This Week's Cafe Review: Vera Pizza Napoletana-ish Pies at Pizzeria Solario

"VPN Americas is the American Delegation of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, an international non-profit organization founded in the mid 1980's by a group of Neapolitan pizzaiolis (pizza makers) seeking to cultivate the culinary art of making Neapolitan pizza. On June 1984, the association was officially established as a denomination of control (DOC) by the Italian government, a designation that made the VPN a legal entity able to give special designation to pizzerias who meet strict requirements that respect the tradition of the art of Neapolitan pizza making. The President is Antonio Pace."

That's how the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana describes itself. It might sound like a lot of formality for an organization devoted to pizza, but in Italy, folks take pizza very seriously. We might not be quite so reverent of crust, sauce and cheese here in Houston, but we're also pretty serious when it comes to pizza.

It was abundantly clear in the comments section of our article about Houston's top 10 pizzas of 2013 that everyone has a favorite, and most people aren't going to agree on which pizza is best. Some like thicker, doughier crust. Some like oodles of toppings. Some, like myself, prefer thin, Neapolitan-style pizza like the kind promoted by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.

And though it's not an official member of VPN Americas, Pizzeria Solario, the subject of this week's cafe review, makes some fine Neapolitan pizza. Most of the time.

In order to be certified by VPN Americas, a pizza and pizzeria must follow a strict set of guidelines. You can read them all online if you have an hour, or you could read the following summary with highlights. A Vera Pizza Napoletana must:

  1. Be cooked in a wood-burning oven at about 900 degrees.
  2. Use only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients (preferably imported from Naples or Campania region), including dopio zero flour (milled super fine); fresh tomatoes (typically San Marzano); certified mozzarella di bufala campana D.O.P; extra-virgin olive oil; fresh basil; fresh garlic; oregano; sea salt; and yeast
  3. Be hand-worked or kneaded with a low-speed mixer.
  4. Be formed only by hand and slapping on the working surface, transferred onto a peel by hand and cooked in an oven with a temperature of not less than 900 degrees for a time not exceeding 90 seconds.

There are far more rules and regulations than just these, particularly when a restaurant gets into proving the authenticity of its pizzas to the powers that be. Perhaps due to the stifling guidelines and the high cost of certification ($2,000 for the certification plus the inspector's fee and travel expenses, and a $250 yearly renewal fee), there are no restaurants in Houston that make VPN-certified pizza.

Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana adheres to many of the guidelines, as does Pizzeria Solario. Along with Dolce Vita, they're the most authentic Neapolitan pizzas you'll find here in town, and, in my opinion, some of the most delicious. Authenticity doesn't always guarantee flavor, though, and some of the pies at Pizzeria Solario impress less than others.

The dough is perfect. The mozzarella is made in-house (not imported, and therefore, not VPN), and it's smooth, creamy and delicious. The Vera Pizza Napoletana and white garlic crema sauces are divine. But sometimes the various topping combinations get lost in translation. Some are missing acid or heat or just another 20 seconds in the oven, which, I know, is so against the rules.

But sometimes, maybe, the rules are made to be broken. And sometimes, maybe, a little rebellion will make the perfect pie.

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