The man who appeared to be the manager of Fuoco di Napoli nodded yes.
"So was it bad? Was it as bad as everywhere else?"
"Oh yeah," he said, looking away, obviously not wanting to talk about it.
I was asking about Enrico Liberato, the city's infamous pizzaiolo who migrated from Fritti to Antico to Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria and, most recently, to Fuoco. Police arrested him there when he allegedly threatened an employee with a knife. Police also charged him with marijuana possession and an unclear violation of immigration law. According to rumor, he has been deported. I couldn't confirm it today.
I'm not going to say I'm surprised. I have been hearing whispered stories since Fritti owner Riccardo Ullio brought him from Naples a couple of years ago. In fact, the reason I did not go to Fuoco when he landed there was because at one point he was calling me repeatedly to invite me to dinner at his house with his new wife. It was a nice gesture - the first six times.
So, I finally made it to Fuoco last Friday with friends. Even with the absence of Liberato, we found the pizza right up there with all the others that are right up there. Yes, we've got lots of good Naples-style pizza in town these days. We've got so much of it, it's sometimes hard to tell the pies apart. Someone needs to do a blind taste test.
Defendants have intentionally knocked-off Antico's trade dress including the wood-burning oven, rustic communal wooden styled tables, the strategically placed wooden boxes and crates throughout the store containing ingredients and products imported from Italy used as decoration and extra eating space for customers, the open-styled kitchen for customers to view the pizza chef's preparation of the pizzas for baking and the playing of similar music throughout the restaurant."
Hello? Having to sometimes eat off a stack of crates is among the things I don't like about Antico.
So, how is Fuoco's pizza different? Mainly, it's the texture. Fuoco obviously allies itself with those who don't want the center of their pizza to be gooey. The ying to that yang may be that the outer crust is too thick and chewy for some. I liked it just fine. Yes, yeah, of course: the char was very charry.
The pizzas here are large. Five of us felt quite satisfied sharing two pies. We ordered what most people order, it seems. One was the classic test of any pizzeria, the Margherita, and I give it a B. The pizza's cheese - bufala and fior di latte mozzarella - was completely melted and dispersed. So, there were no thick pools to bite into. It was likeable but not the usual Margherita. Having seen pictures of the pizza, I think ours was probably an anomaly.
Our other choice was the pizzeria's signature pie, the "Fuoco di Napoli." It includes the same cheese and San Marzano tomato sauce as the Margherita, along with spicy salami and Calabrian hot peppers. I give this one an A-. The peppers were super-hot for most palates at the table, so bite into them with caution. If you don't take the risk, you won't get any of the pizza's intended heat.
We also sampled the restaurant's cannolis. They're as good as most restaurants', which means I give them a C. They always seem to be a kitchen's afterthought. Service gets an A. The patio gets an A too, even though it includes those wooden tables Antico thinks it trademarked, just like the open kitchen.
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