The Staple of Naples
It was in 1899 that Italy's Queen Margherita and King Umberto I, in a public-relations move calculated to foster an affinity with the common folk, took a royal traipse into Naples for some pizza. In their honor the pizzaiolo commissioned for the event what is believed to be the first pie with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil, which he striped in the manner of the Italian flag and called pizza alla Margherita.
Unbeknownst to them at the time, the regal couple's culinary opportunism would set a precedent for generations of subsequent Tums-popping politicians, who nowadays must publicly demonstrate delight with dozens of diverse ethnic foods, from chicharrones to knishes to, yes, pizza, sometimes all in the same day, in order to secure photo-ops with their common-folk constituents. But the king and queen were not only politically acute; they also were ahead of the curve regarding pizza. Although the flat, round yeast bread had enjoyed notoriety in the poorer sections of Naples since the Seventeenth Century, and the first Neopolitan pizzeria opened in 1830, it wasn't until the 1970s that the rest of Italy readily relinquished itself to the pies' appeal. Margherita and Umberto's visit to Naples also preceded by six years the debut of the first American pizzeria, on New York's Spring Street. The pie's popularity sprang from there throughout the nation, where today it's a $20 billion industry (more if you factor in pepperoni and anchovies).
Since the opening of Blú four months ago, even those in South Miami are now privy to pizza worthy of royalty. The charming, moderately priced, trattorialike Pizzeria del Sole is a 40-seat spinoff (with 30 more chairs outside) of the charming, moderately priced, trattorialike Trattoria Sole next door. Two main benefits from that association: The wine selection is far more extensive than one reasonably could expect to find in a pizzeria; and some of Blú's appetizers are prototypes of those honed in the Trattoria's talented kitchen, like translucent beef carpaccio and fritto fantasia, a plate of lightly fried shrimp, calamari, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, and pineapple.
Panini, focaccia, and half-moon calzone constitute the offerings for pizza poopers, but the pies are what I'd come to try. The blissfully blistering treatment they undergo while baking rapidly in a smoldering-hot wood-burning oven (forno a legna) yields a crisp semicharred crust with a thin bready middle and seared topping of bubbling cheese and tomato sauce (made with imported San Marzano canned tomatoes). Delicious, really. There are 28 variations from which to choose, like spinach/fontina, eggplant/Parmesan, artichoke/mushroom, and anchovies/oregano -- a staple in Naples and Rome. There also are more than a dozen sauceless pizza bianche, which include tartufon, with mozzarella, mushrooms, and white truffle oil; and pizza blú, covered in mozzarella, fontina, eggplant, potatoes, and fresh rosemary.
The latter was blandly seasoned, and could have used more rosemary, but dashes of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes brought it up to par.
The priciest pizza is $13.50, the average around $10, but none was more rewarding than the Margherita, which Blú insists on calling fiore di campo. Sure it's "common," and at $7.50 the least expensive pie, but if a tomato, mozzarella, and basil pizza was good enough for the king and queen of Italy, it's good enough for me.
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