New England blogger friends recently asked, “Where have you two been?” Clearly, we have not been maintaining our writing cadence. “On a fascinating journey,” we remarked. Since last fall, we have been researching the origins New England food, which has taken us to libraries, bookstores, docks, museums, farms, root cellars, markets, and pantries across our six northeast states. We’ve met food historians, librarians, archivists, chefs, farmers, fishermen, family cooks, and various foodstuff purveyors, all of whom are helping us weave the strands of a fascinating story.
With books, journals, maps, menus, cooking instruments, and other regional food paraphernalia now festooning our home office, we realize how intertwined our New England history is with food. And it’s not all glamour either. History never is.
Though the New England food journey is deep and diverse, it helps us better understand who we are, where we came from, and why we’re willing to argue over such things as maple syrup, fried clams, pizza, oysters, whoopie pies, johnnycakes, scrod and beer. Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing our discoveries.
Historic city. Esteemed seafaring heritage. Some say she has seen better days. A pretty girl with a dirty face. Very proud people.
The description could apply to either Naples, Italy or New Bedford, Massachusetts. Having spent time in both cities, we see the similarities even though thousands of miles separate them. Both, in our humble opinion, are worthy destinations and offer far more to the visitor than may be apparent on their often tired facades. They also have an intoxicating vibrancy, fed by well-needed renewals. That’s why we keep going back.
Recently, on a beautiful, spring Saturday, we headed down to Massachusetts’ South Coast for some research and relaxation. For those of you not familiar, South Coast is the term used to describe the non-Cape Cod coastal section of Massachusetts that extends from the canal to the border of Rhode Island. Like much of coastal New England, this region blends natural beauty, hardscrabble living, local rituals, and rich American history. It doesn’t have the crowds or the kitsch of the Cape, but offers travelers a rewarding, yet accessible experience to explore New England. On this particular day, we covered the entire length from Wareham to Westport and included our regular, requisite stop in New Bedford.
Our destination in New Bedford was Travessia, an urban winery in the heart of the city. Travessia is run by Marco Montez, whose love for the vine flows as beautifully as his wine. Marco is reinstituting the ancient tradition of vinification in a city, rather than in a remote, rural setting. He chose New Bedford and frequently uses locally-harvested grapes for his array of wines. Though he does business sixty miles from the capital of Massachusetts, Marco is well-known by the Boston wine community and justifiably so: he’s a passionate New Englander who cares deeply about his product and his ties to the South Coast. But we digress. Travessia was our expected destination, but another place in New Bedford became our unexpected destination.
On the way to Travessia, we passed what appeared to be yet another, undifferentiated pizza establishment. Laura grabbed my arm, pulled me to a stop and pointed me to the name, “Brick Pizzeria Napoletana.” I tuned out immediately, which is normally uncharacteristic for me (and Laura), except when it comes to pizza. We’ve had so many lackluster pizzas over the years despite searching endlessly for great ones. For some bizarre reason, we take our pizza seriously – very, very seriously. I’m trying rather hard not to turn this into a pizza post because that one is already in the works. Nonetheless, being too often disappointed, I find that the Naples designation applied to pizza only exacerbates my angst because it’s almost always not like real Naples. Hence, we moved on to Travessia for a pleasant tasting with Marco.
After sampling some great wine and purchasing some nice bottles, we headed back to the car. Again, Laura stopped me in front of Brick. “They’ve got a real wood fired oven in there!” she exclaimed. “Wood-fired bad pizza is still bad pizza,” I responded. She was undeterred and dragged me in. I’ve been married too long and know when resistance is futile. Once inside, my nose reacted to the aromas immediately. They registered “Naples, Italy.” Wow. Interesting. I thought it was fluke and fought what my senses were telling me.
I saw the Caputo Flour in the kitchen, so I instantly knew they took their dough seriously. Then I saw the fresh mozzarella, the San Marzano tomatoes, and the sprigs of fresh basil. I started a conversation with John Goggin, the pizzaiolo, who was kind enough to give a skeptic like me history of the restaurant, a description of the ingredients, and a review of the baking process. In fairness to John, I did tell him that I spent many years in the North End of Boston in a famed pizzeria, so we had some common ground. John informed me that his son Jeff, whom we just missed by a matter of minutes, was the owner.
I capitulated to both Laura and John and ordered a classic Margherita pizza. Though one of the simplest of pizzas, the Margherita is the true test of a pizza establishment. More ingredients only serve to mask imperfections. And that was the challenge because there would be no room for error and it would confirm my anticipated disappointment.
Then the pizza arrived.
It was visually stunning. It was cooked to perfection. It was delicious. I was wrong – dead wrong. And I admitted it to Laura. (Another reason we’ve been married for 20 years.) This pizza was Naples, Italy-caliber. No kidding. I wanted to give John a hug. This was an unexpected experience. Right away, I wished I lived nearby so I could stop in regularly, perhaps pairing a great Margherita from Brick with a nice red wine from Travessia.
In the meantime, Laura and I will continue our trips to the South Coast, somehow knowing there will be more visits to New Bedford, to Travessia, and to Brick Pizzeria Napoletana. And what about Naples, Italy? We’ll head back there as well. It’s a jewel like New Bedford. Fortunately, we can now experience some Neapolitan pizza without the hassle of a long flight.
Are there take-aways here? Absolutely. In fact, there are several.
Great things are happening in older New England cities like New Bedford.
Entrepreneurs like Marco Montez and Jeff Goggin infuse life into our historic cities.
New Englanders like John Goggin make a huge difference for customers.
Massachusetts’ South Coast is a rich and evolving destination with no canals to cross.
The key to a happy marriage is listening to your spouse and admitting when you’re wrong.
Life is too short to eat bad pizza and drink lousy wine.
-Rob Ciampa, Palaverer
Photos credits: City-data.com (Wikipedia Commons), Travessia Urban Winery, Rob & Laura Ciampa