Two weeks ago, I went with my girlfriend to Pizzeria Vetri, a hidden gem on 16th and Chancellor street.
When we arrived, we sat at a counter and watched a man quietly pound out soft pizza dough. As we sat sipping on our ice cold Peronis, I started to salivate as the aroma of fresh marinara wafted delicately into the air.
Before you read anymore please know that, for better or worse, I am not Italian.
Where I come from in Cary, North Carolina, pizza means something totally different from what you could expect in a typical Italian pizzeria. My girlfriend, however, had spent 3 months living in Asti, Italy. Along the way, she not only picked up the beautiful Italian language but good taste as well. As for me, having traveled last year to Milano and Roma (as the Italians would say), I was excited at a new-to-me pizza place close by.
When we arrived at Pizzeria Vetri, this was probably the 10th or 11th “wood fire Italian pizza” spot we had been too in the last year. Spending our past summer in the east village of New York City, we would frequent places like Motorino but never found anything that was good. As my Italian friend Nicolo once told me, there is either good or bad, no in between. Since this summer, we had been determined to find a good pizza place.
The only problem with holding yourself to this standard is that I have concluded that being an Italian in another country must be terribly difficult.
You spend your time in search of an espresso or cheese that is as good as at home. But the truth is, you will never find an Italian espresso or pizza better than in Napoli or Roma. What you will find is a variation on Italian food. Most of these variations are not only bad, they are also not delicious at all.
The pizza at Pizzeria Vetri is good. In fact, I think it is delicious. If you ask Brett, my server for tonight, he will jokingly wink at you and remark, “the secret is in the sauce”. But is that really it? Maybe. To me, the secret that Marc Vetri gets right is that he accepts he is not running an Italian restaurant in Italy, but an Italian Pizzeria in America. Their espresso? Not good. Their Limoncello? Not existent. Why? Because Americans don’t want that. Americans want good pizza! In my opinion, Pizzeria Vetri is the place for that.
People have been talking about America a lot lately, so let me tell you right now once and for all: our country is great. Why? Because if you walk into the door of a pizzeria shop in center city in Philadelphia, you can see the diversity of two cultures at work. On any given night you can see Eric, the pizza maker from Philadelphia, carefully laying stracciatella (think gooey mozzarella cheese) atop a beautifully wood-charred crust topped with eggplant and tomato sauce while bouncing his hands to the beat of Sugarhill Gang’s Jump on it. It is not exactly right, but the combination of Italian and Philadelphian cultures is just as delicious as the pizza.
When I was walking home I saw a small riot outside and helicopters in the air, but I walked passed with ease. I know the real America. The real America is in the warm wood oven at Pizzeria Vetri. So long as we have good mozzarella and appreciation for the cultures we mix, pizza will be good and one other thing: America will be great.