Neapolitan pizza is becoming hot cuisine in the states. I do think we're on the brink of this style of pizza — rustic, terroir-rich and much healthier than its faster, cheese-laden American brethren — becoming as ubiquitous as sushi, another seeming foreign overnight sensation.
Martha Hoover, owner of the latest such eatery in Indy, chose the ubiquitous a-word, artisanal, to convey its genre as Neapolitan-style. Here's why: The Verace Pizza Napoletana, Italy's creed on what constitutes a true Neapolitan pie, is very specific. Ironically, the original style's local-oriented requirements — Italian flour, Italian-grown San Marzano tomatoes, (Italian) mozzarella di bufala, etc. — sort of make it impossible to cook in the true Neapolitan tradition stateside, though it's more in the spirit of the fare to cook with our own local ingredients. But note that Napolese does use the traditional Caputo "Tipo 00" flour, American-grown San Marzano tomatoes and a Wood Stone gas-burning oven that gets as hot as the more traditional wood-burning models, though perhaps without imparting an extra bit of smoky, woody flavor.
Let's dig right in: The one-page menu setup actually reminded me of Cafe Patachou's method of managing omelet configurations: build a pizza yourself and it costs a bit more, or choose from some winning combinations like the BLT (bacon, caramelized leeks and taleggio, $13) or PFG (pancetta, roasted fingerlings and gorgonzola, $13).
The wine and beer list is not far behind, opposite the food menu. I was slightly disappointed to see only a handful of beer options, and only two of them local (from Sun King). The key elements of both beer and Neapolitan pizza — quality yeast and grain or grain flour — are so similar, they beg for each other. But the Patachou demographic is arguably older and more accustomed to wine. The offerings are a bit longer in the tooth here, and skew Italian, especially so for reds.
As for the appetizers: The most interesting one includes a mishmash of ricotta, crisped proscuitto, garlic and cracked pepper — lots of cracked pepper — and sea salt, which can also be plentiful, or sometimes not. The texture is different. I'm used to ricotta being more moist and creamy; with the whipping and smashing it must take to meld these flavors, it becomes somewhat clotted.
As for the pizza: I've tried many configurations, and the bottom line is the same. It's all about the dough, truly, with this style, followed by the freshness of toppings. In fact, Napolese pizza is probably truer to Neapolitan than many others, who often cover theirs in cheese, while Napolese simply dollops the mozzarella on, along with smudges of San Marzano tomato sauce, if you're not ordering a white one. From that base, I've had toppings of green olives and dry-cured Italian pepperoni, and proscuitto and caramelized onions. Oh, and virginal white pizza, dressed with a bounty of peppery arugula and loads of salty proscuitto. The ingredients and flavors are simple, like rustic Naples. Not bowl-you-over sumptuous. But it's hard to find fault.
Although: I've noticed that this crust tends to be on the drier side. Almost crispy without a crunch, but without the moist softness that can accompany those attributes. I think I prefer my crust slightly more, well, wet. This might be personal.
On to dessert. I've never had room for any, and the choices are somewhat sparse: Pizza crust stuffed with chocolate or Nutella, a sort of gussied-up version of what you might find at the pizza buffet. The table next to us ordered one. When it hit the table, one of two children taking up residence exclaimed to his mother, "We're going to be up all night!" He said it with the restrained, knowing tone of an adult — then laughed and stuck his finger in the sauce.I think that captures the feel here.
There is barely enough room in my column space to further address the issue of atmosphere and service. For that, I'll send you to the food and drink blog. Suffice it to say the place seats about 40, and you can hear the mounting chants like you were in an IMAX viewing of Avatar. The waitstaff is kind to abide.