That Time I Spent $86 for Pizza and Learned the Sicilians Are “Masters of Food”

This essay was written September 11, 2007 during a four-month eating odyssey across Europe.

“Shit!” I cursed with a heaving breath as I ran down the dark, empty street parallel to the Calata Piliero in the Porto di Napoli.

I was halfway through three months of eating my way across Europe using my last shiny dimes saved during five years of an unfulfilling office job in New York City. This was the last ferry to Sicily. I was trying to run from the ticket office to the pier by ten o’clock. With each asphalt-slamming stride the thirty kilos strapped to my back and chest lofted up and crashed down, knocking the air out of my lungs. If someone was to jump from behind a cargo container or shadowed doorway at least I was running. I had eight minutes to catch the ferry and no accommodations in Naples.

It was the pizza’s fault.

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Da Michele Opens in Rome

When you think about it, it’s hard to understand how one of Italy’s most storied pizzerias hadn’t opened a second location. And so it happened in November, the first offshoot of the Naples icon L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele opened its first location outside of Naples, in Rome.

The Local reported that the Rome location was a surprise. Apparently, the restaurant had already announced plans for a London branch (London!), but there was no word of expanding within Italy until it actually happened.

There’s some poetry (and irony) in the Rome location. If you start digging into the history of pizza, you find pretty quickly that it was a Neapolitan dish popularized by the poor — something that didn’t migrate north to cities like Rome because, well, it wasn’t regarded as worth the north’s attention. And yet here it is now.

Rarely even do the truest things stay pure, some say. Perhaps. And it’s easier to say this without having a financial stake in Da Micheles popping up in Rome, London, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Tokyo, Brooklyn and Los Angeles but there was something beautiful about Da Michele having one location.

Having not been to the Rome joint on Via Flaminia 80 (a short walk from the Piazza del Popolo) and not planning on visiting soon, I’d recommend anyone visiting Italy interested in pizza to visit the original.

Recalling my first experience at Da Michele nearly a decade ago, here’s a travel essay I wrote during a four-month food tour of Europe that details a visit: That Time I Spent $86 for Pizza and Learned the Sicilians Are “Masters of Food”

“Portafoglio” Pizza Lands in New York City (Again)

Not that you needed a food day to celebrate America’s favorite comfort food (is there even really any doubt that pizza wears that crown?), but today is National Pizza With Everything Day, and West Village Neapolitan upstart Rossopomodoro is making it the obligation of New Yorkers with good sense to pay respects. Rosso is slinging free pies out of the back of their kitchen on 118 Greenwich Avenue for two hours on Saturday afternoon between 4 pm and 6 pm. And not any old slices, but “portafoglio” pies, a style that has landed before in Gotham but never quite taken hold. That’s right, New York pizza-style hounds, if you haven’t had the Naples fold yet, here’s your chance.

“The literal meaning of ‘portafoglio’ is ‘wallet,” explained chef-owner Simon Falco. “It is the best you can get for your money. In Italy, pizzas are about the size of our small version and are eaten by one person. In Naples, portafoglio is their ‘fast food’ version of pizza in which an entire Neapolitan pizza folded in a particular way.”

Think Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever’s eating-a-slice-while-walking sequence but Naples style.

“We make the portafoglio a tad smaller, so you can eat it on the street and it is truly for one person,” Falco said.

The fold? A half-moon then a quarter-moon. According to Falco, it’s usually only made with Margherita pies because the double-fold doesn’t allow much room for toppings. That doesn’t quite jibe with the food holiday, but makes sense from a practical standpoint.

This isn’t the first time eating pizza “al portafoglio” has appeared in New York City. Not long after Kesté first opened on Bleecker Street, there were reports of it being served there (New York Magazine’s “Folding Manifesto” features a great diagram). But for all the new Neapolitan places, the folding method has never really seemed to have taken off. Falco thinks he knows why.

“Whenever portafoglios have popped up in New York City, the restaurants have tried to serve them at a sit-down table. But this pizza is meant to be eaten on the street and not at a seated meal. We will be able to showcase the dish in an authentic way by serving it through the back of our kitchen on the street.”

The restaurant will also be collecting signatures to advocate for the addition of Neapolitan pizza-making to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Falco hopes that could lead to more training of chefs in how to make pizza like a true Neapolitan pizzaioli.

Time Stands Still in Brooklyn at Bensonhurst’s J&V Pizzeria

Beyond the chess tables lining Ocean Parkway, past the rabbinically-overseen pizzerias in nearby Borough Park (one of the largest orthodox Jewish populations outside Israel), you’d be forgiven on any given Saturday for thinking the area surrounding classic Bensonhurst slice joint J & V Pizzeria is a ghost town. But across from a 7-Eleven and the old-school Italian Bari Pork Store on the corner of 64th Street and 18th Avenue, the smell of cheese grease and dough drifts out the doors of “The Home of the Jojo.”

JVOutsideBP
J & V stands for John and Vinny — John Mortillaro and Vincent DeGrezia.

J & V stands for John and Vinny — John Mortillaro and Vincent DeGrezia — two friends who founded it when this was a much more Italian Bensonhurst in 1950. These days, you’re more likely to hear Chinese and Polish, but more than 60 years of pizza tradition continues. Its namesakes were from Sicily (John) and Naples (Vincent), geography responsible for its square and round pies. J & V also claims to be among the first pizzerias to sell by the slice.

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Introducing Best Pizza NYC: An Adventure in Pizza

New York City’s best pizza. I’m obsessed with it. There’s tremendous pizza in the city and yet, also some poor slices mucking up the bunch. With Best Pizza NYC I want to document great pizzerias, talk with pizza masters, get leads on pizza palaces and unheralded gems, and hopefully, help handicap others’ pizza adventures too.

Like most Americans, I’ve been in love with pizza as long as I can remember: eating it at Formica tables in booths as a kid in the 70s on Long Island, learning to live with substitutes for the real thing at Pizza Hut while living in Hong Kong in the 80s, settling for jumbo slices while attending Georgetown University in D.C. in the 90s, seeking out the best New York City has to offer in the 00s, and pizza-spelunking America’s icons, sleepers and of-the-moment meccas for the past eight years.

I’m truly happy when I’m seeking out a great slice, talking with pizza people, and burning the roof of my mouth. Walking down into the subway, lifting a leg over my bike and pedaling off down the block, turning a key in the ignition, and heading to the airport for storied pizza always gives me a little chill of excitement about the greatness I might be about to find.

What’s my pizza cred? I’ve written about pizza for The New York Times, Tasting Table, TimeOut New York, First We Feast, and for five years, I spearheaded The Daily Meal’s quest to determine America’s 101 best pizzas, an effort, I’m proud to say, to my knowledge canvassed more pizza experts than any publication ever.

I’ve tried to personally eat as many of America’s best pizzas as possible. All that pizza needs a place. Best Pizza NYC is that place.

Lists are a fact of life. TripAdvisor’s best this, Thrillist’s best that… Some are worth trusting. Many are easily dismissed. My gripe with most is lack of methodology. There’s a 50-word intro featuring clichés and little more when it comes to the how and why of the places chosen. That’s not good enough. Restaurant folks work hard. And pizza people are no different. The ones doing God’s work deserve as thorough an approach as any other great restaurant in America. Agree with the results of the lists I’ve curated or not, I’ve always made it my business to explain how they were created and made sure there was a how beyond, “there’s a place down my street,” even when there was a place down my street ;).

New York City is pizza’s birthplace. It’s also my home, and fortunately for me, home to some of the country’s best pizza and most talented pizzaiolos. Thus the name of the site. But New Yorkers shouldn’t get too cocky. There’s great pizza all across the country, often in unexpected places. And the scope of my pizza adventures isn’t limited by the borders of New York City.

While curating, I’ve tried to personally eat as many of America’s best pizzas as possible. All that pizza needs a place. Best Pizza NYC is that place.

— Arthur Bovino, 7/21/2016