Call me a Pizza Pollyanna or Candide of Crust. I have repeatedly announced a new "best" pizza in the Triangle. There was the now-defunct Bella Mia, then Pizzeria Toro, then Pompieri, then Treforni, then Napoli, the plucky Carrboro-based food truck. I stand by all of these assessments. Each marked the onward progress of the local pizza revolution.
I must now risk further damage to my credibility by shoehorning Capp's Pizzeria—a Pittsboro pizza mobile gone Chapel Hill brick-and-mortar—into this crowded pantheon.
Napoli's elegant minimalism and Neapolitan authenticity continue to set it apart, but the flame-scorched pies at Capp's, which look as if they've been rescued by fire ladder, complicate the calculation. As I've said previously in these pages, Capp's pies have no local rival for sheer gorgeousness. They belong on the cover of Saveur just as certain paintings belong on the cover of the Sotheby's catalog.
If Napoli's leopard-spotted, featherweight crust replicates what one might eat in Naples, Capp's crust—all pock, char, and chew—nods equally to Naples, New York, and New Haven. Like a scene from Mean Streets, it strikes a perfect balance between tenderness and toughness.
Capp's began as a masonry beehive mounted on a tomato-red two-wheeled trailer that was equal parts muscle car and Roman chariot. Nicknamed "Vesuvio," the wood-burning oven was a volcano on wheels. At one thousand degrees, it cooked a pizza in sixty to ninety seconds. Capp's gradually made its name at Chatham County locales like the Fearrington Farmers Market and the Woods Charter School winter fair.
At the farmers market, you ordered, swiped your credit card, and waited impatiently, craning to see your pie puff and bubble in the oven. It shimmered like a heat mirage, and you half-expected it to fade from sight with a taunt: "I belong to Naples...Rome...maybe New York if you're not a complete dummy and know where to look...." But it did not fade!
In mid-October, Capp's took its show off the road, opening a bistro in a new retail complex just north of the 15-501 entrance to the Briar Chapel development. The space is a homey little box warmed by the reincarnation of Vesuvio, there for all to see as the centerpiece of an open workstation.
Loyalists will notice little difference in the pies. If anything, the crust is slightly improved. There is a little more gluten development, a little more interplay of texture, somewhat more pronounced char.
Chef-owner John Cappelletti, a Connecticut native for whom Pepe's and Modern Apizza in New Haven are eternal models, is plainly pleased with himself, and for good reason. His crust could fend for itself in New Haven's Wooster Square. It begins with a sourdough starter that he's fed daily for nine years. He refers to the twin twenty-two-quart vats of starter as "the girls."
"They require some maintenance," he says.
The dough combines Lindley Mills organic bread flour, Caputo-brand "00" flour, and a flour that Cappelletti mills himself from red hard wheat. The final touch is the whiff of forest smoke generated by the hickory logs fed into the maw of Vesuvio II.
The menu includes admirable versions of the classics (Margherita, white clam) and some outré experiments that have no right to succeed as utterly as they do. As a pizza puritan who considers "creativity" a synonym for tomfoolery, I must reassess all my thought.
The Bee Bomb—mozzarella, tomato, soppressata, and chili-infused honey—instantly became one of my canonical pies, the combination of spice and syrupy unguent at once weird and irresistible. Nor could I spurn the slew of other gene-spliced pies worthy of Dr. Moreau: mashed potato, bacon, and cheddar; coconut curry sauce, chicken, and serrano chili; BBQ sauce, chicken, and smoked Gouda.
The curry pizza—imagine the world's best naan slathered with Penang curry—was an identity-changer. My purism lay in ruins.
Patrons should not overlook the grinders, which begin with fresh-baked pizza dough redeployed as sandwich bread. These and the similar "panouzzos" at Treforni in Durham may be the area's best sandwiches. The Triangle has lately seen a rash of designer delis, but their artily inaccurate Reubens can't compete with seconds-old bread. The house-made sausage, which doubles as pizza topping and sandwich filling, is worth a visit in its own right.
Even the menu peripheries command attention. Dessert includes an intricately layered honey torte prepared by the Czech day manager, Jitka Zavala. Capp's, evidently, has talent to burn.
Like its rival Neapolitan pizzerias, Capp's is not for the budget-conscious. Single-serving pies are $10–$16. A family of four could easily spend $80 or even $100.
But, having dropped untold sums on midweek pizzas whose only virtue is their delivery to your door, can you really quibble?
This article appeared in print with the headline "The Triangle's Best Pizza."