New York claims mastery of many an Americanized favorite, with an undisputed claim to bagels, deli sandwiches, Chinese takeout and our iconic pizza. So it was with incredibly high standards that I went to Naples for the very first time, home of the original thin crust pizza, with an empty belly and a heart full of hope and excitement.
It was on a cruise ship stop, on my very first trip to Europe, that I finally got to experience one of the most universally beloved foods in the world. Disembarking in the capital of Campania, from whence came some of Long Island’s favorite tomato-sauced dishes, I hit the streets immediately. After all, four years of college taught me one very important thing: it is never too early for pizza.
Wandering the alleys of this underrated city, I finally settled on a hidden sidewalk café, whose touristic-looking street sign and generic name belied the tantalizing aromas coming out of its open doors. Half a carafe of fine house wine was refreshing once I took my seat, but the pizza I traveled across the seas for was every bit as good as I’d hoped or imagined, and pleasantly different from what I’d grown up with. It may be the water that makes New York pizza dough so cracklingly delicious and fabulously toothsome, but there’s no denying that the H20 used in Naples’ pizza has a sparkle all its own.
A slightly puffy crust that looks like fresh-baked naan bread was the vehicle for unadulterated crushed tomato sauce, whose flavors shined with fullness and purity. I could literally feel the warmth of the sun under which the tomatoes ripened. The fresh mozzarella of the classic Margherita oozed unashamedly and in generous proportion, mild and creamy with flecks of oil adding a hint of gold to the surface. The last color of the Italian flag was represented with whole, fresh sweet basil leaves, a final addition scattered on top of the pie, meant to add flavor as much as a pop of carefree color.
It was love at first bite, and the deeper into consuming the pizza I got, the more I was in turn consumed by the need to have this at home.
Back on Long Island in 2012, this mission was no easy task. After all, our pizza’s pretty perfect, so there’s little to no need for variation. But, that lack of necessity is what makes the extra efforts of Grana Trattoria in Jamesport even more special.
In 2010, chef Dave Plath opened his small restaurant on Route 25 to provide authentic, healthy, local, organic Italian food that elevated American mainstays by going back to their European roots. In it, he installed a traditional wood-burning oven imported from Italy to create undeniably Neapolitan pizzas, with artfully blistered, lightweight, slightly smoky crusts, meant to be devoured the nanosecond it hits the table. Hand-mixed fresh dough, made with a proprietary blend of three unbleached, unbromated organic flours of different protein and ash levels is where the magic happens. Lower gluten levels than what’s typically found in mass-market and commercial flours make this base healthier and more delicate than standard pizzeria crusts, and truer to what you’d find in Naples.
And because quality seasonal ingredients are essential to Italian cuisine, he goes even further to replicate—and improve—on the archetype by topping his classic Margherita with housemade additive- and whitener-free fresh mozzarella, ripe plum tomatoes with no added citric acids or heavy purees, and local organic basil.
The result of this attention to detail is joy in your mouth. In a setting with considerable more charm and ambience than the alley where I first met “real” pizza, every bite at Grana brought me back to that sidewalk café. The crunch! The mix of savory and sweet! The freshness and cleanliness of flavors; simple ingredients and age-old technique stole the show!
Upon further inquiry, it became clearer why Grana’s Margherita was even better than its European counterpart: not only had Plath studied breadmaking at the French Culinary Institute and the King Arthur Baking Institute, he was also VPN-certified, making him one of the few elite pizzaiolis in America legally designated as genuinely authentic to the art of Neapolitan pizza-making. By eating the goods of a member of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, an official DOC by the Italian government, you can’t possibly get closer to the streets of Naples than at Grana, making this trattoria perhaps the most authentic eats you’ll find on Long Island’s many streets.
For the full list of Su-Jit’s authentic eats, click here.
This story was originally published in December 2015.