When you want a pie to have a pedigree
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, November 4, 2012
The recipe for true Neapolitan pizza is pretty simple. You have to use a wood-burning oven. Only San Marzano tomatoes are allowed. As for the crust, no more than four ingredients — supersoft flour, sea salt, fresh yeast and water — can apply. Among a recent wave of subscribers are Menomale in the District, Pizza CS in Rockville and Pupatella in Arlington. Each dough-spinner follows the rules spelled out by Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, dedicated to preserving "real Neapolitan pizza" (Vera Pizza Napoletana, or VPN). And each restaurant adds something special to the scene.
“Pizza Addicts Only” declares the sign on the door of Pupatella.
If you’re not a convert when you walk in, you will be by the time you devour the last scrap of crust here. Enzo Algarme, who owns the two-room storefront with his partner in business and life, Anastasiya
Laufenberg, was born in Naples, where he grew up hanging around some of the city’s 200 or so pizza joints.
He borrows a late relative’s nickname for his signage. Pupatella, he says, is “what everybody called my grandmother in Italy.”
It would be a challenge not to be charmed by the place, which opens with an orange couch and counter seating near the front window and moves on to a red igloo of an oven stoked by hat-wearing cooks, one of them Algarme. A ding! of a bell signals a pie is ready. The standing menu of red and white pies runs nearly 20 flavors long; rugged chorizo, red onion rings and velvety red peppers could become a habit. Some neighbors lovingly bring fresh figs from their own trees, which Algarme incorporates into a popular “fig & pig” pizza using prosciutto. Now that’s local. No matter the topping, the crusts are the kind you could eat by themselves: a little smoky, fragrant with yeast, never soupy in the center.
Of the new crop of Neapolitan joints, Pupatella, which originated as a food truck in 2007 and matured into bricks-and-mortar three years later, offers the biggest menu. If you want to take a detour from pizza, try a pasta or special (maybe wispy squash blossoms).
The fried stuff is as good as the baked. Crisp arancini filled with meaty eggplant and soft mozzarella are a favorite splurge, but even the fried mozzarella balls teach us something: The snack doesn’t have to taste industrial. (Fresh mozzarella and tangy marinara sauce help.) The starters come out fast, one of many explanations for the young families that pack Pupatella, dressed with orange booths, red and white globe lights and a small bar in its cozier second dining room. Sold!