If there’s one thing I love about NYC, it’s that for every diehard fitness fanatic waiting impatiently at the gym’s front door at 6 a.m., there’s a fried pizza fanatic who thinks four pizzas for three people might not be enough food. It used to be that you had to go to Park Slope’s Chipshop for a deep-fried slice, but Forcella took the fried pizza from an outer borough novelty to a full-on Manhattan sensation. Of course I was interested from the words deep-fried and pizza, but it was New York magazine’s article about the new Don Antonio by Starita that made me finally put down my Papa John’s and venture to Midtown:
Just when you thought the market for Neapolitan pizza had reached saturation, along comes Kesté’s Roberto Caporuscio and his old mentor Antonio Starita, who’ve teamed up to open Don Antonio in Hell’s Kitchen next Tuesday, February 7. In certain pizza-world circles, this is huge — like Gennaro Lombardi rising from the grave to sling slices with Dom DeMarco. For the uninitiated, Starita is third-generation pizza royalty. Along with Sophia Loren, his family’s Naples pizzeria starred in the Vittorio De Sica film L’Oro di Napoli. The man has served pizza to popes. He has tomato sauce coursing through his veins. In short, there is nothing about dough he doesn’t know. His student, Caporuscio, the U.S. president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers, is no slouch either.
How could I resist when my friends The Pretender and Lucy invited me out on a whim one night last week? And luckily, Lucy had her camera on hand to take these glorious photos:
Potato Croquet, Arancini, Fritattine
Henry ordered these three starters–fried potato with homemade mozzarella and bread crumbs, a rice ball, and a spaghetti cake with baked Italian ham and mozzarella–and seemed pleased but not overwhelmingly excited by them. I really wanted a spaghetti cake of my own but knew I was already going to have a hard time finishing the four pizzas we’d ordered.
The S.T.G. is for guaranteed typical specialty, the pizza by which to judge all other pizzas. Typical as it may have supposedly been, I was pretty impressed. It needed more basil, but the sauce–which seemed a weak tomato-only puree at first glance–was somehow extremely flavorful. The crust was this perfect not-too-burnt-and-crispy, almost-chewy texture, bready enough and airy enough to please everyone.
Despite the similar toppings, the fried pizza was wildly different from the S.T.G. Every bite was noticeably smoky, and well, the crust was something special: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, like a funnel cake or a French fry. And with that specific French fry/funnel cake soaked-through-with-oil-ness. It’s a magical mix of frying and oven-baking, and it was my favourite of the four.
It’s shaped like a racquet! And the handle is full of cheese! And is a big disappointment!
Overall, this pizza was awesome, and I say that as someone who barely like vegetables on pizza at all, especially when those vegetables are mushrooms (half-blergh!) and tomatoes (double-blergh!). But these vegetables were cooked down so flavorfully and lent a level of heartiness to the pizza that meats don’t. The disappointment was in the handle, which was lightly stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese and should have been the best stuffed breadstick ever but was just sort of okay–not quite flavorful enough and not quite cheesy enough. I need some oregano stuffed into that sucker.
With ricotta, mozzarella, and salami stuffed inside the crust and Italian ham, mushrooms, and basil on top, this is the pizza you order if you want to fill up on just one. We made the mistake of saving it for last and only ate half of it, because each piece feels like two. The spice of the salami contrasted the sweetness of the ham, and the cheese spilling out of the center made it a messy fork-and-knife feast.
Don Antonio by Starita
309 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019 (map)