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By / Photography By Mark Boughton | March 02, 2018
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90 seconds in an 800 degree fire for the Neapolitan pizza.

Porta Via has been a neighborhood favorite for west-siders for almost a decade. It’s also where you’ll find bona fide, certified pizza. Unique among local pie joints, Porta Via Ristorante e Bar holds the distinction of being the only true Neapolitan pizza in town—the only in the state, in fact. That’s because they are VPN-certified, which stands for Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the governing body based out of Naples, Italy that ensures that the traditional ingredients and techniques are used in the production of authentic Neapolitan pies.

When Mehrdad Alviri opened Porta Via on White Bridge Rd. in 2009, he knew that authenticity would be the hook that he would hang his hat on when it came to pizza. While there are other Neapolitan-style pizzas in town, characterized by thin crust pizzas cooked rapidly in an infernally hot wood-fired oven, Porta Via is the only one that can claim this official distinction. "We started working on our certification on day 1,” recalls Alviri. “We sent our chef to Italy to train, and now Giovanni Giosa is officially a certified master pizzaiolo.” Not only can chef Giosa train new pizzaiolos in the art and craft of pizza making, but Porta Via was awarded with official VPN status, the 350th restaurant in the entire world to earn this certification. 

Photo 1: Chef Giosa expertly stretches the dough made with 00caputo flour for the thin Neapolitan crust.
Photo 2: Best eaten straight from the oven, the blistered bulbbly crust holds traditional Margherita toppings; pureed San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di Bufala and fresh basil.

The requirements for VPN certification are stringent, but they ensure that the resulting pizzas that come out of the oven are as close to an authentic pizza you might buy in Naples as possible. The crust must be made with a highly refined wheat flour known as 00 Caputo, along with yeast, water and salt. The dough must be kneaded and stretched by hand (as opposed to tossed and spun in the air like you might encounter in more theatrical kitchens). The two traditional types of pizzas that fall under VPN designation are the Marinara and the Margherita D.O.C. The former is topped with pureed San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil, while the latter adds mozzarella di Bufala, a cheese made from the milk of water buffalos from the Campania and Lazio marshlands of Italy.

The D.O.C. pie is topped with fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil before taking a trip into an 800°+ wood-fired oven where it cooks for 90 seconds, expertly rotated three times during the cooking process by a trained pizzaiolo wielding a metal peel.

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The result is an 11” pizza that is brought to the table uncut in the Neapolitan tradition, although they will slice it on request. The short trip through the blazing oven allows the crust to bubble up in spots and arrive perfectly charred without getting too crunchy. The process results in tomatoes, cheese, and herbs that retain their fresh flavors without being overly roasted. The intentional omission of any sugar in the dough or sauce ensures that the pizza at Porta Via tastes like the ingredients that they import directly from Italy, in the shadows of Mt. Vesuvius.

VPN certification is difficult to achieve and maintain, but it’s more than just a marketing tool for the restaurant. Porta Via director of brand Paul Bregande explains, “VPN is an organization created to ensure the art and traditions of pizza-making are preserved just as they were more than a century ago. There are lots of other good Neapolitan-style pizzas in town, but we appreciate that it means that we are held to a higher standard than other restaurants. People come from around the world searching for authentic VPN-certified pizzas, and we love that they visit us.”

As their name evokes, Porta Via Ristorante e Bar does more than just pizza, including Crepes Florentine, Lasagna, and Penne Bolognese. They also have one of the best kale salads in town. “We’re all about authentic Italian cuisine made with fresh ingredients,” shares Bregande. “We use canned tomatoes imported from Italy, but we make everything else in-house from pastas to soups to sauces to salad dressings.”

Porta Via Ristorante e Bar | 21 White Bridge Road Nashville, 37205 | 615-356-0001 | eatatportavia.com

Photo 1: Owner, Mehrdad Alviri
Photo 2: Certified master pizzaiolo, Giovanni Giosa trained in Naples to be able to make VPN pizza at Porta Via.

PIZZA PIES IN NASHVILLE

While some claim Naples as the historical birthplace of pizza as we know it, and Neapolitan pizza is considered the archetype, there are plenty of other beloved styles of pizzas. Here’s a primer to some of the most popular types and where to find them:

NEW YORK PIZZA is typified by huge slices pliable enough to fold for easier eating. Heavy on the cheese, New York pies are usually cooked in deck ovens and served by the slice on greasy paper plates.

Manny’s House of Pizza, 15 Arcade Alley, Nashville, TN 37219

SICILIAN pies are traditionally rectangular with a crispy crust under a pillowy base of doughy bread. Tomato sauce is painted over the top of the cheese to spackle all the toppings in place.

Pizza Perfect, 1602 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212 and 57 Clofton Dr. Nashville, TN 37221

Some diners consider DEEP DISH pizzas to be an ordeal, with wait times up to an hour to bake the 2-3” thick cheesy pies, not to mention the fact that only a competitive eating champion can handle more than a slice or two at one sitting, but fans (and their cardiologists) are avid aficionados of this knife-and-fork experience.

Little Chicago Pizzeria and Grill, 1524A Demonbreun St, Nashville, TN 37203

While Chicago is usually associated with deep dish pies, the CHICAGO THIN CRUST pizza is also a thing. Typified by spicy red sauce and a crust that’s even crispier than a New York pie, these pizzas crunch like a cracker when you take a bite. They are also traditionally cut into a grid of rectangular pieces instead of wedge slices in what is called a “party cut” or “tavern cut.”

312 Pizza Company, 371 Monroe St, Nashville, TN 37208

DETROIT-STYLE pizzas are similar to Sicilian pies except that they are cooked in steel pans to add extra crispy crunch to the crust. In addition to mozzarella, Detroit pies are topped with Brick cheese, a mild sweet and nutty cheese from Wisconsin.

Night Train Pizza, 600 9th Ave S Suite 100, Nashville, TN 37203

Article from Edible Nashville at http://ediblenashville.ediblecommunities.com/eat/porta-s-real-neapolitan-pizza
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