Antica Pizzeria da Michele is one of the most famous pizza places in Naples, the city where pizza is said to have been invented. And the most famous pizza to come from Naples is the Margherita, which is just the basic pie platform with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil leaves, symbolizing the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag.
About eight years ago, getting off the train in Naples, we had one goal in mind: to eat a pizza Margherita at Pizzeria da Michele. I was going to try out my Italian by asking directions of the policeman standing outside the train station:
ITALIAN POLICEMAN [interrupting me]: Pizzeria da Michele? Yeah, it’s two blocks down and to your right.
I guess a lot of people come to Naples to eat pizza from this place.
At Pizzeria da Michele, a serious and professional-looking pizza maker stood almost at attention at his oven; he wore a clean shirt and a tie, spotless white apron, and a badge symbolizing his trade. His job was to tend the fire and slide pizzas in and out of the wood-burning oven.
Neapolitan pizza is cooked very quickly so that the sides get a little charred though the center remains somewhat soupy. There is a great textural range in this pizza, from crisp to almost liquid, and if you like that range, you’ll likely like the pizza Margherita, which pretty much must be eaten with knife and fork.
Last Friday night, at Connie’s Pizza in the Viagra Triangle, we had a Margherita da Napoli pizza, and the crust though not cracker crisp was still very sturdy, unlike the traditional pizza of Naples. Most Chicagoans’ like their pizza crust crisp, even on deep dish. I include myself in that group: I prefer a crunchy pizza, though I appreciate the more traditional Neapolitan version.
In Chicago, the Margherita pizza means tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil leaves, but the crust is unlike anything you’d find in Naples. If you like Chicago-style Margherita pizza, chances are high that you would likely not actually like Neapolitan-style Margherita pizza, which would probably seem under-done to you. Yet that softer-in-the-middle-and-charred-on-the-sides version is the more authentic.
My point, and I do have one, is that authenticity is no guarantee of tastiness, and that the Margherita pizza as served at places like Connie’s is a kind of traditonal pizza: Chicago-Napolese.