In 1980, I read a piece in New York Magazine by Gael Greene entitled "Detour to Greatness." It was about Fredy Girardet, widely recognized at the time as Earth's greatest chef whose restaurant in Switzerland was - and still is - my fine dining Mount Everest. I still remember the kicker of Greene's piece; "Discovery is, I suppose, always more thrilling than confirmation. In Girardet's case, the confirmation of his creative genius is an endless joy."
That's how I felt a few days ago when Nancy and I - and five friends along for Dining Italy MMXIV - ate at Pepe in Grani, the restaurant of Franco Pepe located in the hamlet of Caiazzo about an hour north of Naples.
A year ago, Nancy and I "discovered" it. on a recommendation from "Fearless" Faith Willinger, or, more accurately, on orders from Fearless Faith, It led to a Krikorian Writes story that stated Pepe in Grani ( Pepe in grains) was "The World's 2nd Best Pizza"; http://krikorianwrites.com/blog/2013/9/2/the-worlds-second-best-pizza. The lede of that piece was that the best pizza in the world is your favorite, but, after that comes Pepe in Grani . (Loyalty is paramount to me.. As Cleamon "Big Evil" Johnson would say, "Blood makes you related, but loyalty makes you family" and I am nothing but loyal to Pizzeria Mozza.)
Still, that night in Campania tested my loyalty. One of the pizzas, - called "The Dream of Caiazzo" by me, and "Il Sole nel Patto" ( "The Sun on a Plate:") by Franco Pepe -- was, to borrow a MMXIV team member Bobby Silverstein food adjective, "profound".
So, this year,. when, after two other pizzas and a calzone, the waiter dropped the Dream of Caiazzo, Il Sole nell piatto , the sun on a plate, I stared in silence before I ate it.
When I did, it made me sad.
This pizza made me think of all the people in my life I care about who coudn't be here tonight, who would never be here. It was the saddest plate of food I ever ate. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't like I was crying and all sloppy. It made me hope my good fortune on others.
The next day when we saw Franco Pepe, he said, with a sly grin - and through his lovely assistant, Margherita - that he was very honored and content to be the 2nd best pizza in the world and "I just hope I don't drop down to number three or four."
This loyal person is not giving up Mozza's title, but it's time to share the crown.
The world's best pizza is still located at Highland and Melrose in Los Angeles . The world's best pizza is also located on Vicolo San Giovanni Battista in Caiazzo.
Pepe in Grani has two sleek, modern bedrooms that rent for about 100 euro a night. So after the pizza dinner, you can dream about them one flight up.