In Naples, Italy, pizza makers are very protective of their pies. So dedicated are they that, nearly 20 years ago, a group of pizzaiolos (pizza makers), with the backing of the Italian government, organized the Associazione Verace Napoletana (AVN) to promote and protect authentic Neapolitan pizzas.
That brings us to the new Antica Pizzeria Fellini on South Washington in Royal Oak, where proprietor Salvo Scrima and his pizzaiolo, Massimo Burzio, began pulling pristine Neapolitan pizzas from the oven in September.
The dough is made with wheat flour, sea salt, yeast, water — and nothing else, Scrima says. The Caputo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes grown in the foothills of Mount Vesuvius, and fresh mozzarella di bufala are all imported from Italy, as is Burzio, who spoke only Italian when he arrived here.
Neapolitan pizzas spend only a minute to 90 seconds in the oven at 900 degrees. The sauce is made with hand-squeezed raw tomatoes, a pinch of salt, and no spices.
Antica Pizzeria Fellini is the first pizzeria in Michigan to be certified by Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), the American branch of AVN, joining about 60 others around the United States, in cities from New York to Seattle and including one, appropriately enough, in Naples, Fla.
Scrima and his wife, Antonina, grew up in Italy eating Neapolitan pies. Weekends in Naples, he says, always started with a pizza and then moved on to whatever activity was planned.
When the couple moved here in 1994, Salvo went into the tile-and-stone business; Antonina found a job in retail. But they never lost their taste for Neapolitan pizzas, and they searched for them, finding the closest to the real thing across the river on Windsor’s Erie Street.
About five years ago, the couple began exploring the idea of opening their own pizzeria. In order to be certified by the Associazione, Salvo went back home and enrolled in an intensive AVN seminar that included a written exam as well as an edible one.
He had to prepare two pizzas, marinara and margherita, to be judged by the experts. (Both pizzas are on the menu at Antica Pizzeria Fellini). The dozen pizzas on the menu are composed pizzas, meaning there’s no list of toppings to be added. Each is a complete creation in its own right, from the Sofia, which includes cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, arugula, prosciutto di Parma, and shaved Parmigiano, to the house specialty, the Fellini, a star-shaped margherita pizza with vegetable-stuffed corners.
The Scrimas gave the name Fellini to their restaurant as a tribute to the Italian filmmaker of La Dolce Vita fame. “We’re big fans of Federico Fellini … he’s one of the greatest movie directors,” Salvo says. “And, besides, it sounds elegant.”