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!

Flour Power: From Pompeii to Caputo

This is the first in a series of posts about my recent trip to Italy.

On my first pilgrimage to Naples, I visited dairies, farms, orchards and a ton of historic pizzerias. When I got back home and reviewed all my photos, I realized I had missed out on the most basic element of pizza: flour. I was embarrassed. Exactly one week ago today, I returned from a Neapolitan vacation with fellow pizza enthusiast Jason Feirman and we spent Day 1 at the highest regarded flour mill in Naples.

The name Caputo is no stranger to the American pizza scene, being an essential ingredient of wood-fired Neapolitan pizzerias that seem to be opening across the country faster than you can say “mozzarella!” We started with a lesson in wheat, which completely blew my mind. Caputo purchases wheat from all around the world because each country’s crop provides different levels of protein. The samples are then blended and milled depending on the desired specifications of the product coming off the line on a particular day. It’s easy to see the difference between wheat samples in the photo to the right, which features the hands of Antimo Caputo, whose grandfather (also named Antimo) opened the mill in 1924. By using so many different wheat sources, Caputo is able to product a wide variety of products without the use of any additives or supplements.

Antimo’s cousin Mauro took over the tour and brought us into the actual milling facility. The building is separated into three levels: 1. shipping/receiving, 2. grinding and 3. shaking. All this hoopla results in an extremely fine all natural flour. Most flour companies add protein and minerals to replace those lost in the milling process but Caputo’s flour remains all natural thanks to the employment of fewer, more delicate stages. The photograph below shows two stages of the milling process. You can see that the sample to the right is much finer than the sample to the left. At the very end of the process, all bran and germ are filtered out and the result is bright white. Rather than trash the leftover scraps, Caputo sells it to farms to be used as animal feed. No waste!

The mill is organized vertically, which has been par for the course since the late 19th century. Wheat is brought into the first level and sucked through tubes to the upper floors of the facility. You can see the grated floor behind Jason and Mauro in the photo above. The wheat then bounces between the second and third floor as it gets crushed and shaken before heading back down to the packing/shipping area. It’s pretty simple, but this page I scanned from my travel journal might help you visualize the whole deal.

Quick, go home and build your own Caputo mill before they force me to take down this highly detailed diagram!

All of Caputo’s flour is considered “00” because of how finely it’s milled. Some people think this it means it is low in protein, but the two designations are not related. Caputo offers about a dozen products with varying degrees of protein and all of them are considered “00.” At Caputo, a product’s protein count is dependent on the wheat samples of which it is composed and each product has its own intended application. Neapolitan pizza is greatly dependent on “00” flours, which are necessary to produce a light, fluffy crust after spending 60-90 seconds in a wood-fired oven. Most of the pizzerias we visited in Naples use “00” flour and many used Caputo.

But the mill tour made me wonder what flour would have been like in the days prior to multinational wheat trade and vertical milling facilities. Antimo reminded me that flour was very roughly milled between stones in the early 16th century when early pizzas were being made in Southern Italy, rendering “00” virtually impossible to produce. The reality struck me when I was checking out Herculaneum a few days later. Just like Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Thanks to its position further down the volcanic slope, Herculaneum is in much better shape than Pompeii. I tracked down the town’s mill and found this incredibly well-preserved setup.

In this two-part device, the top piece (catillus) is mounted on the base (meta). Wheat is poured through the opening on top and emerges around the bottom after being pulverized. The photo on the left shows an exposed meta in the foreground and an assembled catillus and meta in the background. Yes, I am aware of how phallic this looks. But my photo isn’t nearly as descriptive as this sweet diagram I found in Flour for Man’s Bread by John Storck and Walter Dorwin Teague (illustrated by Harold Rydell). This textbook was published by  University of Minnesota Press in 1952 and it presents a detailed history of milling. I totally freaked out when I found a picture of an “hourglass mill” just like the one I saw in Herculaneum.

Even though this 2000 year old mill was obsolete by the time pizza was flooding the streets of Naples in the 18th century, the concept isn’t far off. Ancient pizza flour would have contained some germ and bran, much like today’s whole wheat options. So next time you’re chowing down on some whole wheat crust, think about how much you may have in common with the world’s first pizza enthusiasts!