Waiters Shouldn’t Serve Red Pepper Flakes Before They're Asked
As much as they might like to think so, New Yorkers can no longer lay claim to having all of the country's best pizza. The Neapolitan revolution has spread far and fast, with pizzerias in Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles, garnering praise for producing pies supposedly just as good as anything you'd find in Gotham. Even Chicago, home to the pizza casserole, has gotten into the act, specifically two buzzed about pizzerias: Great Lake and Spacca Napoli. And while the city's pizza roots may not go Lombardi's deep, you can be sure that its pizzaiolos have their own take on pepper flakes and pizza — whether in fact they belong together at all.
In this interivew, part of a series attempting to solve the mystery of pizza and pepper flakes, Jonathan Goldsmith of Spacca Napoli (named for the main street traversing the historic center of Naples) discusses his thoughts on how pepper flakes fit in with the 140 pizze his restaurant serves, and why he hates it when servers offer flakes before customers have even tasted the pies.
Do you use red pepper flakes and what's your feeling about them and how they contribute to the experience of eating pizza?
We have pizzas that have red pepper flakes (pepperoncino) as part of their "toppings." We have about 140 pizze in all, 12 fixed on the menu, with the others rotating as daily specials. Of the 140, we have eight to 10 that include red pepper flakes. For example: Diavola (tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella, salame picante, pepperoncino), Salsiccia e Broccoletti (Fior di Latte mozzarella, sausage, rapini sautéed with garlic and pepperoncino), Cafona Due (tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, salame picante e dolce, pepperoncino, hand-dipped ricotta).
Do you offer red pepper flakes at Spacca Napoli?
I do not place red pepper flakes on the table, nor oregano, nor olive oil infused with red pepper flakes. I am somewhat bothered when I hear my waitstaff offer these items before they are requested. I have spent many years doing my research and training with regard to Neapolitan pizza and pizze from other regions of Italy. It is my wish that these pizzas are presented as I have found them on menus or in pizzerias during my travels, or have been lovingly shared with me by someone Italian. That being said, there is a saying in Latin that must not be disregarded: "De gustibus non dispandium est."
The essence of this phrase is that taste is not to be disputed. What works for one's palate is not to be disputed. Though I probably would refuse one to bring in their own ketchup, I probably would not refuse one's request to "modify" one of our pizzas with an ingredient that was not part of the original composition. I do however, when appropriate, encourage someone to try the pizza as it was originally intended before making an alteration. For example, bufala mozzarella, by itself "dances" in one's mouth.
Read more from this series of interviews with prominent pizzaiolos and experts on the question of the origins of the use of red pepper flakes on pizza: When Did Pizza Meet Red Pepper Flakes?