Everyone loves a local success story! I recently learned that Napoli, the mobile pizza oven/food truck that’s been slinging pies out of a Carrboro parking lot for years, raised enough dough to open a brick-and-mortar cafe. I was both excited and immediately searching for an excuse to check it out. In what can only be described as serendipity, I’m getting married in May and needed a caterer to feed my rehearsal dinner guests and Napoli fit the bill perfectly. So as an incredible favor to my fiance, my mother, and I, Gael at Napoli offered to let us taste our way through their menu to pinpoint what we wanted to serve. Special thanks are due to our host, Emma, for being our tour guide through so many delicious options.
Napoli’s cafe consists of a modest gelato counter, an espresso machine, and seating for about 16 people at most. All the cooking is still completed on the truck. It’s not much considering they already have two mobile wood-fired pizza oven trucks, but Main St. in Carrboro is where a business with a cult following like Napoli’s belongs and it was wonderful to see that actualized. I wouldn’t recommend bringing a large group here in winter lest your party has to take turns eating inside, but during summer the outdoor seating is ample. Many patrons take their pizzas to go and have a drink at Steel String or Weaver St. Market, both of which are a 30 second walk away. We were also informed that Gael couldn’t make it to meet with us during our dinner because he was busy welding together new tables for the cafe to hopefully make it more conducive to a sit-down meal – a great sign for things to come.
Emma started us off with an antipasto platter and some wood-fired mushrooms. Their meats and cheeses were delicious on their own and even better when accompanied by their breadsticks: their pizza dough thinly sliced with olive oil, oregano, and a shower of grana padano cheese, similar to Parmigiano with a sharper bite. Normally I don’t get too excited about portobello mushrooms, but Napoli’s were intensely meaty and played nicely with an accompanying salad of arugula that had wilted slightly from the mushrooms’ residual heat, dressed lightly with balsamic to cut through the earthiness. After discussing some rehearsal dinner logistics with Emma, we were hit with a barrage of pizza.
We started with the “basic” margherita, which proved to us immediately that Napoli’s pizza doesn’t need any special toppings. Napoli’s shtick is Neapolitan style, cooked hot and fast (a little less than two minutes at 900 degrees Fahrenheit!) in one of their mobile wood-fired ovens. They pride themselves on using high-quality ingredients, including Caputo flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and mozzarella all straight out of Naples. Then, they do their absolute best to let them shine, meaning they keep their pies simple and don’t overload them with extras. I think this philosophy really pays off when you take your first bite of the classic margherita and you find yourself appreciating each component of the pie in turn. The crust tears delicately, soft without being chewy. The tomatoes are rich and jammy, but portioned as to not overwhelm. The mozzarella is tender and flavorful without being greasy. Above it all, the basil provides floral notes that brighten the others. When you reach the bare edges, the dough has a crispy crackle and just a hint of char that provides amazing depth of flavor. If you start with such an awesome pizza base, then all the additional toppings are just a bonus… but they certainly don’t hurt!
The “Parma” is topped with arugula, prosciutto di Parma, and shaved grana padano. Peppery, light arugula is a natural pair for prosciutto’s fattiness, and the salt provided by the cheese gives everything else an extra boost. The “Merguez” is named for the spicy lamb sausage that adorns it, along with crumbled goat cheese. Although this pie was delicious, I think our high opinion of it had more to do with our party’s total infatuation with goat cheese. Since the cheese’s flavor is so strong, it overpowered certain bites, but the merguez itself was a welcome addition. The “Pancetta and Garlic” is self explanatory, but was a big hit with my party. The garlic flavor this pie delivered was complex, somewhere between the pungence of fresh garlic and the mellowness of roasted, thanks to the wood oven’s intense heat. Adding the pancetta yields fat and salt that really complements the sweet notes of the tomato and garlic to make a standout pie, although we agreed we would have enjoyed more pancetta.
The “Calabria” was crowned the unanimous favorite of the night thanks to its unconventional toppings. Since the pizza had a “white” base (sans tomato), sweetness came instead from tangy pickled Calabrian chilis and a drizzle of honey.Plus, the bold spices of crumbled chorizo meant every bite was packed with strong flavors. The “Apricot” was another delicious departure from your typical pizza, featuring an apricot-olive oil glaze in lieu of tomato sauce. The addition of Camembert cheese lended a buttery richness, and the use of sweeter sopressata over a bolder, saltier sausage made this pie a passable dessert option. Finally, the “Cavolo” was their January special, and featured baby kale, pork breakfast sausage, and a soft-cooked egg on an olive oil base. Since cold pizza for breakfast is a bizarre comfort food for some of us, having the comfort of breakfast sausage and eggs for dinner was, conceptually, a lot of fun. However, Napoli’s stripped-down style made this pie suffer a little bit. Since toppings were sparse, some bites were lacking in the punchy flavors of the other pizzas, and my party thought it could use some seasoning in general.
As if the 4 entire pizzas weren’t enough, Emma offered us gelato and espresso at the end of our meal. We didn’t have the real estate for an entire scoop, but we were delighted by the few spoonfuls we sampled. Their dulce de leche and anise flavors in particular were knockouts and I can’t wait to come back to give their gelato its due diligence. Napoli is a place I could see myself patronizing for years to come, and I would encourage anyone to check it out and see how this unconventional cafe is bringing Naples and Carrboro a little closer.
105 East Main Street
Carrboro NC 27510
Nathan Griesedieck is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and Raleigh native who works in the transfusion service at Duke University Medical Center in Durham – a true-blue Triangle foodie in every sense of the word(s). He spends most of his downtime either learning and thinking about food, or in his (tiny) kitchen making it for his girlfriend and best friend, Sarah. You can find him on Instagram (@n8greasy).