Though Pizzeria Trattoria da Attilio bears a man’s name, it actually tells the story of a woman who has tenaciously been a piece of Naples history for 50 years.
Maria Francesca, the woman in question, was the mother of a little boy and twin girls when she took the reins at Pizzeria Trattoria da Attilio at the age of 24, upon the sudden death of her husband Mario, with whom she had been running the restaurant for five years. When Mario died, Maria decided to invest all her energy into carrying on the family pizzeria, founded in 1938 by Mario’s father, Attilio Bachetti.
She wasn’t working completely on her own. At 6-years-old, her son – named Attilio, after his grandfather – would come home after school every day to begin learning the job of pizza maker. Too short, he would use a stool so he could reach the top of the counter. “I had to literally steal the job,” says Attilio, now 56. “I didn’t have a father who taught me the secrets of work. No one taught you anything. Today, pizza chefs can run courses. Fifty years ago, you had to make do on your own,” he says. Mother and son have been running the popular spot together since.
“Customers leave us drawings made with tomatoes, coffee and oil,” Attilio tells us. “It is as if they wanted to leave something of themselves. They wanted to return the goodness.”
In a sector – that is, the Neapolitan pizza scene – where it is believed that everything has been said by now, Attilio is a pizzeria that has always loved to innovate. While the restaurant was undergoing renovations sometime in the 90s, Attilio uncovered a menu from the 40s. He saw that his grandfather had been serving a particular pizza: Carnevale (carnival), a star-shaped pie. So, Attilio the junior decided to bring it back. The eight-pointed ricotta-filled star frame, stuffed with sausage, sauce and fior di latte, is just like the “carnival lasagna,” traditionally served as a meaty splurge before Lent, from which it takes its name.
But Attilio didn’t stop there. He created other star-shaped pizzas that are now his claim to fame: the pizza giardiniera, also eight-points stuffed with a mix of grilled and sautéed vegetables and funghi; and the pizza Appennini, with ricotta, provola and zucchini. Certainly you’ll find other just-as-delightful classic round pizzas on the menu: a pizza with Vesuvian piennolo tomatoes and smoked provola; the Attilio pizza, which is known for its combination of nine flavors; the Fiore pizza; and many others. They are all linked by a common characteristic of which Attilio is most proud – lightness. “My greatest happiness? When a child eats all the pizza and then tells his parents, ‘I would like more,’” Attilio tells us as he takes his pizzas out of the oven. “And if a child says so, this means my pizza is really light.”
Maria Francesca reveals the secret: “The lightness of a pizza is the result of quality ingredients, long rising in a non-refrigerated environment, excellent mozzarella di bufala and only extra virgin olive oil.” Along with its pizza, Attilio is known throughout Naples for its bacetti (“little kisses” in Italian), which are delicious spiral rolls of pizza dough stuffed with ricotta and provola and perfumed with black pepper and nutmeg. Attilio finds the time to prepare his bacetti only in the evening, but the demand for it is so enormous that it runs out quickly. Attilio is also the one responsible for preparing the restaurant’s crocchettone, a large potato croquette stuffed with broccoli, provola and sausage that is a house specialty.
The pizzeria is on one of the most popular streets of Naples, in the center of La Pignasecca market. At any time of day you’ll see crowds of people at the ancient, welcoming restaurant. At lunchtime, many regulars come daily not for the pizza, but for Maria’s home cooked dishes. “Here we serve traditional Neapolitan dishes,” says the 74-year-old. “Pasta and potatoes, pasta and beans, pasta sorrentine style or bolognese. The menu changes every day, and the bread is made every morning, here, directly in the pizza oven … with my hands.”
There’s something about the pizzeria that transmits a sense of history, particularly its inner room, the walls of which are covered in declarations of love for the restaurant and drawings made on paper napkins by loyal customers over the decades. “It is as if customers wanted to leave something of themselves,” Attilio tells us proudly. “They wanted to return some of the goodness they just tasted with something that would last.”