Naples, Italy leaves nothing to chance, boasting of more than fifty official patron saints. Among the more well-known of the beatified intercessors to whom Neapolitan citizens petition are Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Pascal Baylon (San Pasqual, if you will). This litany of saints is among the who’s who among Catholic saints. You might think one of these sanctified patrons would also serve as the official “mascot” of Naples, but that sacrosanct honor is reserved for someone almost antithetical to the saints.
The official mascot of the city of Naples is a harlequin clown named Pulcinella. Perpetually hungry and nearly destitute, Pulcinella earned a reputation as a bungler with a rare joie d’ vivre, requiring only a slice of pizza and a jug of wine to make him happy. The character Pulcinella originated in a 17th century puppetry play. He is characterized by a long, hooked nose which he turns up at authority figures. Attired in white, up to and including his hat, Pulcinella is the embodiment of the street wise, crafty guy. In Naples, nicknacks representing this beloved Neapolitan character can be found virtually everywhere.
It’s only fitting that a depiction of the official mascot of Naples adorns the wall of one dining room of Amore Neapolitan Pizza, the Duke City’s sole purveyor of Neapolitan style pizza. Pulcinella is depicted with a jug of wine on one hand and an entire pizza on the other with his mandolin resting against his leg. The pizza has been personalized for his New Mexican home as green chile is laid out on the pizza in the shape of the Land of Enchantment’s Zia sun. In the background, as in the state flag, red rays spread out against a field of yellow.
Amore—yes, that’s Amore as in “when the moon hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie”—is located on the fringes of Nob Hill in the space formerly occupied by the very popular Bailey’s on the Beach which closed in May, 2013. Pulcinella himself may have picked the colors for the sun-shielding canopies on the rooftop patio, one of the Duke City’s favorite venues for watching an enchanted sunset. The cynosure of the front dining room is a red-tiled Ferraro clay oven imported from Italy. The oven is the high-heat catalyst in which some of the city’s most perfect and pulchritudinous pizzas are baked.
High heat—905 degrees hot–is one of the secrets to perfect Neapolitan pizzas. When a pie goes into the wood-burning oven, it doesn’t stay there for very long. Your pie will be ready in sixty to ninety seconds. It does help that the genuine Neapolitan dough, sourced directly from Italy, is hand-formed to the supermodel thinness of slightly more than one-eighth of an inch. The high heat renders the crust crispy, but not overly so. The cornicione, an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza is soft and chewy. Best of all, the pizza has the flavor and aroma of just baked bread.
Amore doesn’t scrimp on ingredients. They’re of exceedingly high quality with an emphasis on sourcing locally wherever possible. That doesn’t apply to the canned tomatoes which, like the flour, are imported from Italy. The tomato sauce for each pizza is made from those canned tomatoes. It makes a difference. So does the house-made, hand-stretched mozzarella which is placed strategically on the pie. There’s neither too much or too little of the mozzarella on pies which call for it.
Outstanding ingredients, however, are wasted if the pizzaioli don’t know what to do with them. Owners Gabriel and Kimberly Amador lived in Naples where they consumed their share of Neapolitan style pizzas. When they decided to open a pizzeria which would showcase the pizza style with which they fell in love, they sought out and were trained and certified by Robert Caporuscio, President of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN). APN certification, which can be obtained only in Naples or New York City, is the highest certification for pizza chefs in Italy.
The menu features sixteen wood-fired pizzas, three of which—Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, il Duke “Duke City Style” and Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami”— include a beloved local ingredient you won’t find in Naples, but which many New Mexico natives consider their pizzas to be naked without. Those ingredients are red and green chile. Two pizzas are made with a white cream sauce instead of tomato sauce. Then there’s the Insalata Pizza, the “salad with the crust” which is essentially a salad (spring mix, arugula, cherry tomatoes stuffed into a light, airy pizza crust. There’s a pizza on the menu for all tastes.
31 August 2013: Before you get to the pizza, there’s antipasti on which to nosh. The antipasti menu lists only four items, including a “pizza sushi” which honors Amore’s predecessor by nestling Bailey’s blackened mahi in a pizza roll topped with fresh apple-papaya slaw. The pizza sushi more closely resembles a blackened mahi egg roll sliced diagonally, but by any name, it would be delicious. The blackening spices used on the mahi give it the type of piquant bite New Mexicans love.
27 July 2013: If you visit on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you’ll want to indulge in the Burrata, described on the menu as “fresh, house-made mozzarella filled with soft cheese.” Burrata is typically far more creamy, rich and soft than the version served at Amore. As a mozzarella goes, Amore’s version is very good, but as a burrata, it’s not quite there.
27 July 2013: The Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, on the other hand, is one of the very best pizzas I’ve had in the Land of Enchantment. It’s constructed with a white cream sauce, house-made mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, corn and New Mexico green chile. The green chile doesn’t hold back on flavor or piquancy. It’s sourced from an organic chile farm in the Socorro area and it’s pure delicious dynamite. Corn niblets lend elements of sweetness and freshness while the white cream sauce proves a worthy alternative to the fabulous tomato sauce. The crust, especially the cornicione, is an absolute delight. It’s bread as good as you’ll find at any bakery, so good you could eat an entire pizza sans ingredients.
31 August 2013: Because “red or green” is the official state question of the great state of New Mexico, it’s apropos that the pizza menu include a pizza incorporating red chile, too. That would be the Diavola, sub-titled “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami.” Diavala, an Italian term for female devil, is apropos, too. In addition to spicy salami, the tomato sauce is tinged with red chile and topped with house-made Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano and olio. The red chile and spicy salami combination won’t water your eyes, but you will feel a pleasant warmth on the back of your throat. The Mozzarella and Pecorino Romano pairing is genius, a perfect foil for the heat of the red chile and spic salami.
27 July 2013: The pizza crust is a perfect canvas for some of the best ingredient combinations you can find. My play-it-safe bride’s pizza, the Capricciosa “An Italian Classic” showcased tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, artichokes, mushrooms, Italian cooked ham, olives, basil and olio. There’s an interplay of several flavors in each bite, but the difference makers are the tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella and that wondrous pizza crust. If all bread tasted as good, I’d weigh 400 pounds.
31 August 2013: No Neapolitan-style pizzeria could be complete without featuring the pizza that started it all. That would be the the Margherita, first crafted in 1889 when an Italian pizzaiolo created a pizza reflecting the colors of the Italian Sabauda flag and named it for his queen. More than a century and a quarter later, it is widely acknowledged that the red (marinara sauce), white (white mozzarella cheese) and green (fresh basil) pizza crafted that fateful day is the progenitor of every pizza crafted ever since. Amore’s rendition does great honor to the progenitor of all pizzas. To call it “plain” would be to undervalue a great, great pizza.
In recent years, Farina has been anointed by some of the cognoscenti and diners alike as the Duke City’s favorite gourmet thin-crust pizza, but with the 2013 launch of Firenze Pizzeria and now Amore, the competition for best in the city has heated up. You’ll fall in love with Amore!
Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria
2929 Monte Vista Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 31 August 2013
1st VISIT: 27 July 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Burrata, Pizza Sushi, Capricciosa “An Italian Classic”, Zia “The New Mexico Pizza”, Margherita “The Original”, Diavola “New Mexican-Style Spicy Salami”, Tropica “Island Delight”