Naples is a city that makes you work. Getting to places even just a little off the beaten track requires a good sense of direction or a lot of fortitude; I once saw a tourist, luggage in tow, pounding frantically on a hotel door just to be let in. Shopping can be a chore, since they rarely take credit cards due to what would appear to be a widespread problem with their card machines.
At the same time, I had heard raves of this city, its beauty and its history, its culture and charm. It made me feel old, like when my daughter raves about a K-pop band or when someone writes about the attractiveness of the Duplass brothers. The general feeling is HUH? It made me understand what some people find exhausting and alienating about Bangkok, how both cities reward people who “know things” or have the energy to learn.
It comes as no surprise, then, that grabbing a table at one of the city’s famed pizzerias is a test of sheer will. It usually goes this way: there is a line, and you humbly submit your name to someone, anyone, who deigns to take it. Next is your wait, a lesson in humility, as, hopefully, sometime, your turn will come. What keeps you there, standing in an alleyway, or in a doorway blocking waitstaff bearing huge platters of steaming dough? Hope and its audacity, perhaps, but probably plain old stubbornness. You’ve waited this long already, right? I’ve seen the lines at post-Michelin star Jay Fai and if you have too, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
In fact, I had time to dream about eventually being turned away, like Mary and Joseph before finding the manger, like Julia Roberts before her shopping spree. Imagine this: a restaurateur who would not want my money. Because let me tell you something, and I rarely boast, but I will here: I am a good eater at restaurants. I will spend money on wine; I will order multiple courses; I could go for the tasting menu and order extra stuff; I am a total and thorough pig. I will appreciate the waitstaff. I will compliment the chef. If you feed me, I will love you.
The opposite? Oh, the scorn, the spite. I will walk away, find the next willing place and stuff my face with it, thinking all the while, I AM NOT MISSING YOU. THIS IS BETTER. Once sated, belly bulging, I will come back, triumphant and slightly sweaty, tiramisu in my hair. “Don’t you get a percentage of the check as a service charge?” I will ask you. You might answer, “Yes?” “Hahaha!” I will shriek, breadcrumbs flying from my open maw before I depart in a swirl of parmesan dust.
This never happened. I did get to eat at all the places we had time for in Naples, even Da Michele (though it felt like a near thing). At L’antica Pizzeria da Michele (via Cesare Sersale), they give you numbers, which makes you feel secure, because they have to call you in consecutively. People can poke their heads in at any time to do takeaway. An extremely large Japanese tour group did that, as did an American (Naples is full of Americans) who told me takeaway was the superior way to buy a Da Michele pie. If you do decide to sit down, they serve each room (there are three) one by one, so it is obviously best to sit in the first room. It is not a place where you want to linger. I don’t care if there’s a signed photo of Julia Roberts from “Eat Pray Love” on the wall.
At Sorbillo (da Gino), the really popular one with the perpetual line, there was a banner featuring illustrated celebrities like Bono and Madonna at a table eating pizza. That really turned me off (and the gargantuan line did, too). So it was really super lucky that just a few doors down is Antonio E Gigi Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali), whom may or may not be relations, but are indeed in the Michelin Guide.
The dough was fluffier than Da Michele’s, but light, easy to chew. The seating and service were drama-free. No emotional rollercoaster. It felt a bit un-Neapolitan in that sense.
Pizzeria da Attilio (Via Pignasecca), recommended to us by Paolo of Peppino, ended up being my son’s absolute favorite. He would very much like you to know that.
There was the nail-biting wait — will we or won’t we? — but we, a Scandinavian tour group, a large Chinese family and an Italian couple all were seated at the appropriate times. The menu was extensive and the dough soft and pillowy. Service was friendly and efficient, and unlike many other places, they are fine with long lunches and even offer their own wine. The next time I go (?!) I might even try one of Attilio’s star-shaped pies, with the cheese buried in the star points. See? I might actually be getting Naples after all.