Friday, August 12, 2016

When in Rome – Or San Diego – NAPIZZA Rocks

Did you know that beautiful, laid-back San Diego is leading the charge (think Lightning Bolts) to popularize Roman-style pizza in the U.S.? Did you know that the home of Tony Gwynn’s Padres, Balboa’s Park and Coronado’s Island was discovered by the Germans in 1904, and is named for a whale’s private parts? No, that’s not right—the bit about the whale and the Germans, I mean. I was trying to impress you, faithful Pizza Perspective readers. But it’s true, I just got back from the city with the greatest weather in the universe (no exaggeration there). I swear, friends, countrymen, the Roman-style pizza at NAPIZZA in San Diego’s Little Italy (and another location) is the manna that passionate pizza lovers, and surfers, munch on when they open their eyes in Heaven.

My PMQ amigo Daniel Perea and I visited NAPIZZA last month to shoot a video. Our fortunate California mission was to highlight the gnarly by-the-slice pizzeria and top-shelf flour, Polselli, that infuses the dough foundation of NAPIZZA’s “Best-In-San Diego”-rated hunks of airy, crispy Pizza al Taglio. That’s the old-school name for pillowy pizza squares loaded with ultrafresh meats, cheeses, sauces and veggies aligned on flush rectangular pans. Like living, never-wilting edible museum pieces, the vibrant red, white and golden crust canvasses are enticingly showcased in NAPIZZA’s rapidly replenished glass serving shelves. Until a chosen slice is scooped up eagerly by smiling servers and handed over to hungry patrons. 

And speaking of hunks. The cozy gathering spot, featuring first-come seating inside and outside, right next to the Little Italy banner on India Street, is the life’s work of a couple of breathtakingly beautiful humans. Roman-bred Christopher Antinucci and Giulia Colmignoli are a real couple. They have real kids, in addition to their devoted NAPIZZA staffers. The day and night shifts function smartly—as tightly as any genetic clan, hustling and laughing, igniting pizza enlightenment in the New World. They’re building a thriving business slice by slice with an ambiance that feels almost like a chatty community market. The entire Little Italy neighborhood is an eclectic mix of traditional Italian merchants and eateries mingled with up-scale, trendy shops. Throw in the ship-lined waterfront, museums, parks, beaches and pro and college sports, and who could possibly disagree with the great Ron Burgundy? It IS a proven fact, Ron, and scholars agree: S.D. is the “greatest city in the history of mankind.”

Christopher and Giula agree with the fictional Anchorman that their adopted hometown is, really, a great place to run a business and raise a family. The copacetic coastal vibe and ocean-cooled natural landscapes perfectly match their health and fitness-focused priorities. They’re as passionate about the bountiful southern West Coast environment as they are about their fast-selling pizza and gourmet salads featuring wild-caught salmon and tuna. Giulia consulted with a Whole Foods nutritionist to develop the salad menu with an eye and a taste bud tuned to locally sourced produce and the fight against heart disease and diabetes. “San Diego is a city of fit-minded people who love to play outside in the beautiful natural resources and weather we enjoy here,” says Giulia, who is proud of NAPIZZA’s “Go Green” business model.  “We recycle as much as possible, use environmentally friendly building materials and even use a motor-assisted bicycle for deliveries.”

Conserving natural resources is top-of-mind for the NAPIZZA team, but their Roman-inspired pizza legacy cuts no corners . “As a native of Rome, my first impression of American pizza was that it tended to be heavy and overly greasy,” Christopher admits candidly. “Giulia and I grew up in Rome going to pizzerias where Pizza al Taglio was something light we could eat as a high-quality snack without feeling bloated. When we became partners, we looked around at pizza opportunities and we took a gamble on the pizza we already knew and loved. Our goal was to bring an ancient tradition from Rome to San Diego.” 

After studying the demanding pizza-cooking style themselves formally, from farm to kitchen, in Italy and the States, Christopher and Giulia hired a seasoned head pizzaiolo, Alessio Poli. For this skilled pizza chef, transforming flour, water and yeast into fluffy, chewy bliss, even in a steamy, cramped, deck-oven radiating kitchen, is an irresistible drug. Today, four years after the launch of the NAPIZZA flagship, San Diego has acquired an insatiable appetite for the wheat and cheese-based fuel that once powered the Roman legions. Modern Roman adventurers Christopher and Giulia have marched to success on the same source, opening another NAPIZZA in a San Diego shopping center. “We’re more confident than ever that Roman-Style presents the biggest growth potential of any pizza segment on the market,” Christopher says. “Along the way, I’ve learned that you sometimes have to accommodate the American pizza palate.” A palate, by the way, which Christopher discovered, doesn’t dig that European delight, potatoes on pizza. So, along with classic toppings and imported Italian ingredients, NAPIZZA has added American favorites like bacon and barbecue chicken among its 12 slice varieties.

During our short San Diego Roman working holiday, Daniel and I internalized (we chowed down on) the pizza heritage of two great cultures in one dynamic pizzeria. At NAPIZZA we experienced, simultaneously, The Eternal City and the city of Comic-Con, which, coincidentally, was spewing Superhero-garbed geeks into the streets as we drove to our hotel in the rental go-cart they classify as an economy car. We did make it to Coronado Beach, where it was 80 degrees, sunny and breezy. I documented, birds, waves, kids in waves, the most elaborate sandcastle ever constructed, a beach wedding with formally attired bride and groom, and a bikini model photo shoot. If you think I’m making that last part up, well…I love you Ron Bergundy.  Let’s agree to disagree.

Forget that! Check this out!