Get past the pizza! Go to a “__________ria” ……..
Or to ‘A Pizzettata, a Pizzeria/ Trattoria
To be sure the titans of Naples’ food scene are the rightly famous pizzerias such as Sorbillo, Da Michelle, Brandi and Trianon. All of these places, hyped as they may be, are worthy if not slightly harrying, culinary destinations. But I recommend getting past the pizza Margherita and trying the little trattorie that offer local favorites such as the slow braised meat and onion dish Genovese or the zesty zuppa di pesce (fish stew). I won’t include an exhaustive list of Neapolitan dishes. I will simply say that one ought to search for trattorie with very specific and limited menus. Actually, the best meals I have enjoyed in Naples have often been at trattorie that offer no paper menu at all. Furthermore, I absolutely avoid at all costs, establishments with lengthy menus (worse still menus with pictures) that are vaguely reminiscent of the American Cheesecake Factory.
Generally trattorie in Napoli do one thing really, really well. They often make their specialty easily known by labeling themselves as pulperia (octopus), tripperia (tripe), baccalaria (salted cod), bisteccheria (meats and steaks), friggitoria (fried bits and bobs) and of course pizzeria. Trattorie in Napoli are the original purveyors of comfort food, and a good trattoria is often a jealously held secret. Neapolitans prefer to nonchalantly enjoy neighborhood food favorites with out too much fanfare and with a lot bread (and wine)!
For that reason, I reluctantly suggest my new favorite trattoria, ‘A Pizzettata, located in my hilltop neighborhood of Vomero. Selfishly, I would like to keep ‘A Pizzettata for myself. Whether it is a rainy Wednesday night or a lazy Sunday afternoon, ‘A Pizzettata never fails to satisfy me in its interpretation of classic Neapolitan dishes.
Confusingly, the trattoria is called ‘A Pizzettata, and while their pizza is quite good, it is their special dishes of the day that summon me with embarrassing regularity. In the interest of full disclosure, ‘A Pizzettata is in my back yard. In fact, we practically share a common wall. And what I most like about ‘A Pizzettata is that one can merely walk in, order the piatto del giorno (plate of the day) and without fail it will be both delicious and inexpensive. I never go to A’ Pizzettata with a particular dish in mind. Rather, I confidently put my dining fate in the hands of my ever competent servers, knowing that whatever is “good that day” will materialize at my table within roughly fifteen minutes.
Fridays are perhaps my favorite day to visit A’ Pizzettata because that is when you will often find their superb baccalà (cod). As in many other observant Catholic countries, trattorie in Italy traditionally serve fish on Fridays. For many American Catholic children like myself, fish Fridays often meant soggy tuna casseroles and dreaded fish sticks. Thankfully, Italian trattorie are here to renew our collective faith in the near obligatory consumption of fish on those sacred Fridays. And what a triumph the fish at ‘A Pizzettata is.
Thick steaks of baccalà are slow braised in tomatoes, black olives and capers and abundantly served atop slices of fried ciabatta bread. That extra touch of frying the bread and secretly placing it underneath the cod drove me wild on my first visit to A’ Pizzettata. Many trattoria offer fine renditions of this classic cod dish. But, what can I say, I am a sucker for that fried bread. It makes all the textural difference in this dish, and perhaps more importantly it seems to convey the kitchen’s overarching philosophy of pride of place and attention to detail. It also bears noting that one order of baccalà at ‘A Pizzettata generously serves two and costs a humble eight euro.
‘A Pizzettata also occasionally offers their version of Linguine ai Frutti di Mare al Cartoccio. A common dish throughout southern Italy, slightly undercooked linguine or spaghetti is tossed in a sauce of mixed seafood, tomatoes and parsley, sealed in parchment paper and baked for 5 minutes. At ‘A Pizzettata, the linguine is generously tossed with squid, octopus, mussels, clams cicale di mare (closely related to the mantis shrimp), olive oil and tomatoes and then wrapped in pizza dough and placed in a wood burning oven for just long enough to create a powerfully aromatic sauce. When I first ordered the dish, I felt like a diner in the Stanley Tucci film, Big Night, famously awaiting the arrival of the gravity defying, Timpano. The pizza dough effectively absorbs the seafood sauce, creating the perfect opportunity for a bit of cinematic scarpetta. Then there is the added benefit that you essentially get to eat the vessel in which your pasta is delivered. I suppose this is just a more sophisticated Neapolitan version of the bread bowl soups sold at Panera Bread, in which case I should be slightly sheepish about my enthusiasm. Either way this dish is good, and don’t be afraid to use your hands when eating it. Slurp, lick your fingers, tear apart the crustaceans. I certainly won’t judge and neither will the staff at ‘A Pizzettata.
Pastas at ‘A Pizzettata are fairly priced, mostly between four euro and eight euro, (except the aforementioned linguine al cartoccio which is huge and comes in at 12 euro) and generously portioned. Among my favorites are the traditional Pasta, Patate e Provola (pasta with potato and provolone) and Pasta Fagioli (pasta with beans) Occasionally, cannelloni are available and if they are, I suggest you order, although one plate is enough for two moderately hungry diners. Unfortunately, the fried antipasti, particularly the Panzerotti (potato croquet) and the Montanara (fried mini pizzas) are made to order and excellent! If you are anything like me, you swear not to order them, then jealously watch as these fried bits arrive at neighboring tables only to change your mind and order some frittura. Order at your own risk. While they are very good they are also extremely filling.
One must strategize when eating at A’ Pizzettata. Throughout Vomero, this tiny trattoria is known for generous portions, quality ingredients and relatively humble prices. I suggest splitting antipasti (appetizers), primi (pasta) and secondi (main dishes) in groups of two or four. If not, prepare to wear a trusty pair of elastic band pants and waddle home after sipping a house made herb digestivo. Either way, A’ Pizzettata is a trattoria in which you won’t fill guilty about over indulging. It deftly provides a glimpse into the culinary soul of Naples and predictably leaves you not just a little overstuffed.
‘A Pizzettata is located at Via Belvedere, 27 in the Vomero