When it comes to Neapolitan pizza, New York is saturated. Heck, Pizza Luca—a 1952 Chevy with a wood-burning oven on its flatbed—just started slinging pies the other day. Needlesstosay, it's hard to stand out. But, with pizzas fit for the pope, Don Antonio by Starita manages to do just that.
The new restaurant comes courtesy of Antonio Starita and Roberto Caporuscio, a.k.a pizza royalty. Starita is the third-generation owner of one of Naples' oldest pizzerias and his student, Caporuscio, owns the West Village's Kesté Pizza & Vino and serves as the U.S. president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers. So yeah, this place is serious.
Don Antonio, long and narrow, fits about 70 people. There's a long bar up front and a sky-lit, raised dining area in back. An open, modern kitchen provides views of the wood-fired oven (custom-built from volcanic soil and stone) while paintings of Mt. Vesuvius and black-and-white photos adorn the bright red walls. When I was there, the wife and daughter of one of the chefs came in and hung out by the kitchen, lending the place a real homey feel. And the personable, helpful service only adds to the ambience. Our waiter gave us a highly detailed description of the restaurant's famous bellinis (made from peach nectar, rather than juice) and suggested that we order one vegetarian pizza over another, which ended up making all the difference.
With fifty different kinds of pies, Don Antonio's menu is overwhelming in a good way. There's stuffed-and-fried pizza, fried-then-baked pizza, red pizza, white pizza, and even gluten-free pizza, all with that signature Neapolitan-style thin, crispy crust. There's also an extensive list of antipasti and salad as well as panini (during lunch service only). We really wanted to order the arancini (fried rice balls, served here with baked Italian ham) but, in the end, we went the healthy route and started with the Rustica salad—a spring mix with prosciutto di Parma, artichokes, Gaeta olives, lemon, and extra virgin olive oil. The light dressing let the freshness of the ingredients shine through, and the combination of salty ham and vinegary artichoke hearts was awesome.
We went back and forth quite a bit with our pizza order. At first, I thought we should get the Montanara pie since fried pizza is all the rage in Manhattan right now (it's served at Forcella and and, just recently, La Montanara opened on the Lower East Side) but I tried PizzArte's version a while back and was underwhelmed. Then I considered the Vegeteriana (zucchini, eggplant, artichokes, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, basil, and EVOO) but our server warned against it, admitting that, without sauce, it's kind of a boring pie. He suggested we try the Pope's Pizza (butternut squash, zucchini, roasted peppers, smoked mozzarella, basil, and EVOO) instead. I wasn't so sure about the squash but Starita once served pizza to Pope John Paul II so I figured it had to be good. And was it ever. The squash took the place of sauce, sweet and smooth, and the smoked cheese added a just-out-of-the-oven taste. We also ordered the Pistacchio e Salsiccia (pistachio pesto, sausage, homemade mozzerella, Pecorino Romano, basil, and EVOO), which was equally as delicious. The nutty pesto mixed with the creamy cheese was almost too decadent, as if there is such a thing.
Don Antonio has a decent drink list, with a variety of aperitivi, classics, and signature cocktails, but we chose to wash our pizza down with a half-liter of red wine. You can also order by the glass or bottle but we were rushing to a show so a carafe was just the right amount.
There's a lot of pizza out there but, for a Neapolitan pie, you can't do much better than Don Antonio. Make this your go-to spot for an inexpensive, charming pre-theater dinner.