Ever since I’ve had teeth, few foods have more reliably made me happy than pizza, and this is why the pizza atÂ pizzaÃ¯oulo Giuseppe Cutraro new Peppe Pizzeria in the 20th Arrondissement not far from the PÃ¨re Lachaise Cemetery made me ecstatic last weekend. With my appetite honed by the recent weeks of being locked up in my Paris flat, I was yearning for some really really really good pizza, because most of what was available through Paris food-delivery apps was pretty mediocre. And the inexplicable international popularity of several huge American pizza chains notwithstanding, there are few things sadder than mediocre pizza.
When I think about it, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like pizza, because not liking pizza would be as life-threatening and pleasure-killing as saying you didn’t like flowers or kisses. But as a native of southwestern Connecticut, the original home of great pizza in the United States (I expect some cat calls and blow back for this assertion, but it’s true), I’m grew up as a pizza connoisseur, and that was long before I finally made it to Naples and had a first head-spinning experience of the real McCoy, the sultry and stunningly delicious Margherita–just dough topped with crushed tomatoes, mozzarella di buffalo, and a fresh basil leaf of two before a turn in the blister-inducing inferno of a Napolitan beehive pizza oven.
I’d been reading about this place in just before le confinement (quarantine) shut down almost every restaurant in Paris, and I’d decided I’d be willing to travel halfway across Paris to taste the pizza that had won Giuseppe Cutraro, aka Peppe, the “World Champion of Contemporary Napolitan Pizza 2019-2020.” (“The Art of the Napolitan PizzaÃ¯oulo” has figured on UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 2017). To be perfectly honest, it sounded, well, strange. To wit, this pie was sauced with yellow Sicilian tomatoes, topped with mozarella di buffala and provolone, Tuscan ham aged for 36 months, almond slivers and fig jam. But before you conclude that I’m a hidebound purist, I’d quickly tell you that one of my all-time pizzas was and is the one served at Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut, which is topped with little-neck clams from Rhode Island and is just stunningly good.
So “Hawaian Â pizza” topped with ham and pineapple and pizzas topped with salad, any kind of salad–absolutely not, but if you respect the pizza as a sort of brilliant blank canvas awaiting the humble new gustatory brush strokes of a real artist, sometimes pizza innovation works out spectacularly well. Like Frank Pepe’s clam pizzas or Giuseppe Cutraro astonishing delicious ‘World Champion Pizza.” The reason this pizza is so good is the same reason that any dish anywhere in the world succeeds, which is that it offers such an exquisitely subtle but still legible compilation of tastes that unite in perfect harmony. The almonds? Texture. The yellow tomato sauce? Low-acidity to balance the sweetness of the sparingly applied fig jam. The two cheeses? Different textures and salinities. Try it, you’ll like it is all I can say.
The other thing that makes Peppe Pizzeria’s pizzas so good is that they allow the dough, which is made from flour imported from Naples, to ferment before kneading it and slapping it around, so that the rolled crust is filled with air pockets and the base is exceptionally light and thin.
Peppe did a stint at KesteÂ on Bleecker Street in New York City’s West Village and also worked in Switzerland before he came to Paris to work as a pizza-maker for the Big Mamma Group in Paris, which has seven Italian restaurants in the capital, one each in Lille and Lyon, and two in London. Peppe wanted his own place, though, so he opened at the end of January, and the restaurant had been packed at lunch and dinner until the lockdown came in mid-March.
Fortunately, however, it was easy to continue working on a takeout basis, so the place has thrived even during the challenging last few months. When we arrived to collect our two pizzas, an order of carpaccio with arugula and a tiramisu the other night there was a huge line of people waiting to collect their pizzas. So we bought two deliciously yeasty Napolitan beers and enjoyed the fresh air of a mild May evening until our order came up and we bolted back across Paris to tuck into our pizzas.
Ever since I ate the lone remaining slice of our Margherita for breakfast the following morning, I have been permanently craving this pizza and ruing the fact that Peppe Pizzeria doesn’t deliver. One way or another, I’ll be back again soon, and maybe next time I’ll try the truffle pizza, which is topped with “truffle cream” (hmmm….), sautÃ©ed mushrooms, fresh stracciatella from Puglia, crushed hazelnuts and freshly shaved Italian truffle. The ‘Piccante”–tomatoes from Puglia, mozzarella di buffalo di Campania, Calabrian spianata (spicy salami), pickled onion and shavings of Pecorino Romano DOP speaks to me, too. And a friend who lived nearby says that the gnocchi alla Sorrentina are outstanding, too.
I look forward to the day that we can dine in Peppe Pizzeria’s spacious dining room, too, but in the meantime, the friendly crew behind the tiled open kitchen should get used to seeing my pizza-loving face.
Peppe Pizzeria, 2 Place Saint-Blaise, 20th Arrondissement, Tel. 01-45-35-59-13. Metro: Gambetta or Porte de Bagnolet. Open Tues-Sun for lunch and dinner. Closed Monday. Average 30 Euros. www.peppepizzeria.fr