1950s Archive

A Gastronomic Tour of Italy: Campania

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These and a few other Neapolitan dishes deserve acclaim but, in the eyes of the outside world, the famous pizza has stolen the march on them all.

We asked several qualified persons where we could find the best rendition of this famous dish and, following their recommendation, had lunch at the HOTEL VESUVIO, the newly rebuilt hostelry on the Via Partenope. This is a mezzanine hotel dining room, if you wish. but the atmosphere is charming, and the view of the harbor animated and distracting. Our pizza came as the first course in a prix fixe luncheon (the menu is in French) and it proved to be a superlative pie about eight inches across, generously thick, magnificently fattening, and quite enough for an entire meal. The crust was firm but tender, the filling of molten Mozzarella delectable beyond words. No other cheese was added, no anchovies, no olives, no mussels, onions or other distracting influences. It was topped by a puree of fresh tomatoes, and a sprinkling of herbs, principally orégano and basil, although 1 suspect some other secret flavoring not casually revealed to inquiring guests. The key to its sublimity, according to the chef, lies in the high quality of the Mozzarella cheese, a most discouraging verdict for the Mulberry Street experts. Unhappily the supply of water buffalo is rather low in America, perhaps nonexistent. And so the judges in this somewhat trumped-up contest were probably right. The genuine Neapolitan pizza is still without a rival.

The Vesuvio is one of a quartet of long-established hotels concentrated at this strategic point, the others being the Excelsior, Santa Lucia and Continental, with a fifth, the Royal, now Hearing completion. Directly opposite them is the frowning Castel dell'Ovo, extending into the buy and enclosing a little fishing port called the Borgo Marinara. It is now the gastronomic heart of Naples and an irresistible magnet for visitors, even if the feasts aren't as Lucullan as one might expect. That Lucullan reference is used advisedly, for the fabulous Roman gourmand Lucullus had a villa crowning the site of the Pizzofalcone fortress, towering just over this harbor. In the simpler days at the turn of the century the little port was monopolized by fishermen alone. They brought their catch in on rowboats and sold their fish to housewives at the landing. At about that time, a young woman whose first name was Teresa decided to make a few hot dishes for the hungry fishermen when they landed. She sold places of hot beans to the mariners for two soldi. Then she graduated to fish soups and fritto misto, and in time established a modest restaurant, calling it Zi TERESA. Its growth since then has been phenomenal. Now the fishermen don't go there any more, they can't afford it. Hut everyone else who has visited Naples knows Aunt Teresa's, including Hollywood luminaries, Somerset Maugham, the Prince of Piedmont and that most defunct of sons-in-law, Signor Ciano. Primo Carnera had his picture taken with Teresa and a formidable panorama of pasta and zuppa di pesce. Lucky Luciano has added further luster to her guest book.

Teresa Fusco had more than her share of tragedy-she lost her husband and all her sons, the last of them in World War I. When she died in May of last year, her funeral was almost a national event. Flowers and telegrams poured in from all over the world.

For historical reasons, therefore, Zi Teresa may be the most interesting of the four restaurants which now cluster around the Borgo Marinara. Adjoining her is the BERSAGLIERA, which some critics contend has better cooking. I'm not sure about this, but it certainly has more original ceiling decor. Nymphs and bronzed, busty ladies disport themselves in total abandon, and the lighting fixtures are deftly arranged so that they extend downward from the navel of each recumbent Venus. Across the way, on the far side of the port, are two other rivals- DA CIRO, a far cry from Giro in Paris, but fair enough, and the TRANSATLANTICO, most expensive of the four and a little dressier.

To be frank, the epicurean standard on the Borgo Marinara is not extraordinary. All four restaurants offer good versions of the Neapolitan classics - pasta, pizza. Mozzarella en carrozza and zuppa di pesce, and good island wines from Capri and Ischia. They are gay, animated and fast favorites with the Neapolitans themselves. The experience of dining here, whether under an awning in summer, or behind plate-glass windows in the rainy season, is well worth your while, especially if you don't mind music with your meals. For an almost invariable ingredient in Neapolitan restaurants is music. If you squirm at the presence of a string sextet, a soulful soloist with his eyes closed, an accordion player with a fl ashing gold tooth, you're going to be uphapoli in Napoli. Neapolitan couples really enjoy having a sentimental tenor sit down at their table and carry on while their minestrone turns cold. They smile radiantly and sing with him. tipping him handsomely. It is a part of Naples, and we have made a brave attempt to enthuse about it.

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