Did you know fried pizza is a thing?
Yes, fried pizza. I know it sounds gratuitous, but stick with me. I first discovered it a couple of months ago. I was surprised to learn it's not new, it's been around for awhile. And it's not gimmicky, as though it were something you'd find at a carnival food stand. Trust me, it's a heck of a lot better than it sounds. I'm even inclined to use the "D" word—delicious—and that wouldn't be an embellishment for the sake of dramatic effect. In fact, I'd love to see an Albany area establishment create a fried pizza of their own. More about that in a moment.
I've been chasing down pizza all over the region the last few months. One might say I've been a little obsessed. But I've given this some thought, and decided there's worse things one could be obsessed with than wanting to taste as many different styles of pizza as possible. First there was the trip to Lake Desolation, to eat the wood fired pizza at Tinney's Tavern, which was a fun afternoon excursion. Then a few weeks later I headed east to M&M's Tap & Tavern in New Lebanon. Another great tavern seemingly in the middle of nowhere, making wood fired pizza. (I haven't written about my trip out there yet, but I do have some interesting anecdotes I want to share at some point). Also, there's a restaurant making great Neapolitan pizza right in my neighborhood—Restaurant Navona. Today I want to share my trip to Harrison NY, to Porta Napoli for their fried pizza.
If you're unfamiliar, Harrison is a suburb of Westchester county, and part of the northern reaches of the Greater NY City Metropolitan area. It's a lovely town, and it's a treat to drive around to just look at the many large, beautiful homes there. Though obviously, I wasn't there to sightsee, I was there to eat pizza.
When I arrived at Porta Napoli, it was empty, I was the only customer. Just as side note, this seems to happen to me a lot. I don't know what it is, if it's my timing, or it's related to the types of places I'm attracted to or what, but it always seems I'm sitting in an empty restaurant. On the bright side, that means I usually get to chat with the staff, and I always enjoy doing that.
The front part of Porta Napoli is long and narrow, with tables along the wall on the left side, and a small, but very pretty white granite counter, that seats about 8 on the right, that also serves as the bar. Pota Napoli has a modern tasteful ambiance, with a subdued, neutral color scheme with lots of grays, whites, and wood tones. The wood fired oven is clad in bright red tiles and while not exactly front and center, you can't miss it when you enter the restaurant. It's off to the side just past the counter, and it's the centerpiece of the establishment, as it should be in a place that specializes in Neapolitan style pizza.
I ordered a glass of wine, and looked over the menu. I was at the end of the counter with the oven and prep area just to my left, and asked the gentleman who was the pizzaiolo about the fried pizza. I immediately noticed he had an Italian accent and started peppering him with questions about his journey to the States. He's young, just 29. He met an American 6 years ago who was living briefly in Italy. They became boyfriend and girlfriend and he immigrated here to be with her. That he's a genuine and recent Italian immigrant making pizzas in an Italian restaurant, only added to the ambiance and authenticity of the place, and it was fun to chat with him, while I stuffed my face full of pizza.
Their fried pizza is basically a savory pizza fritte. The dough is lightly, and very briefly fried, then it's topped, and finished in the wood oven.
This creates a crust that is crispy and crunchy, while still having the chew that you expect of a wood fired pizza. It really does taste like a pizza fritte without the powdered sugar, but because it's also baked in the wood oven, it has more depth of flavor and crisps up quite a bit. It's not doughy like fried dough is. You can taste the oil, and it's apparent the dough has been fried, but it's not greasy, or oily in any way.
You'd expect the bottom crust to be similar to pan pizza, but it's not, and I think its better. Pan pizzas tend to be oily, and doughy, but the bottom crust of Porta Napoli's fried pizza is all crunch and quite chewy. The picture to the right is of the end crust, but the bottom crust is similar, and you can see the tiny bubbles created during frying. It crisps up in the oven and that creates a wonderful and unique texture.
This has to be one of the most unique pizzas I've eaten. Like I said, it's not a gimmick. Frying the dough makes for a very good pizza and the frying is not superfluous, it serves a purpose.
I'd love to see something like this in Albany. To my knowledge no one in the area is doing anything like it. I can't imagine it would be difficult to do, as I'm sure nearly all pizzerias also have fryers. It would just be a matter of investing a little time to perfect it before putting it on the menu. If you know anyone that owns, runs, or works in a pizza place or restaurant, do me a favor, and mention this to them. Perhaps one will pick up the baton, and Albany will have its very own version of fried pizza.