I use the term "old school" to refer to pizza as it was made 50 years ago in the Northeast - Philly, Trenton, New York, New Haven - before the advent of chain pizza. It was hand made, with a thin and crisp crust, and topped simply with canned tomatoes or tomato sauce and cheese.
|Sneak preview of Scuola Vecchia's Salsiccia pie|
In writing this pizza blog, I've confirmed my love of "old school" thin crust pizza over any other style - floppy foldable stuff, deep-dish, all the forgettable chain stuff, and even the roundly beloved authentic Neapolitan pizzas, with their puffy leopard-spotted crusts and fresh mozzarella cheese.
Six weeks ago, I compiled a list of "84 Pizzas Worth the Calories" (read that full list HERE). The highest-ranked Neapolitan pizza came in at number 17.
I note all this as prelude because in Delray Beach, Florida, there is a pizza joint called Scuola Vecchia. That is Italian for "old school" to reflect the authentic Neapolitan pizzas rendered there. And it has confounded my biases.
|The wood fired oven|
Delray Beach is adjacent to Boca Raton, and in previous visits I had shattered another false belief - that one would never find good pizza in Florida. In Boca, I've had superb New Haven style apizza at Nick's (full review HERE), amazing coal-fired pie at Anthony's (review HERE), and a faithfully rendered Neapolitan at Tucci's (review HERE). Google keeps pointing me to other area pies to try, and Scuola Vecchia came up next.
|Owner Sharon Aloisio with Pizza Quixote|
Scuola Vecchia has some pizza royalty heritage. Owners Sharon and Shaun Aloisio were trained by Robert Caporuscio, raised in Italy about an hour from Naples. He's the force behind the highly-regarded Keste and Don Antonio pizzerias, both in Manhattan.
We went on a cool Friday night, and I was prepared for a long wait, but we were seated immediately. The interior is cozy in its clean white-tiled look, but the lack of soft surfaces anywhere made it quite loud. The menu has an extensive list of appetizers, a short list of pastas, a good selection of big salads, and of course the pizzas.
|Terrific service from this gentleman|
There is a "build your own" option, but we made our choices from the long lists of 13 red pies and 9 white pies (all personal sized). The Caporuscio connection can be seen in the menu - there is a "Keste" red pie among the choices. Our server was superb - polite, professional, and possessing knowledge about both the pizzas and the wines. For our party of three, we chose:
- The $13 red Padrino with caciocavallo cheese, tomato sauce, hot soppressata, gaeta olives, EVOO, and basil (caciocavallo has a flavor like aged provolone);
- The $13 red Salsiccia with fresh mozz, crumbled sausage, tomato sauce, and EVOO;
- The $17 white Delray with truffle spread, fresh mozz, mushroom, and then prosciutto di parma added post-bake
We began with salads; my $8 "Toscana" with spring mix, walnuts, lemon, EVOO, and pear was delicious and fresh, but difficult to eat because it was piled high and deep on a stylish but under-sized square plate. We had targeted a $38 bottle of conventional 2011 Chianti, but our waiter persuaded us to invest an extra $9 for the 2007 Chianti Classico, and I'm glad we chose the upgrade. Eating here is not cheap, unless you just get a basic pie (the Marinara pizza is only $7) and drink water with it.
The Padrino arrived first. The crust was ideal in both appearance and texture. The caciocavallo cheese was perfect in its deep rich flavor, golden yellow color, and chewy baked texture. The olives were authentically tangy and perfectly salty. The soppresata was very hot, but this just made the rest of the pie sing even more loudly.
|Masterpiece, top and bottom|
The crust was so good - flavor and texture - that it could stand alone as a meal. Truly, this pizza was perfect. There was no soupy puddle as found in the center of poorly made Neapolitan pies. It was flawless, each bite was a revelation as the flavors and textures played off each other. Easily the best Neapolitan pie I've ever had; more later on comparing this to other pizzas.
The Delray was a close second; once again the pizzaiolo had expertly matched the flavors on this pie. For sure, I will not attempt "build your own" when I return; this kitchen knows what combos work. The truffle spread and fresh mushrooms gave rich and earthy undertones, and the prosciutto on top added a smoky and salty dimension. Another magical pie; the only change I would make is to cut the prosciutto into smaller, bite-size pieces.
The Salsiccia? At any other pizza place, it would be a shining star and easily qualify as "destination pizza." It was, like the other two, perfect in texture and flavors. Sausage pie is my go-to choice, and I usually regret when I stray. But here, it finished third. It was merely wonderful, while the first two were other-worldly. As always, I prefer big chunks of sausage, and that would be one potential improvement for this pie.
The red sauce was identical on both pies, and on each it served as a role player, a piece in the puzzle. The sauce alone was not memorable, but I think it was essential to the gestalt of these pies.
Somehow after this feast we managed to have desserts (flourless chocolate cake and hazelnut gelato). These were very good, but afterthoughts in relation to the pies.
Both of my dining companions felt that this is the best pizza they've ever had. I can say without hesitation that it's the best Neapolitan I've had, beating Pizzeria Bianco (AZ), 2Amy's (DC) Motorino, Forcella, and Roberta's (NYC), as well as Zavino, Stella, and Osteria (all Philly). Click on links for full review.
Because I have long held such a strong prejudice for thin-crusted crisp and rigid "old school" pizza, I struggle to know where this perfect Neapolitan will stand when I next construct my ranking. It is certainly going to challenge for a top spot. I'd love to eat this Neapolitan pie side-by-side with a Trenton tomato pie.
With pizza this wonderful, rating and ranking is almost pointless. Still, the crust earns a 10, the cheese a 10, the sauce an 8, the salumi a 9.5, the truffles and mushrooms a 10, the sausage a 7. Service was a 10, ambiance was a noisy 8. Overall, essentially perfect pizza. It's the 10 of Neapolitan pies. Bravissimo!