Inspired by the release of “Eat Pray Love,” we asked some our female contributors to write on how those themes have played into their travels. Today Emily Chaplin Krug shares how she followed in the footsteps of best selling author Elizabeth Gilbert to find her Shangri-La, Neapolitan style.

Pizza da MicheleThree little words: I, Love, Pizza. I’ll try any variety, any preparation method: deep dish, wood fired, Californian. Whether it hails from Chicago, New York or somewhere in between, if it is freshly and attentively prepared (meaning no canned ingredients) I’m in. (And sometimes I’ll even bend on the canned rule, if I’m hungry enough.)

As much of a fanatic as I am, until this year I had never visited the place I consider the source of everything that is pure and wonderful about pizza: Naples. When I scheduled an impromptu trip to Italy in February, I knew the coastal city would be firmly on my agenda and that a meal at a particular pizzeria would top my must-do list.

In her wildly popular memoir Eat, Pray, Love, the movie version of which opened in theaters on August 13th, Elizabeth Gilbert gushes sensationally about the Naples establishment Pizzeria da Michele, “…just go,” she ultimately insists.

So I decided to follow her directive. I arrived in Naples midday on a Wednesday, dropped my bags at my budget hotel in the Centro Storico district and immediately hit the streets to navigate my way to da Michele.

After a couple of wrong turns I finally stumbled upon the restaurant’s unassuming storefront. Unfortunately so had half the city. On a hopeful return later that afternoon the line had mercifully disappeared.

My order of a beer and a “regular” pie (no frills or toppings here other than fresh mozzarella and basil sprigs) arrived in minutes. The pizza, true to Gilbert’s assertion, was delicious – the crust (in my opinion the true measure of a pizza’s greatness) an impeccable equilibrium of salty and sweet with a sublimely chewy consistency.

And yes, like Gilbert, I ate the whole thing (though this is hardly impressive – she ordered a second).

On my way to pay my tab (arguably the happiest six euros I’ve ever spent) I spotted a photograph of Julia Roberts, who plays Gilbert in the film, surrounded by the pizzeria’s staff. I pointed to it and grinned at one of the bakers. He responded with a shrug and a wan smile, and then returned to focusing on the work at hand. I nodded my approval.  Pizza, particularly this pizza, takes categorical precedence over movie stars.

Pizzeria da Michele
Napoli – Via Cesare Sersale, 1/3
(angolo Via P. Colletta)

+081 553 9204

Comments

  1. [...] This site is perhaps my favorite post on the restaurant. And just like the author I ate the WHOLE pizza. [...]

  2. marta
    August 30, 2010, 10:07 am

    I must confess, I often say that 3 little words too: I love pizza!!
    As Italian myself I think I can’t live without a good pizza now and then (ummm maybe once a week ;-) )

  3. Celeste
    August 26, 2010, 1:21 am

    Thank you Rachel for sharing your experience. It’s pretty disappointing that a blog post entitled “Sampling Naples’ Swoon-Worthy Slices” sampled exactly ONE of the thousands of amazing options in Naples, and we had to rely on the readers for actual recommendations not found in a NYT best seller.
    Gosh, Emily Chaplin Krug… ya got any other suggestions? Or did you just read the book and decide that was it?

  4. Rachel
    August 18, 2010, 1:33 am

    In the book Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert writes an entire chapter about Pizza da Michele, a pizza shop in Naples that is, according to her and a host of Italian friends she’d made, the best in the world. So being a huge fan of pizza I made my way to Napoli for no other reason than to eat pizza at Pizza da Michele. I took the afternoon train from Rome which was much more crowded than the night trains I’d been recently travelling on throughout Italy.
    The hostel I booked was called Giovanni’s Home. Not being one for researching and planning I took a quick glance on the Hostelworld website and this one had very high ratings. I briefly scanned the first review left by a fellow traveller who’d stayed there. I only looked at the little rating stars and seeing as they were mostly excellent I decided this one was for me. I think it was some guy’s home and there was a picture of a castle and I sort of convinced myself that I would be staying in a castle that some guy had converted to a hostel.
    Napoli is not as touristy as Rome and Florence so I had to make use of my massive Italian vocabulary (all 5 words). The owner of Giovanni’s Home Hostel had sent me an email urging me to phone him upon my arrival to Napoli. I messed about with the phones trying to phone him upon my arrival at the stazionne. They didn’t seem to work no matter what combination of coins I’d tried. Frustration set in as my heavy rucksack and sprained ankle started sending pangs of pain throughout my body. As I looked down at my feet in the filthy train station I remembered reading a book when I was about 10 years old about this girl travelling around Italy on her own. I vaguely recalled her mentioning something about the phones not using coins at all and that you were to use special phone cards. Interesting, the things we remember! So I did an academy award winning act of charades with the tobacco vendor and got myself a phone card to call Giovanni’s Home Hostel.
    He answered the phone and sounded somewhat disgruntled (strangely a lot of the time I thought Italians were yelling at me and angry but when, in fact, they were just being passionate – so I told myself) “Where are you now? Well I want to make lunch and if you take the metro you will be late! I come get you now! Wait at McDonalds! I come get you!” Okay. So I grabbed an espresso and stood on the street corner with my monstrous rucksack waiting for Giovanni to come get me. I was somewhat relieved to get a lift as I was tired and grouchy from the overcrowded train and my swollen ankle.
    What a crazy, crazy city, there were Vespa’s racing around at break-neck speed weaving in and out of each others way, slamming on their breaks only inches away from hitting pedestrians and each other. There were very few cars, I noticed, but there were several mini-van type things, an ultra small version of the American idea of a minivan. I assumed I should be looking for one of these to collect me. There were seedy characters surrounding me on the sidewalk. I’m not sure what they were up to but I hoped that Giovanni would hurry up as I was starting to feel like a sitting duck. I tried to blend in sipping my espresso leaning up against a lamp post but the blonde hair, blue eyes and rucksack didn’t quite support my goal.
    A BMW motorcycle pulled up in front of me and the tiny little driver looked at me, smiled and said my name. My jaw dropped. “Is this some sort of joke” I thought to myself, “Where’s my little mini-van? Where is the nice blazing sign that says Giovanni’s Home Hostel, perhaps with a little castle logo on it?” He handed me a helmet and I found myself jumping on the back of this BMW motorcycle with my huge rucksack wobbling around precariously behind me. He started the engine and I grasped this strange man’s waist as we took off into the chaos that is Napoli.
    As we raced down the narrow cobblestone streets and alleys I grinned from ear to ear and my thoughts screamed over the noise of the motorcycle’s engine, honking horns and the dozens of Vespa’s whizzing by… “Welcome to Napoli!” I could not have imagined a better welcome to this dodgy, dirty, and dangerous city.
    Of course I was incorrect in assuming the hostel was a castle (there is a castle or two in Napoli and I guessed that’s why there was a picture of one of them on his website). I marched up about 6 flights of stairs (huge rucksack in tow) and dropped my belongings onto the floor of my 4 bed dorm. I peered out the sunlit window at the amazing view of cobblestone streets, laundry hanging like garland between buildings, and little old ladies walking along hunched over from their heavy loads.
    Giovanni sparked up a cigarette as he started cooking lunch. Had I read the reviews on Hostelworld, I would have learned that the draw back to this hostel is Giovanni’s cigarette smoking inside. That being said, Giovanni whipped up a fabulous lunch of eggplant pasta; vegetarian just for me. This lovely concoction, he prepared effectively, while adorned with his cooking apron (featuring a life sized picture of a naked female body blazed across the front) and cigarette hanging out of his mouth. A definite skill is required for that.
    After we ate he sat me down and handed me a map and started drawing all over it with highlighters “you go here to see this…you go this way to see that…Napoli is full of history, you stay for 3 days, not long enough!” Then he pulled out the purple highlighter. Purple is for the areas where you DO NOT GO! “Napoli is dangerous city, no take money, no take camera, no take passport, stay away from these areas because police can not control them. Oh and do not go out at night…..” Okay.
    So, of course, I went out that night and promptly got lost between the labyrinth of cobble stone alleys they call roads. I had my map and couldn’t find where I was for hours. I wandered around (still trying to blend in) desperately trying to find my way back to the hostel in the pitch black. I was starting to get very frustrated limping on the uneven ground with my swollen ankle and remembering Giovanni’s words about muggings (“mugs” he called them). It was only when I said to myself “You know what, embrace this adventure and become a part of all this chaos surrounding you” that I actually found my way. I wandered along the crowded streets, peeking at vendors’ wares at night markets, the colours, the noise, the garbage and dirt embracing my “lostness” and all that surrounded me. It was only when I stopped focusing on being lost and focused on being in the moment and all that surrounded me that I ended up right at the doorstep of where I was trying to go. Acceptance surely was the only way there was in order to become “found”. My metaphor for life I suspect.
    Giovanni gives the same map and speech to all his guests. He sits there with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and coloured highlighters in hand explaining Napoli’s various sites, history, safety issues, and, most importantly, about pizza. I told him, quite sheepishly, that the main reason I came to Napoli was to go to Pizza da Michele because I have it on good authority that it is the best pizza in the world. “No, is crap, is in guide book! Not best, is for tourists!” Oh, my little heart was crushed. I secretly hoped he didn’t know what he was talking about. “ Gino Sorbillo’s is best pizza in Napoli ! You go there tonight, try. You go to Pizza da Michele Monday. You will see who is best”. Not wanting to upset him, I obediently found myself heading out for pizza with some American guys and a German girl from the hostel.
    We got there just in time because after we sat down a really long queue developed outside. Always a good sign. I was going on the theory is that since the best pizza in the world comes from my beloved Italy and the best pizza in Italy comes from Napoli that I might just find the best pizza in the world in this city. I did not think it would be at Gino Sorbillo’s. I’d have to wait for another day to find it at Pizza da Michele. Dejectedly, but with an open mind, I sat there waiting to test this theory with my knife and fork. I’d show that Giovanni.
    In no time the pizza was laid down in front of me. It was bigger than an extra-large pizza you’d get at the restaurants at home. The crust was almost like Lebanese pita, but thicker and not a pocket. It was dotted with slightly melted mozzarella and smeared with bright red tomato sauce. I tore into the pie with cutlery, not wanting to be rude, and took my first bite of what Giovanni says is the best pizza in Napoli, therefore the best pizza in the world if the theory holds true. I think I went into shock and my eyes bulged out of my head. It was like a dream. “Nothing could possibly taste this good” I thought. And took another bite to make sure my sense of taste was not fooling me. I think I almost cried. I had tasted a lot of unbelievable food in Italy and throughout the world, in fact, but I have never tasted anything better than that massive piece of perfection now in my hands. It was manna from the heavens. Nothing but some sort of Roman god could have created this masterpiece. I can honestly say there is no mozza in any country I’ve eaten pizza that even remotely comes close to tasting as perfect as Italian mozza…no, not even close! And the sauce…the sauce tasted like the tomatoes had been picked from mama’s garden 5 minutes before I sat down. The crust almost melted in your mouth it was so fresh and chewy. It was divine. DEVINE! We all sat there in silence, chewing, and staring adoringly, like love struck lunatics, at this food they call Pizza.
    I did end up going to Pizza da Michele on Monday and Giovanni was right…it just did not compare. Gino Sorbillo’s is the best pizza in the world. Sorry Elizabeth Gilbert, you missed out.

  5. Marc DiPaolo
    August 17, 2010, 10:38 am

    Keste’ Pizza & Vino (on Bleecker street) is the closest thing to Da Michele in NYC.
    It’s as authentic it can be. When I go there is like going back to Napoli.
    A must try.

  6. SAulo Aconcha
    August 16, 2010, 3:13 pm

    I want a pizza and a cold beer, right now!!!