Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pizza in Italy, Part One

In late September, EPBAC (Eats Pizza But Avoids Cheese) and I had 12 glorious days in Italy, and the sun chased us from Rome to Tuscany to Florence to the South Tyrol (Italian Alps – Dolomites, Villnoss Valley), to Venice, and then to Trieste, the Adriatic gateway city to Austro-Hungarian empire and Central Europe. Trip of a lifetime just for the sights, the people, the pasta, the seafood. But even more meaningful to a pizza-obsessed blogger, it was a journey to the motherland, the home of pizza.
Click any pic to enlarge

On this trip, we did not make it to the birthplace of pizza (and also of my grandfather in 1900), Naples. Regrettable, but because I favor the thin and crisp New York/Trenton/New Haven kind of pie over the puffy chewy leopard spotted Neapolitan pie, I suspect I found pies that I liked more than those regarded as the most authentic.
Forno Marco Roscioli, Rome

I had scouted four or five places in Rome, thanks to the bloggers on Slice – Seriouseats. I managed to get pies from two of those in Rome, plus one other casual café near our hotel, in the 3 short days we spent there. We had pizza in Sam Gimignano (Tuscany), and in Venice despite the advice from our tour guide that Venice is a place for seafood, not pizza.

Humongous mortadella, occasionally a pie topping

Big pie, we didn't eat, looked tourist-y

Even the elevators seemed to get the pizza spirit

More ordinary pie, we didn't try, just a drive-by shot


Novel stuff in Venice, we didn't have any

General observations are that the best Italian pizza stands alongside the best American pizza. Based on this 12-day blitz, I can’t declare that one is better than the other. They differ meaningfully, and some of the pies we ate were truly transcendent, but at the end of the day I’m not ready to declare it better than the wonderful stuff at La Porta (Media PA) or Anthony’s Coal-Fired, the 32-store chain with locations in Florida, PA, NJ, and more. But the best Roman pies were surely Top-Ten material among my all-time pizza experiences.
Sneak preview: razor thin crust at La Montecarlo, Rome

One thing I can say for sure – there is plenty of “ordinary” pizza in Italy. It is sold and eaten everywhere, and not just by tourists. However, with few exceptions, the ordinary pizza of Italy is miles better than the ordinary Sysco-based stuff coming from most storefronts in the USA or from the big chains. Every crust seemed to be made from fresh dough, and would get a rating of “6” or better here. The ordinary pizza in Italy would be the best pizza in most American towns.
Some awesome Tuscan pie, review coming

On our last day in Trieste, we visited a small grocer to grab some speck and soppressata to take home. There, in the refrigerator case, I saw some very sad looking cello-wrapped pizza and pizza slices that looked like bad American pizza, soft white-bread too-thick crust covered with wet heavy toppings. But heck, we were nearly in Croatia there. And even though overall the food was most glorious in Rome, the very best dish we got came at our one dinner in Trieste, at an outdoor café alongside the Grand Canal that empties into the Adriatic. A simple unribbed penne style pasta (obviously freshly made pasta) in a cream sauce with shrimp, langostino, and shaved truffles. I nearly fell out of my chair. Err, or maybe it was the liter of house wine we had?
I wish it was safe to drive these toy cars on American roads

Soon, we’ll post up some individual reviews for the five best pizzas we found – two in Rome, one in Tuscany, and two in Venice.

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