Prior to boarding the Costa Diadema for Costa Cruises’ annual “Protagonisti del mare,” or “Champions of the sea” gala event to honor the line’s travel agent partners, Cruise editor Tom Stieghorst spent some time in Naples, Italy, on the hunt for some local grub.
If you only have a short time in port in Naples, Italy, head for one of the city’s authentic pizzerias.
Naples is said to be the birthplace of pizza — although it goes back in some form to Roman times — and more than one pizzeria in Naples claims to be the originator of the tri-colored margherita pizza.
For cruise passengers, a good option is to head for via Tribunali, home to four or five well-patronized pizza parlors. It is about a 15-minute walk from the port terminal in Naples. My hotel concierge told me a taxi to the area should cost no more than 10 euros.
My first stop on via Tribunali was Di Matteo, which was favored by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is shown munching on a slice in a photo that appears on the cover of Di Matteo’s menu.
Despite the excellent navigation and mapping functions on my iPhone, I missed finding Di Matteo twice. It looks like little more than a takeout window at first. Only when I asked directions of an Italian shopkeeper and he pointed over my shoulder, did I find it.
The place was bustling at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday. The pizza oven and a takeout business are just inside the entrance, with a dining room hidden to the side and more space up a steep set of stairs. My dining companions and I climbed the stairs to a cozy room lit by florescent lights and containing four tables with paper tablecloths.
The atmosphere at Di Matteo is like eating in an old friend’s kitchen. There is marble wainscoting on the walls, but rattan in the chair seats. I counted 39 varieties on the pizza menu. We ordered a margherita, an eggplant and a mushroom/ham pizza, which arrived quickly.
They were properly thin-crusted, with burn marks around the rim and a thin layer of tomato sauce and cheese covering their circular expanse. The three pizzas and a bottle of regional red wine cost us 22 euros. We carted away some leftovers in the classic cardboard box.
The following day I was ready for more, so I trooped by myself back to via Tribunali, this time to Sorbillo, a few blocks down the street. I arrived before noon, which was good because by 12:30 there was a crowd about 20 deep waiting to get in for lunch.
Sorbillo is a little more easily recognized as a restaurant outside, with its blue- and white-striped awnings. Inside it makes more of an effort to be decorative than Di Matteo.
Unlike Di Matteo, however, there is no English translation of ingredients on the menu, so I wasn’t sure what toppings were included on some of the pies listed. I punted and went with the basic margherita. The green ingredient in the red, white and green margherita is basil, and I have to confess I found the amount of basil at both Sorbillo and Di Matteo rather small.
My standard for pizza has always been the pizza place in my hometown, said to be owned by the city’s Mafia boss. I expected the pizza in Naples to be crispy, but the crusts were more doughy than I imagined, somewhat the consistency of a soft pretzel.
But very satisfying to eat, even so. Although the pizza spilled out over the edge of a 12-inch plate, I finished it all. My family would not be surprised.
Be advised that many restaurants in Naples close after lunch and don’t reopen until 7:30 p.m.
Other “Vera Pizza Napoletana” pizzerias (a quality designation) on or near via Tribunale include Antica Pizzeria Port’ Alba and Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente (Clinton ate there, too, and the place was renamed in his honor).