Neapolitan Express ReviewRating: 6/7 on the Mastro Scale
Kale Caesar Salad
On tonight's Bill of Fare was pizza. We wanted something new and different, so Ellen and I, my food-loving and food-tasting sidekick, decided to go to Neapolitan Express. Some of you may know it as a mobile pizza-carrying truck, but these trucks are quite different. With 12 so far, they are a techno-ecological marvel; custom made and powered by compressed natural gas and solar panels mounted on the roof. Inside are custom made ovens that can go as high as 1000°, and what they cook in them is really special; all organic ingredients, non-GMO, no sugar added, no fructose corn syrup, and low sodium, creating an extremely tasty and healthful pizza. Is this a contradiction? Tasty and healthful rarely go hand in hand, so let's put it to the test. We actually went to their base of operations, which is the Neapolitan Express brick-and-mortar, on the upper East side of Manhattan on 111th street.
First off, the atmosphere was friendly and clean, unexpected décor though, from the 19th century original refinished ceilings down to the reclaimed natural wood tables and poured concrete floors. There was nothing fancy about this place, but it smelled great inside and had a warm ambience on a very chilly winter night.
We were greeted by a wonderful, well trained and knowledgeable hostess named Stephanie. She knew everything about every item on the menu, as well as the history of the business, and explained to us how it's all based on having a low carbon impact on the environment. The establishment is also powered by solar panels mounted on the roof, whereas they actually sell back the excess power to the power company.
The menu is pretty simple - 16 main dishes with about eight different add-on options.
For starters, the Kale Caesar Salad, and for those who love fresh healthful greens, kale is the new "it" vegetable. The kale Caesar salad is made with organic green kale, homemade baby croutons, homemade Caesar dressing and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano D.O.P.
In Ellen’s words, "it was almost too pretty to eat – almost. The greens were fresh and dark in color and the dressing light so it didn’t overpower the kale. I think some people use heavy dressing to make them forget they’re eating kale, but this was the exact opposite! I took a big forkful to make sure I got a little taste of everything at once, and I immediately felt like I was in heaven. It all blended so well together – the kale slightly chewy, with just a hint of creamy Caesar dressing, soft shaved parmigiano reggiano and the crunch of baby croutons, got my taste buds dancing. Kale, where have you been all my life? For now on, forget romaine, green leaf or red leaf lettuce, and the horribly boring iceberg. These all pale in comparison to kale in taste and texture. I have a new love in my life, and it’s kale! Not only have I boarded the kale bandwagon, but I am the driver – especially when it’s headed to Neapolitan Express."
Di Parma D.O.P.
We then proceeded with the old Mastro spirit of stuffing ourselves with as many items as we could to get the best overall review. We started off ordering four of their pies, each about 11 inches in diameter, with a thick yet very light and airy crust. This is Neapolitan style, and for those of you who are not familiar with this style of crust, it comes from the way pizza was made originally in Italy.
They use only the finest double "00" grade flour, which is pure and simple with no sugar added, and nothing else, unlike most of the products on the shelves today.
The dough is made with a very high water content, which when cooked properly in that custom made oven, comes out charred with a leopard sort of pattern. It’s crusty and chewy all at the same time.
I remember the first time I had European style pizza, it was in Germany, and I ordered a pie with pepperoni thinking I was going to get little circles of a sausage-like product, but instead I got pepperoncini, which is a sweet Italian pepper from Tuscany - not what I expected. But as they say, when in Rome…
We took our server's recommendations on the pies and at the top of the list was the Di Parma D.O.P. There was a party there before us and as they passed our table on the way out, pointed and said "that is the best!" Of course, I didn't take their word for it but kept that thought in mind as I tried my first bite.
By the way, the D.O.P stands for Protected Designation of Origin, which in Italian means that it is certified that it comes from a particular region in Italy; kind of like the same as Italian wines, where it's DOC and DOCG, guaranteeing you that it's coming from its designated region, like a seal of authenticity.
The Di Parma had sliced prosciutto, arugula, mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, and shaved parmigiano reggiano on top. The aroma was stimulating and after my first bite I was hooked! It was savory, with a mild sweetness, and the contrast of the arugula really brought it home.
Next up, A Diavolo, the spicy brother, topped with fresh jalapeños, spicy soppressata and Mike's Hot Honey. This was frighteningly delicious! I love spicy, and this was well-balanced.
Not over-the-top, burn your face off, but very flavorful, savory, and fun to eat with a very subtle hint of sweetness, most likely from the hot honey.
Third up, the Verde. Made with homemade pesto sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh whole basil leaves, and shaved Parmesan, D.O.P. A nice variation of the white pie; the first thing to hit you is the amazing aroma.
Fresh and foremost, its fragrance works its way up to your olfactory senses, exhilarating you with the anticipation of the first bite.
Once again, well-balanced and at times the pesto is quite heavy in spots. If you're a pesto lover like me, you go for those spots first. The extra-virgin olive oil kicks in here very well, distributing the flavor of the pesto throughout the slice!
Remember to check your teeth after this one - you wouldn't want to run into a meeting or get back to that photo shoot without checking.
Finally, the one that brings it home, the Margherita, with its San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh whole basil leaves, and shaved Parmigiano.
If pizza is to be reviewed in New York, this is the one to do it with, to be fair of course. And to be honest with you, after eating this pie I don't think I can be as happy eating a regular pie again. It's clean, crisp, fresh and flavorful.
The fresh whole leaf basil is aromatic and tasty, the sauce has the bright freshness of a quick Sunday sauce that hasn't been cooked for more than 22 1/2 minutes.
It doesn't give you that heavy feeling after the third bite or that overwhelming need to have a drink because of an over salty or over oily slice. It's just right!
We thought four pies would be enough for our review, but our experience was so good we could not stop. We forged ahead to the Tartufo, with its mozzarella, organic cremini mushrooms, parmigiano reggiano and black truffle oil, which created an unexpected sensation just by the aroma alone.
Whereas I’m not the biggest fan of the typical fungi, I’m a sucker for anything with truffles as an ingredient, so in it went.
Wow… first the aroma hits you and it opens your eyes and turns up the corners of your mouth into a casual smile, and you’re thinking that some things smell better than they taste, but not in this case.
It was a wonderful trip down my throat, smooth, creamy and flavorful, and the charred crust paired so well here. I was dipping the bones into the untouched slice to scoop up some of that truffle oil, He He.
The Prosciutto Balsamic D.O.P
At this point, Max Crespo, the owner, came in and greeted us warmly. He is totally down to earth, and extremely passionate and knowledgeable about healthy food and the environment. He suggested a few more of his favorites for us to try:
The Prosciutto Balsamic D.O.P, which is actually a pizza dough sandwich. It contains a blend of fresh ingredients – Mozzarella di Bufala D.O.P, Prosciutto di Parma D.O.P, arugula and honey balsamic vinegar D.O.P.
Like a pita, it comes folded over and warm. With my first bite, I had no expectation of what it would taste like, but as soon as I bit into it, it oozed a smooth creamy texture from the Bufala mozzarella, paired with a generous portion of the prosciutto at its best, immediately followed by the honey balsamic and a mild cool crispness of the arugula. This was stupid good!!
Oh and by the way, the mozzarella is very special – coming from a protected geographical area known as Campana, Italy. Hence; D.O.P. It’s actually made from the milk of domestic water buffalo, which is better than cow’s milk, being higher in calcium and protein, while lower in cholesterol. Definitely one of my favorites!
Fantasia di Nutella
And the pièce de résistance, the Fantasia di Nutella, a dessert piece which is kind of like a Nutella empanada, using the same dough as for the pizza, filled with just the right amount of warm gooey Nutella and sliced raw almonds, folded and sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled with Nutella to finish off the presentation.
Although I was never a fan of Nutella, I guess I can't say “never” ever again, as this thing was off the hook!
As a big chocolate lover, Ellen went crazy over this! It was served with a fresh shot of Lavazza espresso, which was the perfect compliment to the Nutella, making the drive home an easy and seemingly quick travel.
One of the best things about the whole experience was that after we ate portions of over five pies and a few other treats, we should have been rolled out of there! But we never felt stuffed or weighed down, even after a few hours! It really does pay off; fresh food, with high-quality ingredients, no GMOs, no sugar added. This is plain and simple, Crazy Good Food!
My Rating is a solid 6/7 on the Mastro Scale. We will definitely be back for more! Go Go Go Neapolitan Express!