1702 India Street, Little Italy
First, I gotta clear something up. The name.
“Napizza Al Taglio?” What the heck is that about?
“It’s slang, in Rome,” says Chris. “Everybody in Rome is in a hurry. They need pizza in a hurry. They eat it while they’re hurrying along the streets. So it has to be by the slice — al taglio. A square slice, of course. In Rome, our pizzas are square, not round.”
So, guessing here: “Napizza” must be short for “Napolitano pizza” — pizza in the style of Naples, where they say pizza was born. Right?
This is all happening in Little Italy, on India at Date, in the new corner eatery in La Pensione hotel. Chris Antinucci is one of three partners, along with fellow Romans Giulia Colmignoli and chef Matteo Castagna.
You might call the atmosphere in here urban-eco. Brick walls, chocolate-brown walls, lighter brown ceiling, lotsa glass, two main counters — one with square trays of square pizza cut up into smaller squares, the other a salad bar — and a rack of tables out on the sidewalk.
There’s no big beehive-shaped pizza oven with oak logs glowing. Instead, they’ve imported an electric multi-oven that Chris says can bake different pizzas at the same time, each with its own heat requirements. They even have top and bottom heaters in each oven, so if you have, say, a potato pizza, spuds can be given higher temperatures on top, while the pastry below gets less, so it doesn’t burn.
Out in the main dining area, Dante the manager and Lee the counterman work away in gray T-shirts with green-inked messages: “Locally Grown” and “Keeping It Simple.” The crowd — and it is crowded — sits at high and low tables, sharing pizza squares, salads, and glasses of wine — right here at lunch — and talking up a storm, as if this place was already their local hangout. Signs promise that most everything’s organic and bought locally. The flour is OO (best quality), organic, and it comes from Italy.
The pizza of the day ($5.25 per square) is a parmigiana, with slices of eggplant, marinara sauce, and green pesto, plus parmesan cheese laid over everything. Bapo is — oh, yeah, I get it — BAcon and POtato ($5.25). Truffle porcini ($5.75) is porcini ’shrooms and truffle cream. At the far end of the display counter, I see an inexpensive one: margherita, with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese ($3 per slice).
I’d like a glass of wine, just for the feel of it. Roma, and all that. You pay $4.50–$7.50 for a red, $5–$8 for a white. But, gotta work…
I start off with a square of truffle porcini. It has a nice, creamy, fungus-ish taste. After I’ve stared at it for a while, I realize why porcini mushrooms are called “porcini”: a cross-section looks just like a little pig’s snout. Pork-minis! Porcini!
But the best thing is the crust. The crispy bottom doesn’t engage your teeth in a tug of war, like some.
Chris says it’s all thanks to the long life they give their yeast. “In our dough, the yeast creatures have a whole 72 hours to grow up, have kids, then fizz away, instead of being knocked off at the age of 4 hours, like at most pizza places.”
So, sorta like with Burger Lounge’s happy grass-fed cows, these li’l guys have more time to live, to digest the dough, and fill it with the air that makes it light and tasty and easy to digest.
“Slow is our thing,” Chris explains. “We give them all that time to rise, then slow-bake for 30 minutes. With yeast, more time equals more taste.”
Think maybe I’ll try that “Bapo” pizza, too.
It’s delish. The spud slices are white, soft, and there’s plenty of bacon. Lee has squirted asparagus “velvet” — liquefied gunk — back and forth across it.
Turns out, Matteo the chef went to a pizza school in Rome, where this slow-flour-rise idea has been up and running for 20 years. “There’s one other place like us in America,” Matteo says. “It’s in New York. But they use American flour. We’re the only truly Roman al taglio pizzeria in the U.S.”
I decide to get the salad of the day, to take home to Ms. Carla. Mainly because it’s a serious fish salad. Has wild salmon in there. She’s into salmon.
Long story short: Later, Carla and I pig out together. What I’d feared — a fishy-smelling salad — never happened. The onions, bits of pizza bread, spring-mix lettuce, quinoa, avo, cannellini beans, and, ’specially, the blobs of basil pesto, all fit in with the overall olive-oil flavor. Okay, it was $11.75. But between the two of us, it was just about enough.
Before I head home I need to ask Chris: What’s the haps with that name, Napizza?
“Romans shortcut everything,” he says. “When they go into an al taglio place, they say: ‘Una pizza!” At the speed they talk at, it always comes out ‘’Napizza!’ — See?”
The Place: Napizza, 1702 India Street (at Date), Little Italy, 619-696-0802
Prices: Pizza of the day, e.g., parmigiana with eggplant and marinara sauce (square slice) $5.25; Bapo pizza (bacon and potato), $5.25; truffle porcini mushroom pizza, $5.75; margherita pizza, (tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese), $3.25; fisherman’s salad, $11.75; also soups ($2 small, $4 large), focaccia, $8.75
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m., daily (open from 10:00 a.m. Saturday, to accommodate the farmers’ market)
Nearest bus stop: India and Date
Trolley: Blue Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Little Italy/County Center