Just a few years ago, searching for authentic Neapolitan-style pizza in these parts was, you might say, a pie-in-the-sky proposition. There were New York-style joints by the dozen, of course, and you could even score a Chicago-style deep dish pizza if you knew where to look.
But the pizza that is actually eaten in Italy and that many aficionados consider the platonic pizza ideal was nowhere to be found.
Until 2010, that is, when Bella Mia opened in Cary. Others followed, but at a frustratingly slow pace – Pizzeria Toro in 2012, and Pompieri in 2014, both in downtown Durham. During that time, the trailblazer Bella Mia was sold, and then closed its doors for good.
And then, a couple of years ago, the trickle became a torrent, spilling these five worthy practitioners of the Neapolitan pizzaiolo’s craft from one end of the Triangle to the other. Some take a few more liberties with tradition than others, but all share the essential trait that defines the style, using a fiercely hot wood-burning oven – 900 degrees, give or take – to turn out thin, blistery-crusted pizzas in about 90 seconds.
Those charred blisters on the rim of the crust do not mean that the pizza is burned. They’re the prized marks of a properly hot oven, and they’re called leopard spots by cognoscenti. Feel free to toss that little bit of jargon into a conversation with your dining companions. You can impress them further by referring to the rim of the crust as the cornice.
Whatever you do, don’t try to order by the slice. Neapolitan pizzas are served whole, and average 12 inches or so in diameter – a generous individual portion.
79 Falling Springs Drive, Suite 140, Chapel Hill
The crust: The Neapolitan pizza gold standard, thin and properly browned on the bottom with a light, puffy, textbook charred-blistery rim.
The whole pie: Capp’s Margherita is on point with the classic mix of crushed tomatoes, fior de latte mozzarella and fresh basil, all in the right proportions. The White Clam Pie is worth making it a point to go on a Friday, when it’s offered. Otherwise, you pretty much can’t miss with options ranging from Porklove (house-made fennel sausage and natural casing pepperoni) to Chicken Curry.
Extra toppings: Capp’s began life as a food truck, the deservedly acclaimed Capp’s Apizza. The brick-and-mortar location’s expanded kitchen facilities have enabled owner/pizzaiolo John Cappelletti and his crew to expand the menu to include a handful of appetizers (house-made meatballs are excellent) and pasta dishes, as well as first-rate cannoli.
Napoli (food truck)
101 Short St., Carrboro. Check @napolifoodtruck for possible lunch destinations.
The crust: Never more than a shade away from the ideal, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s coming from a wood-fired oven on a food truck. (Just thinking about driving down the road with that thing makes me nervous.)
The whole pie: From Funghi (slices of portobello cap pinwheeled across a parsley-spangled base of San Marzano tomato sauce and fior de latte) to Four Seasons (artfully arranged ham, cremini mushrooms, artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives), Napoli’s pies are as pleasing to the eye as to the palate. Keep that eye peeled for seasonal specials, such as last fall’s guanciale with fire-roasted butternut squash, and the recent combo of merguez sausage, aged goat cheese and fresh oregano.
Extra toppings: You’ll find the Napoli truck parked in the gravel lot across North Greensboro Street from Carr Mill Mall, from 5:30 to 10 p.m., every night but Monday. Get there early if you want one of the handful of card tables they set up in front of the truck.
Pizza La Stella
219 Fayetteville St., Raleigh
The crust: Nice char on the cornice, but the underside is sometimes too soft (and in a dessert mashup of stromboli and s’mores, it was recently downright doughy on the inside). Gluten-free crust is available.
The whole pie: Ingredients are top-notch, but careless application of toppings can result in, say, a couple of slices of the Italian Stallion (gorgonzola, pancetta, arugula, roasted garlic, balsamic) being super-salty because they got the lion’s share of the gorgonzola.
Extra toppings: The wood oven also turns out some nicely charred wings, and caramelized Brussels sprouts finished with a honey drizzle. The owners recently responded to customer demand by changing to table service in the evenings (that includes the upstairs bar, which is a bit cozier than the main dining room). They’ve also teamed up with Smash Waffles, a Greenville-based waffle delivery service, (smashwaffles.com) to add weekend brunch service.
215 E. Chatham St., Suite 101, Cary
No phone. pizzeriafaulisi.com
The crust: Only open since March, Faulisi is already turning out an exemplary Neapolitan-style crust with an impressive level of consistency.
The whole pie: From classic Margherita to colorful creations such as the Red White Blue (sour cherries, chiles, blue cheese and fresh mozzarella), toppings are first-rate and carefully applied with a generous hand (but not so generous as to overwhelm the crust).
Extra toppings: Owner Zach Faulisi worked for two years for Mario Batali at Babbo and was chef de cuisine at The Durham restaurant. He and his wife, Amber, met at culinary school, but are still proud to honor their roots with the likes of a rustic trifle-like tiramisu made from Zach’s mom’s recipe. Scratch-made gnocchi are also a must – if they haven’t run out, that is. The kitchen is tiny, and the owners pretty much do all the cooking in this 21st century version of a mom and pop pizzeria. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
1125 W. N.C. 54, Durham
The crust: Treforni’s namesake three ovens are firing on all cylinders now, after an uneven start in the first few weeks after the restaurant opened a year ago. Gluten-free crust is available.
The whole pie: Purists will want to splurge on the Margherita D.O.P. (made with the real-deal mozzarella di bufala for a $2 upcharge over the standard Margherita). Purist or not, other options, such as the Prosciutto Arugula (on a red or white base) and Pistachio Sausage, go down easy.
Extra toppings: Owner/pizzaiolo Dave Diggins honed his skills by making multiple pilgrimages to the legendary Pizzeria Starita in Naples, Italy. In addition to authentic Neapolitan-style pies, Diggins’s ovens transform pizza dough into a crusty bread for panuozzo, Italian sandwiches with fillings such as the Speciale (prosciutto cotto, soppressata, salami, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, onion and Italian dressing) and Meatball Parmigiana.