Imagine walking up a cobblestone alley in Naples at dusk. Vespas signal with a beep before whizzing by. Streetlights on wires sag overhead. A yappy dog stands by its master on a balcony. Filled with oranges and in-season artichokes, a market display claims a corner, while the entrance to a bar stands across the way.
Join me now in Franklin Square, where the narrow Naples Street Food is decorated like such an alley — including a mural of one on the back wall. The lighting is similar, pendants in between clotheslines strung with a soccer jersey or two from owner Gianluca Chiarolanza’s hometown of Avellino.
About an hour from Naples, Avellino is close enough for Chiarolanza to have grown up developing a passion for Neapolitan-style pizza.
Naples Street Food mostly serves takeout, but you should plan on eating here as often as time allows. The pizza is good to great, with more than 20 to choose from between red and white varieties. Although it is modest, the restaurant is warm and familial: Take note of the father and teenage daughter sharing a pizza at a table near the back or the gregarious man shouting at Chiarolanza in Italian, using half the hand gestures in “Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture.”
Chiarolanza has been in the United States for about five years. Before he landed in Franklin Square, he worked at Sottocasa Pizzeria in Brooklyn, the shop from Luca Arrigoni, formerly at Keste in the West Village. From Arrigoni, he learned the art of transporting a giant pizza oven from Italy to his 12-seat restaurant on a main thoroughfare. But in Chiarolanza’s case, it wasn’t just any oven from Naples. It was his family’s Acunto oven used in their pizzeria, now closed, that had been in storage at their home.
Now to answer the mystery of how he ended up in Franklin Square. Besides the fact that it’s not terribly expensive, it’s near Oceanside, the hometown of Chiarolanza’s wife and partner in the restaurant, Aurora Pagnozzi — whom he met when she summered in Avellino with her native-Italian parents. “He’s here to be with me,” she said.
Pizzas take up most of the menu at Naples Street Food, like the marinara — one of my favorites — no cheese, with garlic, oregano and basil. Or the Napoli, with tomato, mozzarella and anchovies — not really a topping, more like a seasoning that gives a dish that non so che that makes a pizza more piquant. Among others, the Salerno displays sausage, salami and ham, while the porchetta pizza is a fight for dominance between smoked mozzarella, mozzarella and delicious roasted pork.
No matter the pizza, the dough is dappled, a sign of a cold fermentation, in this case an especially long one at 72 hours. The result is a light crust, in part because the pizzas are made with superfine “00” Caputo flour.
Don’t skip the porchetta panozzi, a pork sandwich of the kind you’d find in Italian bakeries. It’s served on pizza dough fashioned for a sandwich, so the bread is light and airy with a crisp exterior. Order it with broccoli rabe or roasted peppers, arugula or sauteed eggplant. Be sure to watch the graceful act as it’s drizzled with oil before serving.
If cheese is your thing, there’s the selection of calzones, like a football filled with mozzarella and ricotta, broccoli rabe and sausage served with sauce on the side. Wearing charred edges, it’s a formidable dish.
If you must, there are salads. Go with the rucola for maximum greens, an arugula salad with cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, Parmesan and lemon vinaigrette. Though it’s not from the in-season produce at that corner market in Naples, it’s one of many fine dishes in the spirit of the place.