HOUSTONIANS WHO WANT NEW YORK SLICES still go to Frank’s, Romano’s, and Pizaro’s, which also serves Detroit-style pies. For deep-dish they head to local stalwart Star Pizza, among other joints. Lately we have some good Roman-style pies, too, particularly at Bravery Chef Hall’s BOH. All these styles rock, but right now Houston is seeing an emergence of its own unique style of pie, a “Neapolitan-inspired” pizza that, when done well, is wonderful.
Neapolitan, or Naples-style, pizza is a very particular thing, and there are actual rules surrounding what it is and isn’t—per the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, it must use specific high-quality Italian tomatoes (San Marzano, Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio), certain cheeses (Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Fior di Latte di Agerola), and a special dough made with high-protein flour, for a thin crust that is baked quickly in a wood-fired oven at up to 905 degrees Fahrenheit. In past years Pizaro’s and Cane Rosso offered excellent pies that were “certified Neapolitan” by the Associazione, but the group says both pizzerias recently voluntarily ended their membership.
Maybe they realized that most Houstonians don’t much care whether they’re following the rules. In fact, around town, talented chefs, inspired by the city’s diversity, are creating their own traditions. They are borrowing some elements from Neapolitan pies—quality ingredients, wood-fired crusts—while discarding others and adding their own, to create something wholly Houstonian. And it’s magical.
At The Gypsy Poet, a cool little café that opened last summer on Austin Street in Midtown, Venezuelan-born pastry chef and co-owner Vanessa Fernandez—who stands behind a sign that reads Pizza Queen—is living up to her nickname with her superb pies. Her oven-blistered, 13-inch, 48-to-72-hour-fermented sourdough crusts are super-thin, springy, and sturdy enough to hold plenty of toppings.
With their San Marzano tomato sauce, fior di latte, and other quality ingredients, Fernandez’s pizzas have much in common with classic Neapolitan pies. Yet the sauce is tangier, and she uses more cheese, calling to mind the classic New York preparation. And where Neapolitan pizzas are prized for their simplicity, Fernandez isn’t afraid to go over the top.
For example, her hearty and delicious Cappellone—translation, “big hat”—stars portobello mushroom caps, sliced shallots, chunky bacon bites, mozzarella, and fior di latte. Elsewhere she sources coaster-sized pepperoni, which threatens to cover the entire surface area of her pies, especially on the standout Pepperoni Madness, whose salty, spicy snap is balanced by a smooth, sweet undertone of honey for a delicious pepperoni pie that might be my favorite in the city. The Nutella Confezzione—a crackly-thin pizza dressed in ricotta, drizzled with the hazelnut spread, and finished with a generous sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar—is also a must-order.
The food here goes great with a light Italian beer or something from the Saint Arnold tap. There’s also a rotating list of inexpensive wines by the glass and bottle. With a patio full of greenery, board games, book- shelves, a movie projector, and a hipster leather couch, the Gypsy Poet is a fun, super-friendly place to hang.
What to order
Pepperoni Madness, Cappellone “Big Hat,” Nutella Confezzione
The Gypsy Poet, 2404 Austin St., 713-364-3888