Historic Pizza Sites in Naples

If you’re a pizza maniac planning your first trip to Italy, there are a few things you should know before hitting its winding streets and alleys in search of the perfect pie. Pizza begins in Naples, so don’t assume that Rome or Florence are going to deliver ancient slices. These cities are packed with deliciousness, but if remnants of pizza’s past are what you’re after, you’ll need to check out these must-see (and must-eat) pizza landmarks.

Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba
Via Port’Alba, 18
Open noon - 4; 7pm - 1am
CLOSED WEDNESDAY

No Neapolitan vacation is complete without at stop at the world’s oldest pizzeria. Port’Alba sold street foods back in the 1730’s but became a pizzeria by adding tables and chairs to its current location in 1830. The pizzeria is located along a street called Port’Alba. If you’re heading west along Via Tribunali (the main concourse of pizzatown), you’ll find it just after passing through an arched passageway. The building and pizza ovens have most certainly changed, but you can’t deny the magic of dining in the same space as the world’s earliest pizza eaters.

 

Pizzeria Brandi
Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo, 2
Open
12 - 3pm; 6:30 - midnight
CLOSED MONDAY

The spread of pizza throughout Italy can be traced back to the name Margherita. Queen Margherita, wife of King Umberto I (of Savoy), famously enjoyed a pizza featuring crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil and was so taken by it that the pizzaiolo renamed the dish in her honor. With this new-found endorsement, the word (and recipe) of pizza spread throughout the peninsula. Although it is unlikely that he created the dish, master pizzaiolo Raffaelle Esposito’s fame grew alongside that of the pizza bearing the Italian queen’s name. His pizzeria is located within Naples’s Spanish Quarter and celebrates itself as the birthplace of the Pizza Margherita in 1889 (the restaurant opened in 1780).

  

Pizzeria Da Michele
Via Cesare Sersale, 1
Open 10am - 11pm
CLOSED SUNDAY

This place was super busy long before Julia Roberts ate pizza here in the film Eat, Pray, Love. The Condurro family began making pizza in 1870, but Michele Condurro opened his own pizzeria in downtown Naples in 1906. In 1930, the pizzeria moved to its current location, continuing a tradition five generations deep. Now it’s one of the city’s most popular and beloved pizzerias. The long wait for a table is offset by the extremely fast bake time of the pizza (usually around 45 seconds). It takes even less time to choose your pizza from the brief list of options; you can only choose between pizza Margherita and pizza marinara. That means it’s easy to eat your way through the menu! Just be sure to enjoy some of the history while you’re there — keep your eyes peeled for faded family photos and pizza poetry lining the walls.

 

 

Pompeii and Herculaneum
Open 8:30am - sunset (last admission 1.5 hours before sunset)
CLOSED Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25

While you’re in the area, be sure to take day trips to Pompeii and Herculaneum, where you’ll find the most historic brick ovens in Italy. Both cities were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in August of 79 A.D. but their respective positions give each of the two cities unique features. Pompeii, located south of the volcano, was damaged by the eruption’s intense heat release before being covered with ash and debris. Herculaneum was more of a vacation town for the wealthy and its position near the water on the west side of the volcano was literally out of the line of fire. Since it wasn’t hit with intense heat before being buried, many of the features and artwork are extremely well preserved. 

 

On the left is a photo of a bread oven in Pompeii. This one’s in the large house right by the main exit. There are several ovens in Pompeii because it was a large city and just about all of them were communal because it didn’t make sense to have an oven in every home. The oven on the right is the only one I could find in Herculaneum. It was hidden behind some scaffolding so I had to bend the rules to get a good look. Please don’t alert the authorities.

There’s plenty of pizza history to see in and around Naples so plan carefully and you’ll be able to pack your days with sweet sweet pizza goodness. Just be sure to leave room for gelato and sfogliatella!

Italy Trip Part V: Naples

I am privileged to have been raised in the Land of Great Pizza. My home state of New Jersey lies right in the middle of a constellation of industrial cities that dot the northeastern USA, which attracted so many Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. Those immigrant communities provided our nation’s earliest pizzerias, many of which are still in business today. But these immigrants did not simply come from Italy, they came from Southern Italy. Vastly different from the Northern region of the country, Southern Italy holds within its boundaries the roots of our beloved pizza.

When attempting a pilgrimage to Italy’s sacred pizza hotspots, all roads lead to Naples. The bulk of my trip was spent observing and absorbing the culinary traditions of various Neapolitan pizzerias, all of which boasted nearly identical wood burning ovens and ingredients (Caputo “00” flour, salt, water, yeast, mozzarella di bufala, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil) that caused their pizza to remain pretty similar. When in Naples, don’t expect a New York slice with its crispy exterior and foldable crust. The Neapolitan pies are served whole and unsliced. While people used to enjoy an entire pie by picking it up and folding it into a tight cone-shaped street food, the current accepted method is to attack the 33 cm pie with fork and knife. Attempting to pick up a slice often leads to a sauce-cheese avalanche.

The crust (corniccione) of a Neapolitan pizza is a tender and puffy lip, filled with air and soft as a pillow at the end of a bed. It gives way to a pool of crushed tomato and moist mozzarella di bufala. The image is stunning.

Since these pizzas are baked on 800 degree bricks just inches away from a well-tended wood fire, they char around the circumference as well as underneath. These spots indicate the intense heat of the oven.

It being my first trip to Naples, I had done plenty of research and selected my pizza stops from among those listed in selections from every pizza enthusiast’s library (Peter Reinhart’s American Pie, Ed Levine’s Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, Pamela Sheldon Jones’s Pizza Napoletana!, etc). The pizza at every stop was exceptional, and since the trip was back in January I managed to miss the lines of tourists looking for the best pizza in town. These are, in chronological order, the stops I made throughout the three days I spent in Naples:

1. Solopizza – Immediately upon reaching Naples, I ate at the first pizzeria I could find. This is part of a small chain of Neapolitan pizzerias. It was nothing special.

2. Fratelli la Bufala – This place is located across the street from Solopizza. It was my first night in Naples and I wanted to get it started with a bang. The pizza looked like the pictures of Neapolitan pizza I studied while on the train, but the taste wasn’t transcendent.

3. Pizzeria Brandi – The famous pizzeria of Raphaelle Esposito, who famously crafted pizza for Queen Margherita in 1889. These are the best dressed waiters I have ever seen in a pizzeria. The only thing that puzzled me was the use of canned mushrooms. The pizza margherita is divine with a smokey crust and rich mozzarella di bufala.

4. Antica Pizzeria Port Alba – Allegedly the first pizzeria, opened in 1730. Very similar to Brandi with an even smokier crust. The place was completely empty at 7 PM but that changed by 8:30. Definitely a must visit for every pizza geek.

5. Pizzeria Di Matteo – This is the same puffy crust I encountered all over Naples topped with a more acidic tomato. Absolutely phenomenal. Very popular with the locals. I also tasted the pizza fritta, a deep fried calzone filled with broccoli rabe and sausage.

6. Pizzeria Da Michele – In its current location since 1912, this pizzeria originally opened in 1870. They serve a pizza margherita and a pizza marinara, each of which is available in three sizes. Beverages are each 1 euro. The pizza marinara may be the tastiest pizza I have ever eaten. The margherita was delicious even though it was the least cheesy of the trip. Don’t forget to take a number before waiting in line.

7. L’ Europeo di Mattozzi – This was the most unique pizza margherita of the whole batch. It included diced cherry tomatoes and the crust was slightly crispy. Definitely a standout pizza in a city of pizzerias.

8. Pizzeria La Notizia – The pizzeria owned by my only Neapolitan contact Enzo Coccia is located away from the historic center of town as not to get lost in the sea of pizzerias located in that neighborhood. I sampled several dishes and pizzas but enjoyed the eggplant roll appetizer the most. A golden pastry-like crust surrounds a piece of sweet eggplant in this simple dish that precluded a barrage of pizzas (margherita, broccoli rabe + pork sausage, pizza bianca with mushrooms, nutella-filled pizza dough roll).