After years of Naples-inspired pizzas spreading across New York, an actual Naples-based pizza master has taken on New York City. Gino Sorbillo recently opened Gino Sorbillo Pizzeria on the Bowery in Noho with much fanfare. His pizzeria on the Via Dei Tribunali in Naples was founded by his grandparents in 1935, and is one of the most celebrated in Italy. While many Neapolitan pizzerias offer only a handful of predictable pies (Naples pizzeria Da Michele, founded in 1870, makes only two), Pizzeria Sorbillo offers around 20, some with innovative ingredients.
The place is deep and well lit, with a snaking layout that culminates in a black beehive oven surrounded by marble work areas. The walls are decorated with graphics (most prominently Sorbillo’s name) and arrays of horseshoes. While his Naples pizzeria concentrates almost solely on pizza, the menu on Bowery supplements those with apps, pastas, and meats.
These pizzas are round and small. Puffy and fragrant, they’re stipled with char on the bottom and on the circumferential edge. Wads of tomato and cheese float atop, the latter not in slabs but in characteristic dots. To me, the most important feature was that the pies remained damp in the middle, swampy almost, making it nearly impossible to eat them without a knife and fork. Pick up a slice and try the fabled “New York fold,” and the triangular tip of the slice collapses, spilling liquid ingredients into your lap.
This is why most pizzerias in Naples disdain to cut their pies before bringing them to the table, and thus a pizza is considered a one-person meal rather than shareable. On my first visit to Sorbillo, my margherita was brought to the table uncut, shown to me, then removed for slicing. I’d ordered the version with buffalo mozzarella ($19), and the pizza was perfect in every way, with the bland, subtle flavor that characterizes Naples pizzas, making the tomatoes stand out in their sharpness. No other pizzeria in New York has dared to bring pies to the table so wet in the middle.
Hopefully this will not change. We finally have real Naples pizza here, not adapted for the New York habit of eating slices with the hands. Thirteen other pies are offered, each name-checking a different Italian region, even though most Italian regions don’t have characteristic pizzas. The Palermo, for example, is very Sicilian, featuring anchovies, capers, and yellow cherry tomatoes; the Alba — the most expensive, at $35 — sports black truffles and quail eggs, two ingredients it’s hard to imagine finding on a pizza in Naples.
My favorite pie on three visits was nduja, topped with that Calabrian liquid salami. The single calzone available, stuffed with salami and cheese and topped with a little tomato sauce, was equally great. Good as the pies were, they were not all that much better than those at Keste or La Pizza Fresca, or even Ops and Santa Panza in Bushwick.
But you just may prefer Sorbillo for its amazing pastas, which might have been transplanted here from Italy as if by airplane. The gnocchi alla Sorrentina ($19) flaunted a sunny tomato sauce and light grating of cheese. The gnocchi themselves are agreeably soft without being squishy, and taste like small potatoes just dug from the ground.
There are apps, too, but these are not as well-conceived. One features a lump of cold burrata and heap of warm porcini mushrooms ($21). The fresh porcinis are a special treat, since you rarely find them fresh in New York, but the combination is just plain wrong. Salads and carpaccios fill out the list of starters, but you’re better off sharing a pasta as an app.
One more feature of Sorbillo pizza should be mentioned. Like its predecessor La Pizza Fresca, it mounts a wine list offering a well-selected choice of reds, whites, roses, desserts, and sparklers, with some real bargains — including a bottle of Rubrato from Feudi di San Gregorio ($30), a red made from the Aglianico grape, a local favorite in Naples. Unfortunately, there are none of the effervescent red wines like Lambrusco and Gragnano that, when chilled, go so well with pizza.
Anyway, the most popular beverage at pizzerias in Naples, where many places don’t serve wine, is a small bottle of that great Italian beverage… Coca-Cola! But who can blame Sorbillo for de-emphasizing it here? The mystique of Naples pizzas must be preserved.