3 of a Kind: Montanara Pizza
3 of a Kind checks out three places across the country to try something cool, new and delicious.
While America certainly has an infatuation with deep-fried culinary inventions, sometimes less is more when it comes to frying, as demonstrated by one Italian delicacy that’s spreading across the United States. Created in Naples, Italy, the Montanara is a lightly fried pizza that is chewy, smoky and deeply satisfying. This next-level pie starts with a base of fried dough that’s slathered with tomato sauce, topped with smoked buffalo mozzarella and then finished in a wood oven to ensure that all of the flavors meld together beautifully. Here are three spots to get your fill of the fried masterpiece.
Often cited as the godfather of the Montanara, third-generation Italian pizzaiolo Antonio Starita has long served the fried creation at his famed Pizzeria Starita in Naples. But these days, American denizens need only travel as far as New York for a mouthful of the popular Montanara Starita. It’s the signature pizza at Starita’s Manhattan restaurant, which he opened with another Italian native, Roberto Caporuscio, in 2012. Caporuscio, who studied under Starita in Naples, has served as the U.S. president of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli (APN) and is nothing short of a master of the craft. Despite the star power behind the Montanara Starita, the dish definitely took some New York pizza traditionalists by surprise when it first debuted. “I think that people were shocked,” Caporuscio said of the Montanara’s early days. But things have changed. “For years now, it’s a number one seller with the Margherita,” says Caporuscio, who showed Guy Fieri and Geoffrey Zakarian how to make Neapolitan pizza on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. There’s also a gluten-free version of the Montanara Starita available that is far from just a passable alternative; it’s craveworthy in its own right.
The culinary mind behind Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana, Mark Dym, received schooling in the craft from Caporuscio himself. “Roberto [Caporuscio] was my mentor,” Dym says. “I was in Naples and I tasted the Montanara by Don Antonio’s and it was just amazing. The rest was history,” recounts Dym, who remained in the city to learn the ropes of the Neapolitan specialty. Today, Dym’s restaurant holds a certification by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which speaks for the quality of the pies coming out of the stone oven. But Dym does caution that the smoke-forward Montanara appeals to a specific palate. “It’s a big pizza, it’s got a lot of flavor. You gotta like smoky,” Dym notes. Fortunately, we do.
Chef Rocky Maselli is another pizza pro who headed straight to Italy to get the skinny on authentic Neapolitan pies. After completing his pizzaiolo training and receiving his certification by the esteemed Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples, Maselli returned to his native California to introduce the Bay Area masses to the Montanara. Currently available at the East Bay outpost of San Francisco’s beloved A16, the dish has been met with delight by many a local pizza connoisseur. While most of Maselli’s Neapolitan pies reflect the generous seasonal bounty of California, the Rockridge Montanara calls for a simpler combination of dough, smoked tomato sauce, burrata and basil. To ensure that heat doesn't escape unnecessarily, pizza shears — literally a pair of scissors designed for pizza cutting — are provided to portion out slices, keeping the smoky Montanara warmer longer.
Find out where to slice into more sizzling pies with the help of Food Network’s 50 States, 50 Pizzas gallery.
Montanara Starita and Rockridge Montanara photography courtesy of Natalie B. Compton, Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana photography courtesy of Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana