Okay, New York. Alright, Naples. Stop right there, San Francisco. You're all in for a pizza showdown. And the contender is... Rome.
Roman pizza ― and by this I don't mean the single-server round jammies sold in fork-and-knife spots just about all over Europe ― is referred to by Italians as pizza al taglio (ie. pizza by the slice). It's a long tray pie with thinnish crust and ― if done right ― numerous pockets of air.
"Plain" (to me, at least) means topped with melty ― but not melted ― chunks of hand pulled mozzarella di bufala, a fresh (or outsourced, but local) tomato sauce, olive oil and basil leaves. Rollover the above photo to catch a glimpse. Now, go buy your ticket!
I first visited Rome in '96. My friend Alexia brought me to the historic sites (of course), but also to plenty of food shops. I remember a tiny pizza room along Campo de' Fiori (a famous Roman piazza with an outdoor food market) whose thin crust scissor-cut room temp pizza blew me away. I went there at least half a dozen times and never deviated from mushroom. Never. That place is gone now, Alexia doesn't even remember it, and Campo de'Fiori is rife with tourism ― though still worth a visit.
Over the years she brought me to many other places ― all amazing, all in the town center. And then, during one visit in 2000 she announced, "I found a place for pizza that's a little out of the way. The wall is lined with trophies. They win awards for pizza. I think they even have a school for making pizza."
It was the mozzarella di bufala that got me right away: a cheese white as clouds and with a softness you just don't find here in the US.
Importers bring this cheese to the US by plane but it's packed with water in sealed plastic bags and has become soggy and a bit mushy during transport ― it's not as good. One suggestion I read online ― but have yet to try ― is to find a store that receives it on the same day it arrives in the US and buy it there that day. I doubt it would be as good as in Italy, but it seems a reasonable thing to try.
Buffalo mozzarella is mainly imported because the type of water buffalo that makes the milk used for this cheese is not the same as domestic American buffalo. This is an American buffalo; this is an Italian buffalo (actually, Asian buffalo).
So this place ― it's called Angelo e Simonetta ― blew me away, and I've been going there ever since. They put a lot of effort also into their dough with a rise that involves near 0℃ hibernation for almost five days. The result is a springy crust filled with air pockets that, according to owner Gabriele Jezzi, aids in digestion.
Jezzi declined to discuss the trophies. He said that trophies are just there, and that he reserves his pride is for his customers who come back again and again. He's not interested in fame but only in producing excellent pizza. "My satisfaction is you," he said.
It's a pizzeria for Roman locals. Totally off the tourist radar (the only customers I've ever seen there are Italians) and serving some of the best pizza I've had. It's like Di Fara before the crowds: fancy ingredients on a well-nurtured crust from a guy who happens to care a heck of a lot for pizza.
Click the above photo for a behind the scenes video from Pizzeria Angelo e Simonetta.
Map Angelo e Simonetta. Call ahead for days/hours. Tel. +39 068.7188853