I spent the weekend in Chicago and at the urging of fellow member Bill/SFNM, I visited Spacca Napoli, a true Neapolitan pizzeria. Coming off the heels of visiting Settebello in Las Vegas, how lucky can a pizza hunter like me get in one week. Lucky I was.
The owner Jonathan welcomed me with open arms and spent much more time than I deserved. The pizzaiolo from Naples, Nella, was delightful in sharing her love of pizza. As she assured me, everything on the menu is "her." I have never had anyone tell me in the past that everything on the menu is a personal reflection of who they are as a person. It was after she shared that fact that I realized why she favored no particular pizza. It would have been like calling one of her children beautiful and all the rest ugly. She loves them all and that's why they were on the menu.
My notes indicated the folllowing facts:
1) The authentic Neapolitan oven was handmade on-site by three gentlemen (Grandfather, son, grandson) from Naples. The oven builders were part of a family which goes back three generations of oven builders. Apparently the oven was a custom Neapolitan one which featured a gorgeous mosaic finish and an ultra low dome for unbelievably fast baking - 42 seconds in my case. The pizzas baked were perfectly uniform and did not require hoisting toward the dome for charring. This oven is the first Neapolitan oven I have ever seen and I now understand why an ultra low dome is important. The pizzaiolo had an infra-red thermometer which showed the deck at only 860 degrees yet the pizza only took 42 seconds to bake. 42 seconds is a rather perplexing bake time since every other coal or wood burning oven I've personally measured required well in excess of a minute and probably a lot closer to two minutes to properly bake a pie at 860 degrees.
2) Jon took me into his "dough room" and showed his second prized possession a Diving Arm mixer. Again, I have broken new ground here because it was the first time I have ever seen one of these creatures. I took a short video of its operation in addition to a photo and will forward to Pete-zza for posting. The arms of the mixer literally dive into the dough like human hands. Supposedly the friction factor is as close to human hands as one can get. Wow. When combined with a true Neapolitan oven, I felt like I was closer to the real thing than ever before.
3) The restaurant was packed to the gills with customers. Anyone who is thinking about opening a pizza restaurant may want to consider opening a true Neapolitan concept because it appears to fill a niche which is profitable. According to Jon, he sells 400 or so pies a day and much more on the weekends. From the huge line outside, I had no reason to doubt him. In fact, there were more people outside the restaurant than in.
4) How did the pizza taste? Well on balance it was very good and perhaps closer to the real thing than I know. Since I have never been to Naples to form a baseline, I can only compare it to my homemade pizzas. In that light, I wish their crust would have been enhanced with a starter of some sort because the crust was lacking any real charm. The ingredients were top notch across the board with freshly imported bufala mutz, canned San Marzano tomatoes, and potent basil. The basil really jumped off the charts and was a welcomed addition.
5) The Margherita was soupy because, according to Nella, the bufala has a lot of liquid. Rather than inform her that it could be drained, I let it go. Her point turned out to be valid when I ordered a second pie without bufala and it was not soupy.
I hope the membership enjoy the attached pictures.