In the previous chapter, I mentioned that, by chance, we visited both of the two restaurants in Asheville owned by Laura Reuss and her husband Ben Mixson for supper before we left. I picked White Duck and asked Marie to pick another, and we never looked at the other’s choice beyond the names and were pleasantly surprised to find the two restaurants were sisters. Before the night was over, we’d be more than just pleasantly surprised.
Now, let’s stop and talk about the toddler. When we are on a food tour like this, we really try to balance activities for him, and it’s a constant learning curve. He behaves really, really well in restaurants, but even with shopping and Baby Mercy Breaks sprinkled throughout the day, toddlers want to play all. the. time. If this little guy could, he’d climb trees with a toy train in one hand and an apple in the other, and while we don’t often use a stroller for him, the amount of walking that we did, among all the thousands of spreadheads jamming the streets, really required it. So when we got to Pizza Pura and saw the big crowd, we very nearly abandoned plans until we realized that, even though it was cold outside, the restaurant has an enclosed patio that nobody wanted to use. I asked Mixson whether we could take that over, realizing that this was the best way to ensure that the never-did-nap and soon-to-melt-down baby didn’t annoy any of his other guests, and so we braved the chill.
The baby had a complete blast. This place serves Neapolitan-style pizzas, our favorite variety, and there were so many orders ahead of us, so the baby had lots of time to run around yelling, disturbing nobody. He didn’t seem to mind that the appetizer wasn’t appealing to him. We ordered the olive and pepper medley while we waited, and the unpitted olives, made spicy hot by the peppers, were not at all baby-friendly. It did not matter; this was clearly his favorite experience of the visit. The next day, Marie asked him what was his favorite part of the trip to Asheville, and he replied “Sit, pizza, run around, pizza.”
The kid’s right. It was our favorite as well. It was amazing.
I had cause once about a year ago to mention the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana. They’re a well-intentioned society of pizza snobs who have a very strict set of guidelines about firing up the right wood in the right brick oven to heat the right double-zero flour made to their specifications. I really do question the need for all that rigmarole, but Laura Reuss suffered through all the instruction and everything to become a VPN-certified pizzaiola, meaning that the pies here should be every bit as good as the fabled Neapolitan-style pizza joints in Atlanta: Antico, Fritti, Varasano’s, Vingenzo’s, and the others.
This wasn’t every bit as good. It was better.
I don’t succumb to hyperbole quite this extreme all that often, but I’ll say this and mean this. We ordered the Tre Porcellini. We knew that, after the day’s indulgence, my daughter and I were each going to eat just a single small slice and Marie, who’d only picked at a thing or two since her very small lunch of a crepe six hours previously, would share the rest with the baby. This pie is made with San Marzano tomatoes, spicy calabrese, prosciuitto di parma, sopressata campagna, house-made mozzarella, and basil. We all three agreed: this was the best pizza that we have ever had.
We ate slowly. We had felt a rush, from the cold, from the knowledge that our son would be crashing soon, from knowing we had a four-hour drive though the dark and the mountains ahead of us. We weren’t happy that the appetizer wasn’t baby friendly, he wasn’t happy that we’d called him over to sit down, and I didn’t really enjoy the glass of Brevard-based Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale. We were ready to call it a day. The pie arrived and all three of us pounced on it. I sliced that sucker and passed food to my family at top speed. We stopped simultaneously midway through the first bite. Husband, wife, daughter: our eyes all met, wide, and we chewed slowly. We nodded. Holy anna. We ate slowly. We ate very slowly. Eventually, the toddler fell off the bench and we returned to normal speed.
Grandiose adjectives were passed around. Mixson came out to check on us. I told him this was better than Antico. And Antico’s good, but it’s not this good.
Go to Asheville. Call ahead, make reservations. Wear your baby down first. Try a different glass of Oskar Blues. (Ten Fidy sounds like it could be good.) You need to try this place. “Tell me I’m wrong. I don’t really care. It’s not a case of share and share alike. I take what I require”… and what I require is another trip to Pizza Pura.
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