Few things in life live up to the hype, right? How often are we disappointed by that movie which received rave reviews, those restaurants that everyone praises, and the museums that books recommend? Lots of times. So, what are the odds that the Napoli pizza restaurant that guidebooks hale and that Julia Roberts salivated over in Eat, Pray, Love (of all movies!) would live up to my expectations? No way it could be that good. Remember that Napoli is the world capital of pizza. If Da Michele is that good, it might just be the best pizza on earth! Well.....guess what? It might be.
The first hurdle is the wait. Look at the line when I arrived at 1:30 pm after a morning of churches and art.
You go in and tell them the number in your party. They give you a ticket with a number on it. After 30 minutes or so, they come out and call your number. Or they yell out the number of people they are looking for to fill a table. If you're lucky, some Italian-speaking locals recognize the confusion on your touristy face, and they help you decode the dance. If you're even luckier -- and you're a party of 1 -- they will seat you at a table for 4 where the three people already seated are 3 women philosophy majors from the local university.
After exchanging pleasantries about Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and some Italian Marxist of whom I'd never heard, we got down to business. The gals -- or at least the one who spoke good inglese -- confirmed what my all-of-a-sudden-not-so-Lonely Planet book said. Da Michele serves just 2 kinds of pizza -- marinara and margherita. I went for the latter with double cheese. It's really a simple pie, consisting of just tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella on the dough. It's big too. Look back at the pies each of the ladies had. That's the regular pizza for one.
Now, I was a skeptic. Remember that I'm a New Yorker. I went to college and law school in Manhattan. That's pizza. Nowhere else in the US has pizza that lives up to those standards. And, I honestly don't think much of the pizza in Roma. It's mainly that pizza bianca with no sauce and no cheese. Ehhhh. But hold the phone.
The Da Michele pizza was heaven. Julia Roberts and her blonde Swedish friend were right to ooooh and ahhhhh. I now see why it's called "Neapolitan pizza." Among the styles that are widely available in the US, this most closely resembled NY style. It was amazing. The sauce is tangy and sweet. The cheese is liquidy and silky. The dough, well, I can't think of an adjective. But the whole concoction is relatively soft and goopy. So, Neapolitans typically eat it with a fork and knife.
That said, the 2 ladies who specialized in German philosophy challenged me to try their method of folding up a big piece of pizza -- almost a whole quarter of it -- into a closed octagon and then eating hand-to-mouth. I did it. They were impressed....although what I think impressed them most was that I could eat the pizza with my hands and discuss Kant at the same time. Here's what I had left at the end:
The pizza was just tip of the culinary iceberg during my 30 hours in Napoli. OMG, the street food. All of it. Other than the pizza, I didn't eat another real meal. I just ate street food. Like these:
The arancini, the panino napoletano, the sfogliatelle, the gelato, the pastries I cannot name, and the fried dough noodle balls that might be the most unhealthy thing I've ever seen. It's truly a good thing that this trip was so short. My blood sugar, cholesterol numbers, and lipid count levels must right now be at all-time highs. But it felt good.
[UPDATE: In response to reader questions, here is the Da Michele scene from Eat, Pray, Love.]