On a recent trip back to Naples, I had occasion to introduce two friends to what I consider the best pizzeria in all of Napoli: Antica Pizza Sorbillo. 

the only way to get it right

The only way to cook pizza.

 

There are three similarly named pizzerias within a few blocks of each other along Via dei Tribunali in the historical center of the city.  According to both rumor and the internet, they are all owned by members of the same family.  A walk down the street does not make clear how close the relations are – or if the rivalries are friendly.  A quick bit of online research reveals that a man named Luigi Sorbillo was the patriarch and founder of the clan, fathering 21 children and establishing the first Sorbillo pizzeria around 1934.  It's therefore likely that the current generation of pizzeria owners are all cousins.

One of the restaurants was made famous by a visit from Sofia Loren many years ago.  This place often has a long line because of the association, but Dario dismisses it as being not any better than our favorite and possibly more expensive.  The third, he claims, is not quite as good as the other two.  I have no direct comparison experience with the three, but I have had pizza in several other places throughout the city.  I whole-heartedly agree that Antica Pizzeria Sorbillo – the one with "Antonio e Gigi" on the wall – is the best I've ever tasted.  Anywhere.

...or possibly blinking

I think of the closed eyes as passionate pizza-making, though it was probably just a blink.

 

The setting is not fancy.  In fact, it's downright humble with its yellow walls, fluorescent lighting, and wall-mounted television (never know when an important football match might be playing).  But as worldwide street food wisdom goes, if you find locals eating there, you can bet the food is good.

Despite having moved away from the neighborhood over 2 years ago, the staff remembered an Italian companion of mine and greeted him warmly.  I enjoyed the feeling of being back "home" and introducing two friends to Neapolitan pizza for the first time.  They had been avoiding pizza throughout their entire Italian trip up until this point just to savor the goodness.  (I think they slipped up in Rome, but it's all for the good and only served to emphasize the difference.)

does not get any fresher than thatThe two things that people ask most about pizza in Naples are: 1) which pizza to order, and 2) how to properly eat it.  The answer to the first question is, always and without a doubt, Pizza Margherita.  I'm afraid I must restrain myself from ranting here, as there seems to be a tremendous misunderstanding elsewhere in the world when it comes to what comprises a Margherita.  Suffice it to say that it is named after a queen and it must have the three colors of the Italian flag.  Red is represented by the tomato sauce, white by the mozzarella, and green by fresh basil leaves (exception can be made in winter when the fresh herb is out of season, in which case dried may be used).  Without the basil, it is simply a glorified cheese pizza.  I will say no more.

The second question – how to eat it – is a little trickier, as it may depend on the situation.  When pizza is taken home, it is often cut into quarters by the pizzeria for easy folding and consumption by hand.  When in a restaurant, it is served whole with a knife and fork provided.  I have heard of tourists suddenly feeling self-conscious after starting to eat their pizza by hand and realizing that most of the other restaurant patrons were using cutlery.  I don't know if they were in a less casual environment when this happened, if the sudden realization that "one of these things is not like the other" worked on its own, or if Italian diners were actually giving them the stink eye.  If the latter (which I doubt, as Italians have a remarkable ability to mind their own business in a city with such a high population density), it's possible that they were simply holding the slice wrong.  That is, a slice thinner than 1/4 of the pizza and possibly held flat, rather than folded vertically.

mouthwateringAs a caveat, I will say that no matter how much I learn about Italian culture in general, and Neapolitan culture in particular, it becomes more and more obvious that something one family considers gospel may be looked upon as utterly silly by another.  A Neapolitan family I knew were quite practical, and possibly a little outside the mainstream, in this regard.  They always ate pizza with their hands.  The only exception was when it is first delivered from the oven and is too hot to pick up.  Everyone would begin by cutting it into quarters with fork and knife, then having a few bites via utensil.  As soon as it was cool enough, they all picked it up.  As the matriarch of the family was fond of saying, "Food tastes better when eaten by hand!"

Part of what distinguishes Neapolitan pizza from pizza elsewhere in the world is the origin of the ingredients.  It's possible to get the flour at import shops, as we sometimes did in Ireland, but fresh, non-refrigerated tomatoes and mozzarella (cold kills the best part of the flavor in both) – sourced from farms on the rich, volcanic soil of Campania – combine in a way that simply cannot be achieved anywhere else.  At Antica Pizzeria Sorbillo, they take it a step further.  All of the proportions are exactly right, the temperature of the wood oven just so, and the cooking time perfect.  The combination is magic and something that you must taste to believe.

 

Can't see the video?  Watch it on YouTube: http://youtu.be/ljnHnqfEGjk

 

When you travel to Naples, you will likely hear lots of people sharing their favorite pizzeria recommendations.  Some may simply use a guide book or their copy of Eat, Pray, Love for advice.  Not too many people outside of the immediate neighborhood will know of Antica Pizzeria Sorbillo.  In fact, if you ask for directions to Sorbillo, you may get pointed toward one of the neighboring restaurants.  Find the one with "Antonio e Gigi" painted just inside the entrance behind the chef.  Eating there will leave you smiling!

(ps: that's Sherry Ott!)

Sherry can tell you allll about it!

 

Address: Via dei Tribunali, 38 – 80134 Napoli
 

13 Comments

  1. West Africa is pretty much the worst place for finding good pizza. Well, it's hard enough to find cheese that's not laughing cow. So this post is making me very hungry AND jealous!!!

    • TourAbsurd Author

      Hahaha!  Oh, Phil, but you have amazing chicken, rice, fresh fruit that cannot be beat, and…  crocodile steaks!  The basil is always greener on the other side, eh?  😉

  2. I will take one of each!! OMG!!  Pizza is my VFF!!!  Great article and cute video too!! 

    • TourAbsurd Author

      Thanks, Jeff, you're a peach.  And just for you, I'm writing up an extended post on TourAbsurd about the finer points of Pizza Margherita, including a recipe for the dough.  😉

  3. I LOVE pizza and have it often — even in places where it's not all that great. I must get to Naples and try Antica Pizzeria Sorbillo. I read the closed eyes pic more romantically. I think he's got his sweetheart on his mind. 🙂

    • TourAbsurd Author

      Aww, you're such a poet, Cathy!  And yes – you must hop that little puddle and bring yourself over.  If I'm not in Italy then, we will meet at some other place of gastronomical wonder and share a lovely meal.  😀

  4. Chris

    Can anyone help me?  I'm traveling through Naples to the Amalfi Coast in mid-May, but will not be in Naples proper.  Can you recommend the best pizza in Sorrento, Positano, Praiano, Amalfi, or close by?
    Grazie Mille,
    Chris

    • TourAbsurd Author

      Hey, Chris!

      The areas south of Naples were my occasional playground, but never my stomping grounds.  I've asked some of the fans on Facebook for recommendations on your behalf.  I'll ask on G+ and Twitter, too, and hit up some of my Neapolitan friends to see what I can find out.  I'll post any info I get here in the comments. 🙂

        – Katrina

      • Chris

        Grazie Katrina, any inside intel will be most appreciated.

        • TourAbsurd Author

          Prego!  Along with the other two, here is some information emailed to me by Barbara, who writes http://www.naplesnapoliguide.com/:
           

          I have two recommendations. The first is: Pizza a Metro at Via Nicotera 15, Vico Equense. It's close to Sorrento. http://www.naplesnapoliguide.com/pizza-a-metro-and-monte-faito/
           
          This restaurant charmingly creates pizzas that are exactly one meter long.
           
          The other recommendation for all your Amalfi questions is to ask Laura at Ciao Amalfi: http://www.ciaoamalfi.com/
           
          Tell her I sent you. 🙂

          Let me know how these places are when you go!

      • TourAbsurd Author

        Wow!  One of my friends already answered:

        Pizzeria "Da Franco" a Sorrento – Corso Italia, 265 It's near to Circumvesuviana Station.

        Will let you know if anything else comes up. 🙂

      • TourAbsurd Author

        We have one more!

        sorbillo it's my favourite ones but it's in Naples… Pizza on the coast is not the best one. They are more famous for pizza al metro http://www.pizzametro.it/

        🙂

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