I was a little intimidated, but excited, to be going to the pre-opening last night of the Bowery Street flagship of the newest addition to the New York Neapolitan pizza scene: Forcella. I have been critical of the presumptuous nature of the Vera Pizza Napoletana Association (“VPN”), the self-appointed pizza police, if you will, dictating what “true” Neapolitan pizza is and, by extension, dismissing all other pizza, including local “New Yawk” pizza as being, well, inauthentic. Giulio Adriani, the owner/chef of Forcella, is the inspector for the VPN.
Charming, with a heavy Italian accent and sporting the soul patch equivalent of a ZZ Top beard, I asked Giulio which part of Italy he came from. “Napoli, of course,” he answered, with what I may have imagined as a strong implication that one needs to have their birth certificate checked before being allowed near a pizza oven. And what an oven! Gorgeous black and white tiles brought in and lovingly reassembled from the mother country. (Photo courtesy GutterGourmet)
Of course, the VPN and their Neapolitan ilk are not new to the city. Before Kesté, Donatella, Una Pizza Napoletana (now out in San Francisco), Motorino, Rossopomodoro (located in Eataly, no less) and Olio (where Giulio worked before opening Forcella in Williamsburg and Manhattan), New York City pizzerias like Pizza Fresca and Naples 45 claimed their superiority as card-carrying members of the VPN. Naples 45 went so far as to claim that they sourced local spring water to mix with their dough that more nearly matched the chemical and mineral content of the streams flowing through the compagna surrounding Naples than New York City tap water (which I still prefer to Evian).
Forcella, which is a neighborhood of Naples and a word that incidentally means wishbone and fork, clearly seeks to import Naples to New York. The appetizers include small crocchetti, arancini, bruschetti, and even zuppa di fagioli. All delicious. At the door, I noticed some of New York’s pizza royalty on the guest list, including Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener, and spotted Paulie Gee in the restaurant. Then I sat down and the pizzas (which Giulio informed take a maximum of 75 seconds to cook, per the VPN), starting rolling out.
The Margherita, named for the Queen of Italy, was very nice. The Marinara, with heavy garlic, oregano, and just a hint of pecorino in lieu of mozzarella was marvelous. The pizze (spelled “pizze” per the VPN, I suppose) bianche were represented by the Decumani, a luxurious, all white, no-tomato-sauce beauty covered with homemade mozzarella, arugula, pecorino, and (joy!) truffles.
We would all be forever indebted to Naples if it merely invented pizza. But there was another miraculous invention in that city just south of Rome that has, thankfully, also been adopted by New York as one of its own. You see it at every street fair and carnival in the city; so much so that, like pizza, you’d swear that we New Yawkers must have invented it: the zeppole.
It's sheer genius: Simple fried dough covered with powdered sugar. Indeed, Forcella makes good use of the fryer by taking bits of dough and showering them not only with powdered sugar but also Nutella (invented in Alba, not Naples). Even better was the millefoglie, which was like a French Napoleon, which is derived from the gateau Napolitain, invented in, you guessed it.
But the highlight of the evening was the pizze fritte. Imagine, if you can, a giant flat zeppole, first lightly flash-fried after which, instead of sugar, it's covered with San Marzano (a small town near, yes, Naples) tomato sauce and mozzarella di bufala (which is a DOC designated trademark of the Italian region of Campania, the capital city of which is… don’t make me say it again). It’s then finished briefly in the wood-burning oven. Called the Montanara, it has an entirely unique, zeppole-like texture. Based upon my research, it is not the same as the two-sided completely deep-fried pizza fritta found on the streets of Naples. While this might have the VPN up in arms, I’d like to think that maybe this is something that one can only find in that other pizza-making, great-tap-water-producing city of New Yawk.