by Laurie Gilberg Vander Velde
The waiter called out, “Number 17!” We were holding number 87. We were not standing in a post office line. It wasn't even a line, but a mass of people waiting to get into Pizzeria Antica Da Michele which had been making pizza since 1870. It was THE pizzeria to go to in Naples, the city that invented pizza, the city that must have a million pizzerias. My husband is an avid home baker. To him, dough is everything! In his book American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, Peter Reinhart says that we were waiting for one of the best pizzas in the world, and my husband, who travels on his stomach, was determined to taste it.
It was 3:15 in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday. We had just spent 3 hours at the Archeological Museum, admiring delicate, detailed mosaics depicting animals, sea creatures and battles that had been removed from the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and ogling countless huge marble sculptures of gods and goddesses. We were both beyond hungry and getting irritable and spacey.
As couples stood around, their arms entwined, we moved a bit closer in hopes of hearing the numbers being called. Would we be able to even hear the number? More importantly, would we understand the number which would be called out in Italian? For a while no one came out of the restaurant. Then a long line of folks exited, numbers were called and folks filed in. Of course, we couldn't hear the numbers, much less understand them.
Da Michele is a good size restaurant serving only two kinds of pizza: margarita (tomato sauce, mozzarella and a few basil leaves) and marinara (tomato sauce only). And it was pizza we were waiting for, which, unlike postage stamps, had to be baked, so things were moving slowly. Across the street was a pizzeria/ristorante with empty tables and a modern look. Across the street and up a few buildings was the arch rival to Da Michele, Da Trianon. I looked longingly at the competition.
We asked someone what number had just been called. "Number 28," he said. We'd been waiting a half hour already. At that rate, what time would we eat? We'd had no lunch, just a piece of fruit after the museum. "The hell with the holy grail," my husband finally declared, to my surprise. "Let's check out the rival down the street." We wandered over, only to be told that they didn't open until 7pm. By then we might even have a seat in Da Michele or have passed out in the street! We were really reluctant to abandon entirely our opportunity to experience one of the best pizzas in the world. Michael had been talking about it for weeks. This was our last day in Naples, but the reality of our growling stomachs was starting to take hold in our minds.
So two hungry, cranky people decided to compromise and very reluctantly walked over to Pizzeria D'Angeli, the modern looking one across the street, and sat down at one of the many tables available to us. "No pizza," said my stubborn, hungry baker, still hoping we could calm our ravenous appetites and maybe, afterwards, get into the primo pizza palace. I was secretly considering a piece of stuffed pizza in the display case and watching four hungry young men wolf down a pizza right next to us when my petulant baker surprised me again by sheepishly suggesting that maybe, after all, we shouldorder a pizza from the menu, the one with buffalo mozzarella and yellow tomatoes. "Great idea," I said, to both my husband and my stomach.
Not only did the pizza come quickly and look beautiful, but it was absolutely delicious. The tomatoes were juicy, the crust was puffy, and the cheese was succulent. We ate every last crumb and mopped up every drop of juice. We were relieved, satiated, calm and not the least bit disappointed. We started slowly coming back to life, a process that was completed after we had a coffee on our way to the station where we caught the train back to Sorrento.
We told ourselves we had made a good effort to eat at Da Michele. I will admit that my husband still laments that he missed out on the holy grail of pizzerias. But when he talks about the actual pizza we ate in Naples, he says it was “the best damn pizza I ever had!”
Laurie Gilberg Vander Velde and her husband Michael live in beautiful Santa Fe, their departure point for travel around the world. When they aren’t traveling, they volunteer their efforts with the Museum of International Folk Art and the International Folk Art Market, two very different, world-focused entities.