New York City is known for its pizza. The foldable triangular slices dripping with enough oil to soak through paper plates and napkins are as iconic to the City as the Empire State Building or 30 Rock. Unfortunately, all New York-style pizza, whether bought from an “Original”, “Famous”, “Best” or other accolade touting corner pizzeria, tastes the same; with the only difference being how much pepperoni is spread over the cheese. This isn’t to say that New York style pizza isn’t good, but when you’re at work with a half hour break, you don’t want to waste time deciding between rewarmed pizza pulled “fresh” from a dark gritty oven, and waiting on line at a lunch truck–sacrificing either quality of food or time. The reality of this first world problem struck me as I tried to make the most out of my lunch time, and just as I was about to settle for a lunch truck, the sweet scent of freshly baked dough found me, and I smelled my way into Neapolitan Express.
Whereas most pizzerias sell by the slice, Neapolitan Express offers 10inch personal pizzas (along with sandwiches and salads). But don’t come expecting a meat lover’s supreme or 12-cheese pizza, instead, Neapolitan Express’ creates pizzas true to the minimalistic design of the original Neapolitan pizza, with a thin layer of cheese, tomato sauce, and depending on what is ordered, salami. But the limited ingredients allows for the flavor of each ingredient to be dissected, tasted, and appreciated. In addition to using all organic and non-GMO ingredients, Neapolitan Express uses flour, cheese and tomatoes from a special reserve in Italy. Neapolitan Express abides by strict code, making sure that its dough is kneaded only by hand (or slow machine), and using a special electric oven imported from Naples, all of which reflects a commitment to preserving Neapolitan pizza making tradition. The whole establishment pays homage to a time when food wasn’t mass produced, and ingredients where combined with such care that it could rightfully be called artisanal. And while many restaurants and pizzerias tout “Neapolitan style” on their menus, few are Traditional Specialty Guaranteed, a certificate given to an establishment that adheres to the original and stringent process of making culturally treasured dishes like the Neapolitan pizza.
On my first visit, I ordered the most popular item on the menu, the A Diavolo ($13), a pizza with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, jalapeños, spicy sopressata salami, Mike’s Hot Honey, parmigiano reggiano, and extra virgin olive oil. Aside from the smoky smell, the first thing you notice after the pizza is pulled from the oven is the leopard spots; the spotty charring on the crust is like a halo around the pizza, a blessing that a furnace of 900 degrees can only give. Because Neapolitan Express doesn’t overload its 10inch pies with toppings, you can taste each ingredient. The hot honey, a blend of chili pepper infused honey that’s spread on the pizza is the first thing you’ll taste. It’s not hot enough to make you dry heave, but your tongue will appreciate the kick and sweetness that follows. But between the hot honey, spicy salami and jalapenos, the pizza is piquant enough to enjoy without additional sprinkles of red or black pepper. And unlike other pizzerias that use mozzarella with a rubbery elasticity, the Neapolitan Express’s mozzarella is milky and soft, with the right amount of charring.
I fought the temptation to order the A Diavolo on my second visit to Neapolitan Express and instead got the Margherita, a combination of San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil, with an additional topping of salami ($12). The Margherita also had charred cheese and crust—the signature of Neaoplitan Express’s searing oven. But this time around something was missing. While the rich flavor of the dough, cheese, tomatoes and salami were all there, the lack of hot honey left a void that could not be filled. A client I brought along with me on my second trip described the hot honey as a “game changer,” and I couldn’t agree more. Having it on the A Diavolo spoiled me, and now I can’t get enough.
The salami on both pizzas was finely cut and tucked underneath the cheese, likely done to prevent the meat from becoming a crisp in the high heat. But whatever the reason, the salami is far from tough and has a subtle spiciness that isn’t overpowering. Staying true to the Neapolitan style, the pizza is thin and chewy, with a crust that’s foldable and as sweet and soft as the pizza itself. A word of advice, don’t split your pizza with anyone. While sharing is caring, the 10 inch pie is only for one, and is too good to share, unless you’re doing a round-robin with pizzas.
Neapolitan Express makes more than a commitment to providing high quality foods; it also donates a percentage of its profits to organizations like the Water Project and Wounded Warrior. It also makes an effort to be environmentally friendly, using pizza boxes made from recycled, compostable materials. The boxes are also corrugated with instructions on how to create plates and even a left over storage container. While it’s kind to assume that eaters of Neapolitan Express are less impatient and stingy than I to cut out plates from the top of the box to share with others, it’s foolish to think that anyone would save their pizza for later and wouldn’t devour it as soon as it’s bought, but maybe that’s just me.
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