World Turns Upside-Down

Just back from a 3-day trip to Chicago where I witnessed something I thought I’d never see: a city on fire (no pun intended) for thin-crust pizza. True, the massive Chicago deep dish pie has always been something of a tourist dish. The locals crow loudly about its virtues to out-of-town family, then sneak home and order cracker-thin pizzas from some low-profile neighborhood joint, and eat them with the shades pulled down. Nobody ever professes love for thin crust — New York — pizza, not in public anyway.

And therein might be the rub, the New York thing. Chicagoans have always been touchy about New York, ever since they hung that whole “Second City” moniker on us. We don’t want their elitism, we don’t want their skinny hot dogs, we certainly don’t want their department stores on State Street. Yet I think we’ve secretly always wanted their pizza, we’ve just never figured out a face-saving way to get it. Now it seems that way has been found via a Neapolitan pizza craze. It’s not New York if it’s Neapolitan. Neapolitan is more authentic than New York, right? Ehem, right. A totally different thing.

In truth it really is. Real Neapolitan pizza is not only thin, it’s baked in a wood-fired brick or clay oven. The intense heat gives the pizza a crispness and smoky flavor that can’t be had from a standard commercial pizza oven. I know because the first of these new Neapolitan joints opened in my old neighborhood on the “nort-west side” a few years back. It’s called Pizza D.O.C.. Now they have a brand new competitor, coincidentally right in the same area, the uber-hot Spacca Napoli. I was there Friday night, and all I can tell you my friends is that the critics are right. It’s some serious good pie.

Given that Neapolitan pizza is synonymous with wood-fired ovens, it’s a tough thing to pull off at home. But then when has Joe ever shied away from a challenge? It just so happens that in addition to eating a lot of Neapolitan pizza while in Chicago, I scored a Neapolitan crust recipe from a guy from Naples. So we’ve got that going for us. I’ll put it up once I’ve converted it to American weights and measures. More soon!

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