Amorina Cucina Rustica
624 Vanderbilt Avenue
(betw’n Prospect Pl. and Park Pl.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 230-3030

 

 

 

I found my one true love on Viale Trastevere a few years ago. She had all the main requirements — curvy, brunette, and holding a freshly baked pizza from the ancient brick oven beside her.

My lady adorned every box that came out of Pizzeria ai Marmi in that old and moody corner of Rome. Marmi (known as “the morgue” around town for its garish lighting and marble tables) was only one happy moment in a lifelong connoisseurship of Neapolitan pizza, but it was the most profound. The neighbors knew it well, and we bumped elbows every night as we crammed in for dinner. The wine was cheap. The pizza (as it often is in such places throughout Italy) was perfect. But it was the skill that captivated me. I ignored countless hours of conversation while watching the overstressed pizzaioli shape the dough, top the pizzas, load them in, and take them out, never missing a beat in their practiced rhythm. To eat something so fast and cheap yet so flavorfully nuanced seemed to typify life there — where simplicity breeds contentment and an attention to detail that elude us as we continue to evolve and automate.

When I moved back to New York a couple years ago I held out hope for the triumphant return of Neapolitan pizza to my weekly pleasures. I thought it would take some effort, some trial and error, and not a small number of Metrocards and wasted time. It turns out that all I had to do was look around the corner.

I’d like to start telling you about Amorina at this point but it’s difficult to do so without talking about pizza first.

Before visiting Italy for the first time many years ago, my experience with pizza was that of any typical New Yorker: hanging out in Do the Right Thing-style pizzerias along the avenue, debating the price of garlic knots and free-soda specials with the always pissed-off pizza chefs. That experience, and the heavy, greasy, off-the-assembly-line familiarity of the slices, is certainly beautiful in its own gruff way.

But pizza has more pleasant and artistic origins along the Golfo di Napoli, where people have been baking wood-fired flatbreads topped with the freshest, tastiest local ingredients throughout recorded history. Rosario Buonassisi, in his devotional history, Pizza: From Its Italian Origins to the Modern Table, posits that pizza was essentially peasant food; basic and cheap by necessity, healthy and satisfying by nature. In that region today you are still hard-pressed to find a bad pizza. There is no pre-making or freezing of pies in the pizzerias of southern Italy, but there is plenty of mozzarella made that morning, just-picked zucchini blossoms and arugula, the spiciest meats, the juiciest fruits and vegetables. And I can’t think of any other comfort food that recalls the warm feeling of the hearth as well as pizza — it is, after all made within the hearth itself.

It’s not true that walking into Amorina is like walking into a windswept pizzeria down by an Amalfi Coast marina. They’re smart enough to keep the place American for the Americans — complete with the checkered tablecloths and 1950s advertising art along the walls. But it is true that Amorina’s own pizzaioli not only know exactly how to make a perfect pizza but have great respect for it as well. The crust is the dead giveaway here. You know you’re in for the real thing when you feel like you could eat the bread unembellished and still be content. Here it’s cooked just to the point of golden perfection with no bubbles or burns. The authentic taste of sea salt and char serves as the first clue that you’ve come to the right place. I usually order the diavola pizza for its savory heat but that doesn’t stop me from ordering another (with anything from figs to pesto to gorgonzola) for nibbling now and devouring later. This is the most important part, for as much as I love the soft light and good company inside Amorina, it’s the pizza and what it recalls that I’m looking for.

When I open that box (not as enticing but it still does the job) in my decidedly present-day New York apartment I’m momentarily in another place, where the best food, and our best selves, is found in the truly finer things.

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