"It's not just pizza, it's an art," says Franco Stanzione, the ambitious 23-year-old who's opening Miami's first truly "authentic" Neapolitan pizza shop. "It's so easy to mess up. It only takes a minute."
That's because the pizza at this soon-to-open place takes only 30 seconds to a minute to cook. But that's not all that makes it special. At Stanzione 87, Franco and girlfriend Ashley Lopez follow a code. "We've got rules to follow." Rules for this 40-seat pizzeria are set by the Neapolitan Pizza Association, which certified Franco.
The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, or AVPN, is a nonprofit organization that was founded in June 1984 in Naples. Its mission is to promote and protect the "true Neapolitan pizza." The reward for following the rules: a brand mark, which Stanzione 87 has. Such rules include using San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella from Campania (the region that includes Naples), extra-virgin olive oil, and high-quality dough. As if all of this weren't enough, pizzas must be made in a wood-fired, domed oven and not exceed 35 centimeters in diameter. Break one of these rules and you're not a branded Neapolitana.
"This is going back to the roots," Franco says. The first Neapolitan pizza documented was back in the 1800s, when baker Raffaele Esposito made the first Margherita pizza for Queen Margherita of Savoy. He made three pies. The Queen's favorite was the one that evoked the colors of the Italian flag -- green (basil), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). It was named in her honor. The rest is history.
In honor of his Neapolitan grandfather and Franco's love of food -- along with a dislike of his job in New York as a financial analyst -- Franco decided to open the restaurant. Having a background in finance has helped him with the location and business aspect of Stanzione 87, which he believes is in the most demographically rich neighborhood. There are 190,000 office employees and 71,000 residents, and growing. "The toughest thing about Brickell was finding a building that wasn't generic and had some character," Franco says. "This building hasn't been occupied since the 1950s, when it housed a radio-repair shop. It was built in the 1940s, so it has history, just like Neapolitan pizza."
Right next door to the small building is construction for Brickell Citi Centre, which Franco believes to be a great project and even better neighbor for Stanzione 87. Though Brickell Citi Centre is still a few years away, Stanzione 87 is set to open April 20. During its soft-opening phase, hours will range from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 4 to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday (closed Sunday). "You have to close one day; otherwise you're just here every day."
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The menu will consist of a variety starters, red and white pies, and signature dishes. Wine and beer will also be served. Prices will range from $6 to $10 for starters and $10 to $18 for pizzas. But be forewarned, a Neapolitan pie has its own set of characteristics. They are minimally topped, because they should have a perfect balance between crust, sauce, and cheese. They are not sliced. This is because the liquid from the sauce and cheese create a hot, soupy, molten area at the center of the pizza. Slicing it would just cause that to disperse and hit the crust, making it soggy. And because no Neapolitan pizza is served by the slice, it's a whole-pie-only, sit-down affair. Either that or take out or delivery.
But really, you don't want to eat a boxed-up Neapolitan pizza. "Eventually we will be opening for lunch, as well as offering take-out and delivery," Franco says. "But this is the best place to have your pizza. It's important that everyone come try it here before they try it at home."
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha