Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Miscellaneous PIzza

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger
Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death
Pasta Time!

You can see all postings from my Italy trip, in reverse-chronological order, via the label "Italy".

I wrote about Neapolitan pizza here. Now let's do Rome (plus one extra Neapolitan place at the end).

Even with all the other ingestion, I ate an enormous amount of pizza al taglio (there's nothing like walking 7 miles per day to clear space). That's the rectangular slabs of room temperature pizza, paid for by weight. It's everywhere in Rome, though it represents only one layer of the local pizza universe (here's a good guide to Roman styles).

Pizza al taglio is even more prominent than slice pizza in New York, which makes sense because it's more food-like. Less of a mindless greasy snack, this is good bread with minimal cheese and thoughtfully prepared actually nutritious toppings like artichoke or squash or arugala. There are some standard configurations (particularly, thank god, potato), but it's not like the tyranny of shroom/pepperoni/meatball. Expect small surprises.

No one would consider this style of pizza an apt substitute for a full course dinner, especially not fastidious Italians - though, of course, it's done by busy people when they can't help it. Yet it can fill in that way far more effectively than the mindless cheese bomb of the standard American slice.

This underscores the difference in function: you know how the Mediterranean diet is about modest portions of simple foods? That's what pizza al taglio represents. It's essentially a tapa or mezza served, conveniently, on nice spongey/crispy bread. Paradoxically ordinary yet classy. And it's damned good even when found in otherwise unexceptional supermarkets. You just want this stuff around you, just in case, and, grazie dio, it is.

Here come some porny shots (they're even better if you click to expand):

We've started with solid, workmanlike pizza al taglio, nothing special, from MATREM Bakery-Pizza, Viale delle Provincie, 90, 00161, Rome.

Notice that potato pizza can be made with or without cheese (these guys do both, which is 1. unusual, and 2. why I'm there).

Pizzeria Lo Spuntino Calabrese was a random find, not far from Matrem (and quite close to a great little beer bar, Malto Misto).

I'm not sure if there's any real Calabrian connection here; they just serve regular pizza al taglio, though particularly good. A solid couple notches better than the previous.

I have outstanding food radar. I can say this without boasting, because I truly don't "own" the process. If I weightily suppose a given place is good, it might be...or it might not. But if my foot, out of my conscious control, slams my car's brakes and the vehicle pulls suddenly to the curb, that means whatever just flicked into my peripheral vision is a sure thing. And this process is surprisingly non-joyful. Often it happens when I'm horribly full, or in a rush to get somewhere. It's usually pure aggravation. The radar demands attention, not caring at all about my greater concerns. I am merely the slave with the mouth conscripted for followup work.

This time I instinctively jumped off a bus en route to a lunch rendezvous (in a great place, and I was running late) at my first glimpse of Da Simone, a generic, shiny, crappy, commercial-looking little pizzeria which my conscious brain found eye-rollingly mundane. Sure enough, it was the best pizza taglio I found in Rome (I see that a Yelper agrees). Good potato croquette, too, 'cuz you can never have enough potatoes.

No exceptional flavors, or surprising toppings, and nothing artisanal in the least. It was utterly The Usual...but so, so, so soulful and satisfying that it left me in a reverie, actually shifting my state of consciousness. I was like Bugs Bunny in the "Ether" episode.

The interior is lit with oppressive glaring lights that tinted my photos yellow (other photographers have made out better). But, really, there's not much to see. Pizza al taglio always looks great, and this is unexceptional pizza al taglio....but the greatest unexceptional pizza al taglio, crafted by wizards.

Ok, just one more from the ultra pedestrian Da Simone:

At front left of this photo I stole off the Google, I call your attention to the pizza of potatoes with - I'm gonna say - clams, plus an economy car. Those whacky Italians will put anything on a pizza (seriously, look at those potatoes, though).

I also hit Formula 1, a grimy, cheap, beery old-school student hang-out known for pizza with fiore di zucca (fried zucchini flowers) and anchovies. Thin crusted and round, I assume this would be considered Neapolitan, but it's almost too unpretentious for classification. I suppose that most Romans would consider this simply "pizza".

It does fit my (shocked and disoriented) description of Neapolitan pizza: great balance without the slightest refined touch. Just a dandy, well-honed, and ultimately simple-minded way to serve bread.

Click the Yelp link for lots of great photos from this place (do not miss this one). My kind of joint!

Also, is it just me, or does the place's interior strike you as sort of the ur-pizzeria, the grandfather of every pizzeria association you have in your head? The archetype, or the Platonic Form, if you will?

Culinary bounceback is a thing. One of the most authentically Chinese things you can order is Ovaltine, embraced over there for a couple generations to the point where if you ask for it in a Hong Kong bakery/cafe, they'll be shocked by your insider knowledge of Chinese culture. Similarly, spaghetti and meatballs, entirely an Italian-American dish, has bounced back to the motherland, where people love the stuff (and why shouldn't they?). Ignore anyone who tells you it's "not a real Italian dish", because it sure is now.

Similarly - at least I think (this is all theorizing-in-progress) - I size up Naples' Pizzeria da Concettina ai tre Santi as upscaled diaspora Neapolitan pizza bounced back to Naples (see my exposition of how I was disabused of the notion that real Neapolitan brick oven pizza was any fancy artisanal thing).

Pizza menu, above (click to expand).
Margheritissima ("extreme margherita"): fresh piennolo tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil and 4-year-old parmesan

Having zoomed in a bit, you can see that even this uber-shmancy pie is as glurky and primal as Da Michele's, at heart.

Cetarese: san marzano tomato, piennolo tomato, black olives, capers, anchovies, white garlic, basil, oregano and extra virgin olive oil.

This was a whole other thing; one of the best things I ate on my trip and among the great bread experiences of my life.

Also, am I nutty for being reminded of Chicago deep-dish...or, at least, Trenton-style tomato pie?
Italians still carve marble! My table number was custom chiseled!

Next installment of my Italy trip: Sfogliatelle Shootout in Naples

1 comment:

Display Name said...

For some reason this rainy weather plus your slog have me craving Italian food Jim. Thanks for the Trenton shout out! My deep love of fashion was placed on the back burner for a long time. Every day now I look forward to picking out my outfit and dressing with care. On days where I lose track of time, like today when I couldn't stop reading your incredible post, and I have two minutes to get dressed my outfits are perfection. Without thinking my hands grab the most amazing combos that thinking about it would have suppressed. Kinda like your chow dar. Making pizza tonight.

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