Last updated on February 9th, 2015
Perhaps it’s a little arrogant of me to come out of the gate with such a statement about a New York Times food critic. Yet I must, because his recent article about Neapolitan style pizza incorrectly dismissed Arthur Avenue’s Zero, Otto, Nove calling their pizza insipid. Insipid?! Frank, (if I may?), we need to talk.
First a little background. Both the New York Times and New York recently profiled the major New York city trend of pizza restaurants doing it Naples style. While I think this is pretty fabulous, I’m not lovin’ the rarefied, precious approach to making one of the simplest, most satisfying foods on Planet Earth. Una Pizza Napoletana was charging $21 shcaroles for a pizza. (I do love Anthony Mangieri‘s ornery nature though. And his tattoos.) Kesté hosts pizza making classes underneath the restaurant that cost four THOUSAND dollars. Call me crazy, but there’s something a little insipid about that.
Naples is a city very dear to my heart. It’s dirty, loud, and filled with impatient people zooming all over the place. The chaos is frequently punctuated by the smell of woodsmoke coming from the burning pizza ovens. Pizza in Naples is simple. San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella are the ingredients of choice because they’re local. (Hey, there are some benefits to living underneath an overdue volcano.) People on their lunch break and on their way home from school often stop to have a pizza.
Neapolitans consider the best pizza joints in town to be Da Michele and Da Matteo where you can have your own crispy, chewy pizza (reminiscent of naan bread) for just 5 or 6 euros. There’s fluorescent lighting buzzing over your head, the walls are covered in white tile, and your annoyed server will be wearing his undershirt. Suddenly, the classic NYC slice joint makes sense! In Naples, New Yorkers, not just Italians, have a chance to find out where they come from.
So back to Bruni and his opinion of Zero, Otto, Nove and the fact that he is WRONG. First of all, it’s is in the Bronx. (Loud, dirty, filled with impatient people zooming all over the place.) The ingredients, while not necessarily grown locally, all come from the amazing shops and markets on and around Arthur Avenue. The spicy sopressata on the appropriately named pizza diavola is from Biancardi’s right across the street.
Not only does the wood burning pizza oven crank out pies that taste every bit as good as the pizza at Da Michele and Da Matteo in Naples, you get the wonderful chance to feel like you are in Italy. It’s just an added bonus that Zero, Otto, Nove’s pizzaiolo, Giuseppe Paciullo, is from Salerno, and just like so many restaurants in Italy, the waiters are Albanian. There’s nothing precious and rarefied—or insipid—about the food, or the experience.
The rest of the menu is nothing to sneeze at either. None of the Arthur Avenue regulars need me or anyone else to convince them to eat a calzone stuffed with escarole, anchovies, and olives. They appreciate a meatball that is small and made fluffy with milk soaked bread before being fried to crispy perfection. They’ll make sure the kitchen continues doing it right and for a good price.