"il sole nel piatto" The Dream of Caiazzo
PEPE IN GRANI
The world's best pizza is your favorite pizza, whatever and wherever that may be. It might be that pepperoni pizza from your old neighborhood or "the Works" at the pizzeria in your college town. Could be it's Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix or PIzzeria Due in Chicago. or Di Fara's in Brooklyn. My favorite pizza is the off-the-menu Michael Pizza ( three cheeses with fennel sausage added) at Pizzeria Mozza in Hollywood South.
I am in no way trying to budge you from your favorite pizza. I get loyalty. I'm all about loyalty. I will tell you, though, the second best pizza in the world is made at "Pepe in Grani" in the quaint town of Caiazzo, in Campania, Italy about an hour-long windy drive from Naples. I'll straight-out proclaim that.
The particular pizza there that ascends is called "Il sole nel piatto", also known, to me alone, as "The Dream of Caiazzo"
I wrote about Pepe in Grani, ( Pepe in Grains) briefly here a few weeks ago, ( https://michael-krikorian.squarespace.com/blog/2013/8/16/pizza-titans-meet ) after Nancy Silverton and I went there August, 13. But, damn. the pizzas I ate there haunt my memory. Nancy doesn't help at all. The other day she told me "If I had ate a pizza from Franco Pepe before I opened my pizzeria, I would have never opened my pizzeria."
Thing about the pizza here is not the crust, which, as fine as it is, has nothing on Mozza's landmark handles. The crust at Pepe in Grani is "doughy", but in a very satisfying way. It has quite a pleasant flavor and a good bite-into feel. Most of the roughly 150 diners here were going at their pizzas with a fork and knife. I didn't, though I needed to fold and tuck at the point.
However,, what sets Pepe in Grani apart was the brilliant quality of the stuff on top of that hand-stretched dough. Even the basil. It was like basil turbo. You bite into it and it's like saying "Yeah, I'm some basil. What about it?" Settle it down, basil.
Same thing with the anchovies. They tasted more like grilled bistecca than salty, dwarf fish. The olives. These olives would be saying to others, "You call yourself an olive? I oughtta pit you." The tomatoes. LIke Ruth Reichl once wrote about tomatoes, "They tasted like a slice of the sun cooled in a forest stream." The mozzarella. Supreme.
After two pizzas and a large calzone (that had Nancy repeatedly saying "This ricotta, this ricotta...") , we were full. But, knowing we weren't passing this way any time soon, we snagged a server and asked her what was her favorite pizza. She pointed to a listing toward the bottom of the menu and said "Dream." This pizza became known to us then as "The Dream". Since then, I have never really dreamt about it, but I think about this pizza ravenously two, three times a week.
That country prolly has had a lot of homages to it, but none more delicious than "The Dream".
After six weeks in Italy, Nancy and I came up with list of our best dishes and best restaurants in various categories that I billed as "Tastes of the Trip". I envisioned it as an Academy Award-type of show. The big award, the equivaient of the Best Picture Oscar, would be Best Restaurant.
The big favorite was the blockbuster Osteria Francescana, in Modena, the highest rated restaurant in all of Italy. This place has the top rating in the guidebook L'Exprsso (19.75), is tied for top in Gambero Rosso (95 points), came in 3rd in 2013 the San Pellegrino listing of the top 50 restaurants in the world and was rated #1 in Europe by the Daily Meal website in December, 2012.
The last time Nancy and I discussed the best restaurant of the trip award, it was a tie between (Big Sid Catlett hits the drums here)...Osteria Francesca and Pepe in Grani.
I'd for sure go back to Osteria Francescana. It was outstanding on every front. I'd make a reservation far in advance and plan a little trip around going there. Hey, It's 273 kilometers from Nancy's home in Panicale, Umbria It's not a spur of the minute meal.
But, if we were in Panicale and it was 6 p.m. and it was raining and Nancy said "Let's go to Franco Pepe's for pizza tonight", which, by the way, is 345 kilometers away, I'd say. "Get in the car."
We'd be driving there, rain slanting, Coltrane and Davis soothing "All of You", the rented Lancia hitting 190 kph, and Nancy'd say "We might have to wait for a table."
So we'd wait. It's worth waiting on the Dream.
I'm working on a dream Though sometimes it feels so far away
I'm working on a dream And I know it will be mine someday
- Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
PEPE IN GRANI
Vico S. Giovanni Battista, 3
81013 Caiazzo (CE) Italy