Monday, May 11, 2015

Antica Pizzeria da Michele

Corso Vitt. Emanuele, Napoli, May 11, 2015—
CONTINUING OUR SCIENTIFIC survey of pizza where it was invented (so they say: but flatbreads are universal around the Mediterranean), we went today for midday meal to one of the two or three pizzerie generally acknowledged to lead the pack here.

When we approached Da Michele, about one o’clock in the afternoon, there was a disheartening crowd in the street outside. I stepped inside and asked a waiter if there were a list; he simply pointed to the old man at the cash register.
I repeated my question. He asked how many we were, then tore a little slip of paper and handed it to me. It was blank save for the number: 77

I went back outside and asked someone what the last number called had been. Fifty-five, was the answer. It was hot and we were tired; we’d been on our feet a couple of hours. Down the street there was a bar with a couple of tables on the street.
There we went, and drank a couple of bottles of mineral water and a glass of white wine, and after half an hour or so returned to ask the same question. Seventy-six, was the answer. Ah: just in time. But just then a waiter called out: Seventy-eight!

Attende, per favore, I said, io sono settantasette, I’m number seventy-seven. But he explained that number 78 was a party of four; and that made sense, you wouldn’t seat a couple at the last empty four-top, then wait for another four to clear before seating the next people in line. And just as all this registered in my mind, our number was called, and we were told to go to the second room.
There the only empty table was — a four-top: so we took chairs side by side, our backs to the wall, and glanced at the menu, and just then two young Italians, college students by their looks, seated themselves across from us.
I like limited-menu restaurants, and this is one of them. There are two pizzas: Marinara, which is tomato sauce, a little garlic, and basil; and there is Margherita, which adds mozzarella to the mix. And there are three sizes: small, medium, large. To drink you choose Coca-Cola or beer or water: and if beer, Peroni Nastro Azul, which in my opinion is Italian for Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The pizza arrived almost as quickly as the beers, which is to say almost immediately. I think perhaps it arrives too quickly, and while I’m no pizzaiolo I think the pizza may  not have been cooked long enough. The bottom of the crust is nicely blackened, but in spots too big, leaving whiter spots that also seem too big. I’m sure the oven was up to temperature, but as we left I watched the pizzaoli at work: there were two working the one rather large oven, one shoving uncooked pizzas in, the other dragging cooked ones out.

The tomato sauce was fine, though perhaps not as dense as at Starita. The dough was very hard to cut with the table knives we were given. (I should explain: in Naples one eats one’s pizza with knife and fork, and they arrive at table innocent of any kind of pre-cutting: you don't lift a wedge already cut and eat it from your hand. Non si fa: it isn’t done.)
Anywhere else this would be a marvelous pizza. In my opinion, here in Naples, it wasn’t quite up to its closest competitor — and I do like a glass of red wine with my pizza!

•L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Via Cesare Sersale, 1/3, 80139 Napoli; +39 081 553 9204
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

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