One of the reasons for our fondness for the restaurants in Amelia is certainly due to the ubiquitous owners who have to close their eating establishments to get any time away from their businesses. Valda, as she is known by her customers, the smiling and gregarious owner of Porcelli's, arguably serves the best pizza in Amelia. Personally, I favor the gargonzola cheese with sliced pears and crushed almonds. My children love the nutella pizza that Valda often presents to regular customers at the end of a late meal. Then there's a salad that's only on the Italian menu that has greens, kiwi fruit, and walnuts dressed with a vinaigrette.
Many people prefer pizza from Napoli. However, when my family and I tried the pizza in Napoli, I had to agree with my husband -- even as I enjoyed a seven cheese pie -- when he said, "This pizza is not as good as our pizza." I understood he wasn't talking about pizza from Pasadena. Because after living in Amelia for a month, 'our pizza' had become pizza from La Misticanza or Porcelli's. The pizza in Amelia typically has a thin crust, with cheese topped with thin slices of toppings such as zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, prosciutto, or even truffles. Oil does not drip through the pizza boxes or congeal on the plate as in California. With whole pies selling from three to eight euros, we ate pizza daily.
Valda, with her trademark dark eyeliner and long eyelashes, opens her taverne in the evening and keeps it open for as long as her customers and musicians play. It's not unusual for someone to arrive at midnight. Porcelli's is carved into the hillside and has spacious dining rooms stretching into caverns whose walls are decorated with art by Valda's deceased husband. The space is perfect for musicians to perform long into the night without disturbing the neighbors. However, the customers smoking outside Porcelli's doors on Via Farratini may not be so accommodating if the party is particularly good. And the party, like the pizza, is always good.
Two of my classmates, Lauren Cattey, a criminologist, and Katie Ogden, an art historian, and I were sitting at one of the many shiny metal bistro tables on the patio of Bar Leonardi overlooking the Piazza 21 Settembre, the large open space outside of the walls of historic Amelia. As students of ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in Art Crime Studies, we had by then survived three weeks of lectures, five days a week, five to six hours a day. Our course time had cut into prime grocery shopping time that on Thursdays in Amelia meant from about 8 a.m. to about 1 or 2 p.m. when the stores closed for the afternoon and the evening. Drinking espresso drinks and prosecco, nibbling on potato chips and nuts, we watched the Italians around us, smartly dressed in various hues of purple, the men with their man-bags which held their cell phones and cigarettes, the women who that summer flagrantly displaced purple or leopard bra straps. We considered our options for dinner – inexpensive pizza from the shop across the park – and then we ran out of ideas. We’d eaten lunch at Punto di Vino, as usual, and could return since it was the one place that always remained open.
Our counting of purple outfits – we often reached double digits – was interrupted by a tall man who exited from a car in a parking space in front of us and ambled over with a piece of paper. In either Italian or English, likely the latter as that is why he chose us, he asked how he could find La Misticanza. We were baffled. We'd lived in Amelia for more than three weeks and although it was a small town and we were always discovering a new food market or shop -- and sharing the information as to when they were open -- Porcelli's was closed on Tuesdays, Cansacchi was closed on Wednesdays and Le Colonne was closed on Thursdays -- we hadn’t heard about this Misticanza. The fair haired man, now we were guessing he was German, claimed that he was meeting friends so in helpful desperation I recalled a pretty sign with a floral motif outside a bar door across the road from Bar Leonardi and directed him around the corner to the left.
This bar we had sent the newcomer to seemed to be deserted during the day and yet attracted a boisterous crowd in the evening but we'd never been inside the open doors nor had we seen a menu. So, as soon as it grew dark, we crossed the piazza, stepped into the sit down area of a brewery and walked up to the cashier and then peered into a side door to find a crowded dining room overlooking the Porta Romana. Using our rudimentary Italian, we ordered what we thought was one plate of salami and cheese only to receive three large platters of antipasto. We were laughing by the time the pizza arrived but didn’t turn down what would become one of our favorite pizzas, the caprese, a puffy crust covered in slices of tomato and mozzarella with basil and drizzled with olive oil.
We would return a few more times, very careful to order just pizza, as the gregarious and talented chef could be creative with the menu and the bill. Many long evenings were spent in the place we came to know as “Crazy Johnny’s” where nothing is predictable except the excellent quality of the food.
Tomorrow’s post will highlight Porcelli’s, a pizza tavern inside the historic center.
Top Photo: View of the Porta Romana from La Misticanza