Dallas is awash in pizza, and the fact that the pizza map is one of the most popular on Eater Dallas proves that Dallasites love pizza. We’re lucky enough to have nearly every kind of pizza represented, with many great American-style spots and solid options for Detroit-, New York-, Chicago-, and tavern-style pies. Andrew’s American Pizza Kitchen in Plano is holding it down with its invention of Dallas-style pizza, and Mister O1 from Miami has found success with its star-shaped, ricotta-filled pies. Call it a pizza, and this city will eat it.
But only two places in DFW serve authentic Napoli pizza, with the designation to back those pies up. One is Partenope in Downtown Dallas, where co-owner and master pizzaiolo Dino Santonicola, who grew up in Naples and moved to the U.S. some 20 years ago, can be found making pizza, along with a menu full of other traditional dishes from the Italian city.
“It’s wet,” is one of the first things Dino says about distinguishing the crust pizza Napoletana from American pizza. “People here like to cook it and get the crust cripsy, but you want that dampness in Napoli-style pizza.”
To earn its certification with the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), Partenope had to meet some specific regulations, including those laid out in a 14-page booklet about the characteristics of pizza Napoletana. That comes with a warning that while any restaurant is invited to earn its stamp of approval, it comes with “rigorous periodic checks” to ensure AVPN’s standards are upheld. Pizzaioles must use ingredients from the Campania region of Italy where possible. Only two pies technically fit the description of pizza Napoletana: marinara made with tomato, oil, oregano, and garlic and Margherita made with tomato, oil, mozzarella or fior di latte, grated cheese, and basil. “You see people who want to put pepperoni on it,” Dino says with a shake of his head, and then he wags his finger in the universal sign for no.
It must be precise in size at 35 centimeters and feature a raised crust that is soft and foldable. “We see people picking it up and sharing it like this,” Megan Santonicola, Partenope’s co-owner and Dino’s wife, says while holding a slice completely flat while moving it to a plate. “But you can fold it or make a U-shape. That’s the right way to eat it.”
“And this size is a personal pizza,” Dino says. “You can eat the whole thing.”
Every inch of how the ingredients should be used and how the pizza presents and tastes are covered in the exacting manual. If the pizza is coated with shredded cheese, it is not Napoli-style. The type of flour that can be used, specifics for leavening the dough, what kind of mixer can be used, fermenting the dough, and measurements for each topping are all laid out. Even the type of pizza peel used to push the pie into the oven and twist it around is specified. Notably, this pizza is traditionally cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Because it’s in a historic Downtown building, Partenope cannot use a wood-burning oven, Dino says — it uses gas. The restaurant had to provide documentation of this to AVNP to qualify for certification using a gas oven.
Finally, Napoli-style pizza certified by the AVNP cannot be stored or frozen — it is to be eaten immediately after leaving the oven.
There are a lot of rules to what makes a this pizza and Dino, who moved to Dallas to help open Cane Rosso (which is where he met Megan, who was the general manager at its Deep Ellum location), is passionate about introducing Americans to Napoli-style pizza done right.
“Once you eat this pizza, you will understand” Dino says. But there’s also something to understanding all the specifications of making this pizza the right way — it makes Napoli-style so much more than just a classification.