VIDA BITES NYC: Neapolitan Express
Updated: Aug 28, 2021
In the expansive world of fast-food culture, New York City is infamous for two of its greatest contributions: The New York hot-dog, and . . . pizza! Similar to the all-beef frankfurter, pizza is savored everywhere. With the NY hot-dog, it doesn't matter if you patron the corner, street vendor with the familiar blue and yellow umbrella, or a brick and mortar location, with a cult-like following, such as Katz's Deli (where Meg Ryan faked the orgasm heard around the world, in When Harry Met Sally). And, the dueling enemies and imitators of the wiener; Papaya King vs. Gray's Papaya vs. Papaya Dog. The common, shared attribute for all the above--each have the same distributor based in Englewood, New Jersey; Marathon Enterprises, who dispenses the best known hot-dog brand in NYC: Sabrett's.
There is no one distributor for Pizza. Recipes are followed and modified, yeast cultures are passed down from generation to generation, even the minerals in the water have a huge effect on the taste of the crust. (Some have tried to mimic the PH balance of New York water, which is said to be the magic ingredient for New York pizza.) Pizza originated in Southern Italy in the late 17th century. With Italian immigration being prevalent at the turn of the 20th century, the "New York Pizza," morphed into the "New York Slice."
Pizza in NYC varies in every county and borough. There is the "99"cent slice; a basic, flavorless piece of cooked dough, with melted cheese slathered on (when your on the go, and on a budget, you can actually convince yourself it's palatable). The "Artisan" pizza; where award-winning chefs, such as Wylie Dufresne, have a three night a week pop-up that offers a limited menu with unique flavor combinations. The reservation only, pre-pay, pick-up, process (which sells-out rather quickly) is tedious, and makes you want to "pop-off." You may have better luck winning a scratch-off from the New York State Lottery. And, of course, the indelible "neighborhood" pizza joint, where a pie can be as wide as 18 inches in diameter, and a folded slice as long as your elbow, but drips with an over abundance of excess orange-oil, ruining your best, white-T.
That is why, it was such a pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon Neapolitan Express while taking a stroll through the Financial District. Located on 40 Wall Street, and around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange, this tiny, chic cafe serves up authentic Neapolitan pizza and panuzzo; a southern Italian street food that is a hybrid of a pizza and a sandwich.
I decided to treat myself to a double whammy: an individual pizza and a panuzzo. I figured I had the whole day to burn it off, so why not over-indulge. It was early, 11:30 a.m., and the "lunch-rush," had yet to take effect. The Patrick Bateman's of the New York Stock Exchange were still locked up in the snake pit, fucking with the economy. I felt safe, so I decided to eat in. I ordered the classic Margherita pizza, and a prosciutto and balsamic panuzzo.
As I await my order, I am enamored by an Instagram worthy, neon sign that took up the entire North wall, that states "I cheated on you . . . with Pizza," another, upon entrance of the establishment, bares the hashtag "#PizzaNeverSleeps." My order is ready, and my panuzzo and pizza are encased in compostable boxes. In fact, I learn this establishment prides itself on being a Clean Energy powered company.
Launched in 2012 as the worlds first eco-friendly food-truck, Neapolitan Express had some heavy-hitting moguls behind its creation: Former mayor of NYC Michael Bloomberg, of Bloomberg, L.P., and billionaire T. Boone Pickens, of Clean Energy Fuels. The business has several food trucks scattered throughout Manhattan, and one in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn. Their food trucks are known to reduce green house gases by up to 99%.
I take a seat with my eco-friendly containers, and open the pizza box. I am stunned by the visual perfection of my Margherita. Not wanting to disturb its essence just yet, I decide to consume my panuzzo first. The bread of the panuzzo is pizza dough that is baked until it fluffs like a pita. It is then stuffed with quality ingredients that can be savory or sweet. My panuzzo is stuffed with mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto di Parma and arugula. The briny, savory taste of the prosciutto, and the creaminess of the mozzarella, seeps out of its edges with every bite. The syrup of the balsamic glaze, smothers the bitter greens with hints of sweet tang. I savor every bite, but eat only half. I must devour my Margherita before the American psycho's are set free on their lunch breaks.
My individual pizza, which is 13"inches in diameter, has the crackly, burnt bubbles that are synonymous with Neapolitan pizza. The tomato sauce glistens against the creamy, white cheese. I indulge in the first of my four slices, and it is . . . amazing! The San Marzano tomato sauce tastes fresh with notes of sweetness, and just a hint of acidity. The melted mozzarella and the nutty flavor of the parmigiano reggiano, give this classic, Margherita a burst of umami flavor decadent to my gustatory cells. Within seconds, I'm on to my second slice. As I indulge in my near gluttony, I realize Neapolitan Express is not your "average" pizza joint down the block; this is quality pizza.
Simplicity, and sustainability seem to be the key business model that has allowed them to survive a world pandemic that has devastated the restaurant industry. Their core value is "fast-food should be good food." With two brick and mortar locations (Wall Street, and Herald Square), and several food trucks, Neapolitan Express isn't going anywhere, anytime soon.