The Italian eatery partnered with the oldest pizzeria in the world to give diners a memorable pizza feast.
By Elizabeth Harvey
On October 26, Georgetown’s beloved pizzeria napoletana, Il Canale, was buzzing even more than usual.
Crowds of local and visiting Italians, Il Canale veterans, and family and friends congregated on 31st street to get a taste of guest chef Gennaro Luciano’s pizza.
Luciano is the owner and head chef of the famous Antica Pizzeria Port’ Alba in Naples. Established in 1738, it is believed to be the oldest pizzeria in the world. Luciano made his very first trip to the United States to collaborate with Il Canale and pay visits to Nashville, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami.
Il Canale’s owner, Joe Farruggio, immigrated to the United States from Sicily (via Brooklyn) when he was 17 years old and got into the restaurant business soon after. On the other side of the Atlantic, Luciano began making pizza with his father when he was 15. The connection? Both “pizza guys” – as Farruggio likes to say – have always used the same brand of flour to make their dough. Polselli is at the heart and soul of their creations.
The partnership between the Georgetown gem and Antica Pizzeria is – like all good things Italian – based in family, history, and tradition. It was born this August, when Farruggio went to Naples to meet Luciano and assess the quality of his food. Farruggio describes the moment he tasted his pizza: “I was like – Yeah! Let’s do it! And it’s been a love affair.”
The mouth-watering evening kicked off with a plate of Italy’s classic antipasti misti, including prosciutto crudo, mortadella, grilled zucchini, roasted red peppers, olives, cherry tomatoes, a selection of cheeses, and arugula. The set menu offered a variety of personal pizzas to choose from, pulled from a mixture of Il Canale and Antica Pizzeria favorites, accompanied by a 2014 Sangiovese red wine.
When it came to ordering, I deferred to the maestro himself. Luciano recommended his own special creation from Naples, the “Sapori e Profumi d’Amalfi” – named for the “Flavors and fragrances of the Amalfi Coast.” The pizza combined buffalo mozzarella, yellow cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, basil, capers, shaved lemon and salty pecorino cheese. Farruggio recommended the buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomato-laden “Sofia” – with his special ingredient: “a little bit of anchovies.”
The star ingredient of all the pizzas was the Polselli flour-based dough, which Luciano and the Il Canale staff made together the night before the event, giving it twelve hours to ferment and twelve hours to mature. The result was a perfectly crisp, incredibly chewy dough that tasted as if it had come straight from an oven in Naples.
By the end of the evening, Il Canale was full of smiling, satisfied customers trying to squeeze extra room for dessert: mini, chocolate-drizzled cannolis. Farruggio, joined by his extended family, was no less pleased: “Tonight I think we blew the roof off! 500 reservations, plus the walk-ins – it’s been spectacular.” Among the diners was Joe Coleman, famous painter and former lead singer for the Platters, and Domenico Starnone, renowned Italian writer, journalist, and screenwriter.
Farruggio is clear about his connection with Luciano: “We have the same work energy, the same enthusiasm – we love what we do! The passion that he has for the product is equal to my passion.”
The feeling is mutual. With the help of Massimo Lollo – the export manager of Polselli flour, honored guest, and impromptu translator – Luciano said: “What Joe did with Il Canale was amazing.” For his own part, Luciano was thrilled to be able to “see the American people and understand what they thought of him.” The response was overwhelmingly positive.
If you ever find yourself in Naples, stop by the Antica Pizzeria; Luciano and his children, the third generation of pizza-makers in their family, have just opened a second location. Farruggio, on the other hand, can be found at 1065 31st Street NW, Washington DC – or catch him this week in New York, where he’s running his third marathon.
Il Canale is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. They also host Happy Hour from Monday through Friday, as well as private events and catering. Visit their website for more information, or call 202-337-4444.