• Fri. Mar 10th, 2023

Legacy Pizza: Naples vs. N.Y.C.

ByGurinderbir Singh

Feb 17, 2023

One of the newest additions to New York’s ever-evolving pizza landscape is not so new at all, at least in terms of its pedigree. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele opened in Naples in 1870 and has since garnered world renown. Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” may remember it from both the book and the movie; in the latter, Julia Roberts, as Gilbert, declares that she is in a relationship with her margherita. In Naples just two pies are available at the very small, very casual restaurant—the margherita (tomato sauce and fior-di-latte mozzarella, with a bit of Pecorino and fresh basil) and the marinara (tomato sauce, sliced garlic, and dried oregano, no cheese). In the West Village (2 Bank St.)—and in Los Angeles, where the restaurant’s first U.S. outpost opened in 2019—both the dining room and the menu are much bigger and more formal, with a half-dozen additional pizzas ($18-$65), plus appetizers, pastas, entrées, and dessert.

The restaurant, brand new to the West Village, was founded in Naples in 1870.

The dough, made with flour from Italy, is fermented for forty-eight hours.

The margherita is topped with tomato sauce and fior-di-latte mozzarella (both imported from Italy), and with fresh basil.

The margherita and the marinara are successful imports, cooked here in a domed brick oven, with guidance from a fifth-generation member of the pizzeria’s founding family. Though the pies are much larger than their Naples counterparts, they bear clear evidence of a craftsmanship honed for more than a century. This is dough that won’t let you down: incredibly pliable and stretchy, floppy but more than sturdy enough for its toppings (all sourced from Italy), and flavorful to boot, fermented for forty-eight hours, then flash-cooked until speckled with bubbles and char. The sauce lets the volcanic tomatoes speak for themselves, and the cheese captures the essence of the sweetest, grassiest milk.

The rest, for the most part, is noise. It turns out that you can have too much of even the most wonderful cheese, as proved by a heavy-handed white pizza and by another topped with pesto, tomatoes, and a large, awkward ball of burrata that reads like TikTok bait. Salads, including one with shaved artichoke and pistachio, and pastas (spaghetti cacio e pepe, maccheroni Bolognese) might be the best in town if the bar weren’t so high in this particular town; we’re certainly not in need of a Hamburger Italiano. An attempt at world domination comes, unsurprisingly, at the expense of humble charm.

The legacy of Lucia Pizza of Avenue X, in Sheepshead Bay, traces back to 1974, the year that the owner’s parents opened the family’s first pizzeria, Papa Leone.

The pizza-centric menu is rounded out by a few other items, including chicken Parmesan, Caesar salad, and mozzarella sticks.

In 2020, Lucia Pizza’s owner, Salvatore Carlino, moved back to New York from Berlin, where he’d been working as a d.j.

Luckily, New York has plenty of that. In 1974, an Italian immigrant named Angelo Carlino and his wife, Roula, opened a restaurant and pizzeria called Papa Leone, in Manhattan Beach. When they retired, in 2017, the place closed; their three children had chosen other careers. But when the pandemic began their son Salvatore returned to New York from Berlin, where he’d been working as a d.j., and, with time on his hands, started experimenting with pizza in his parents’ back yard. One thing led to another. After ruling out Bushwick, near where he lives (he felt it was oversaturated, from a pizza perspective), he found a corner storefront in Sheepshead Bay, not far from where Papa Leone had been, and opened Lucia Pizza of Avenue X (2201 Avenue X, Brooklyn; pizzas from $18.50).

Lucia Pizza is less than two miles from the former site of Papa Leone.

If the artistry of the pies can’t quite compare to da Michele (the dough serves its purpose, but it’s nothing to marvel at), Salvatore does his home town proud with a restaurant that feels rooted in history while keeping up with the times. The lush and tangy vodka sauce on the Papa Leone pie is made according to his parents’ recipe. The Cudduruni, topped with marinara, Gaeta olives, and—fair warning—a truly generous smattering of very salty anchovies, harks back to their native Sicily. But why shouldn’t you be able to pick up a bottle of natural wine to go with your ’roni cups—as those little bowl-shaped slices of pepperoni have come to be known—in Sheepshead Bay? Salvatore pairs ’roni cups with Mike’s Hot Honey, a pizza topping that’s become so ubiquitous it’s verging on cliché. But a pie featuring silky cremini mushrooms, squiggles of fire-roasted-poblano crema, and aged provolone is totally his own, a creative risk that pays off and pushes ahead. ♦

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