pet peeves about eating a pizza diavola is the fact that often there is nothing spicy or “deviled” about the pizza. My pizza here was no exception to this. Sure, I occasionally found  small pepper flecks. But what’s the fun if I have to look for them? A good pizza diavola is very much like a good strip show (sorry mom, but the metaphor sort of works. I mean, I imagine it works, seeing that I’ve never been to a strip show myself but have only heard about them): the excitement is in what isn’t seen, or, in our case, tasted. The pepper flecks and spicy salumi have to stimulate (what other verb could I use?) your taste buds to the breaking point of being too spicy, to a point where the flavor becomes distracting and starts to eclipse the other flavors of the pizza. But a good pizza diavola (maybe I should say a great pizza diavola) takes you to that breaking point without crossing over. In short, its an amazing tease. The diavola at Antica Port’Alba went the opposite direction into a complete absence of spice. There was nothing alluring or tantalizing about the taste. It was like trying to watch a strip show where the dancer wears a full-body jump suit and refuses to show you any skin.

The Atmosphere:
Located in a nice shaded side street full of american tourists and students (like the one writing this review). A margherita pizza will run you about five euros, which seems reasonable, but there is a coperto, or cover charge, for a few euros more. Also, our waiter, a very nice elderly italian man, knew how to squeeze money out of every situation. After we had paid and he came back with our change, he looked me in the eyes and said “For me?”.

After reading this review to Margaret for feedback she candidly told me that I was giving Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, one of the world’s oldest and most famous pizzerias, a terrible review. I tried to protest. But upon remembering that Margaret is about twice as smart as me, I realized that she is probably right. Bashing Port’Alba was never the point of this review. In fact, I really enjoyed eating there and will surely go back at a later date (I just won’t probably get the diavola again). In general, I do spend a little too much time fixated on the negative aspects of a pizza. The reason being; if something is good it is good and there usually isn’t much more you can say beyond that. But if something is bad it can usually be better.  So why not try to fix it?  I will give Antica Pizzeria Port’Abla 6 out of 8 slices.

Ristorante Ciro a Mergellina Pizza Naples Italy

Augie joins us from the saltedespresso

Located across from the bay, Ristorante Ciro a Mergellina is stuck between a row of fish vendors and parked vespas. After first glancing at the menu posted, I thought this might be another done-up tourist trap (The menu was, after all, written in English as well as Italian, good English). But after seeing the fast moving, white-jacketed waiters, I began to see a certain old worldly, almost anachronistic charm to Ciro’s that I haven’t seen in Naples, yet. Finally a place where people could see me for what I truly am; a top-hat wearing, ivory cane twirling gentleman. I lacked the hat and cane, but it was no matter. They gave us a table anyways.  In actuality, the only reason we ended up at Ciro’s was because we were completely lost (looking for Neapolitan tombs or something). I saw the pizza di Ciro through the big glass window and decided to give it a shot.

What I ate: a Margherita
What Margaret ate: nothing. She sat there, drinking a coffee and complaining about stomach problems

The Crust:
A very thin, incredibly chewy crust that reminded me of flat bread in some strange way. There was also something pleasantly sweet to the dough. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what the flavor was, and I doubt very much there was any sugar added. That is, after all, a big no-no in Naples. But still, I enjoyed having to work through each bite. Whatever made the crust so chewy also made it very flimsy. This pie was an unabashedly soupy pizza.

A fork and knife kind of pizza. Scratch that. A spoon and straw kind of pizza.

I was both excited and little bit terrified to cut into this pizza. I watched my knife go through first, a level of oil on top, then a creamy thickness of buffalo mozzarella and tomato sauce, and finally another layer of oil that “separated” the sauce from the crust. In reality, I couldn’t tell where the toppings stopped and the dough began. This pizza was a swamp of flavor.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this was the definition of a soupy pizza. Sitting next to the Mediterranean sea, staring at the large aquarium filled with fish that would surely soon be someone’s meal, I got the impression that “soupy” might have been exactly what they were going for. Maybe “oceanic” is a better word. Naples is known to have world class sea food and perhaps this pizza is a tribute to the sea without making you eat anything from it. Wait, so its possible that someone actually tried to make a soupy pizza? It’s not just the result of using fresh tomatoes and creamy cheese? Maybe. This realization came as a little bit of a shock to me, considering  my own philosophy on crust, which states that cardboard thin pizza is good, but only as good  as the toppings it can literally,  support.
So did the pie at Ciro a Mergellina win me over to the soupy side? Not really. Most days, I’m still going to prefer a slice with structural integrity over one lacking a backbone. But that’s just me. If you want to try a good soupy pizza, and I mean a really good soupy pizza (and I think you do), go down to the metro, hop on the blue line, and get off at the stop labeled ” The marshlands of pizza: Ciro a Mergellina”. If you can’t find that stop, and the woman at the information desk stares at you, just get off at the “Mergellina” stop instead.

The toppings:
I’ve briefly mentioned the mozzarella already. But its worth saying again; an abundant amount of an overly creamy cheese. Some of richest I’ve had so far. At the risk of offending cheese lovers, I might even say there was a little bit too much. No, wait, that’s impossible. The most renegade and, perhaps, my favorite part of this margherita pizza was its inclusion of Parmesan. Neapolitans are very strict about what constitutes a margherita pizza (mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. that’s it). Parmesan definitely can’t be thrown on as an afterthought. In fact, since my arrival two weeks ago, I’ve almost entirely forgotten about parmesan (the mozzarella has been that good).  But this pie brought it back to me in a very refreshing way. The sharp, aged flavor of the parmesan helped balance the richness of the mozzarella and also complimented the chewy sweetness of the dough. Throw in the tanginess of the tomato sauce and bam! you’ve got yourself a very complex, very tasty pie.

I would recommend grabbing a pie at Ciro’s to anyone, just so long as they know what they are getting. This is a very creamy, very rich pizza. Just make sure that your stomach can handle it because I promise your taste buds won’t be disappointed. I will give Ciro’s Pizza in Naples, Italy 5 out of 8 slices.