Thursday, May 16, 2019

Sfogliatelle Shootout in Naples

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!
Miscellaneous PIzza

You've surely seen sfogliatella, the popular crimped, shell-shaped southern Italian pastries stuffed with sweetened ricotta. Naples is their homeland (originally Salerno, actually, 50 minutes south), where the two most respected specialists (if you had to boil it down to two) are La Sfogliatella Mary and Antico Forno Attanasio.

Every Napolitano has a favorite, but sometimes it actually helps to be a tourist. How many natives have sampled both on the same day? I did, and it's the only way to get a true comparison, rather than foggily remembering through tidal pools of emotional memory. And if you do try both places side by side, there's a pretty clear winner.

La Sfogliatella Mary is in the breathtaking Galleria Umberto. It took a lot of fussy work to line up this shot on my fixed-lens iPhone to try to capture the sweep of it all, so please give it a few seconds of your time (maybe even click-to-expand).

Mary is a literal hole-in-the-wall, a counter built into the Galleria. Despite its diminutive size, the stand is mega popular, its customer queue choking pedestrian traffic in/out of the building's side entrance. But the counter ladies are fast, efficient, and tourist tolerant (they chuckled at my poor pronunciation and overall flusteredness - pastries have that effect on me - but also registered my chowhoundish gleam and offered me extra attention).

The most famous type of sfogliatella - the ones with the ridges - are sfogliatella riccia ("curly"), but there's also "sfogliatella frolla" for killjoys who want all the calories with none of the ultra-crispy pastry miraculousness. I'd normally never consider frolla, but, on my first visit, it was all Mary had left. And it was magnificent. That was the day I joined Team Frolla.

I returned a couple days later for Mary's riccia, and it was very, very good, though nowhere near as good as her homely frolla.

For completists, above is full documentation of all Mary's wares (click for full size):

Attanasio is a more impressive undertaking, a complete antique bakery offering a range of delights. A desperate crowd flails for pastry from the contemptuous vampires charged with grudgingly distributing them.

The scene inside was way too chaotic for photographs, but in a distant corner, I managed to get a shot of the sole capricious touch remaining from a lost happier era.

Apparently, they're required to post the ingredient list publicly. Here it is, in case it's of use for Sfogliatella scholars.
Attanasio's frolla were excellent, but not even close to Mary's (I think this comes through if you compare the cross-section shots). And their (ridged) riccia was more or less on par with Mary's. So, overall (and discounting the different friendliness levels) the trophy goes to Mary.


A couple hours north, en route to Rome, a totally unknown pastry shop in the little-discussed town of Aprilia makes possibly even better ones (arguably a tad less soulful, but so meticulous and assured and regal that they left me rapturous). Saxophonist Rinø Grimaldi scored a delectable tray of them from Pasticceria Tropicana, and they may be best riccia I've ever had. Thanks, Rinø!

Coming up soon in this series: lunch at the table of Mamma Grimaldi, Rinø's mom, who I've been scheming to meet for 30 years, and who didn't disappoint. If I can assign some homework in preparation, please have a look at the devastating Mamma Grimaldi photo essay sent in a couple of years ago by her other son, guitarist Andrea Grimaldi, a very old friend living near Barcelona. The three-part food porn glory begins here, and it will change your inner biology (not to oversell).

Next installment of my Italy trip: Desserts and Lodgings

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When are you going on a trip to Japan, I'd love to hear you wax on the food there.

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