Sometimes I wake up to find an empty pizza box where there wasn’t one the night before. I roll my eyes, knowing that Ryan sneaked out of the house again for a cheeky slice of pizza. It’s by far his favourite food and he’s in full denial about his addiction. In fact, I’ve never met anyone as mad about pizza until his Italian friend Julian visited. His eyes spark just thinking about his next meal. So, when Ryan mentioned the world famous pizzeria “Pepe in Grani,” they made a deal to go on a pilgrimage. Within a week, Julian had arranged his next visit and booked a table on the panoramic terrace at sunset.
I drove them down to Caiazzo, a picturesque village one hour from Naples, only famous for Pepe’s pizzeria. Our Airbnb host knowingly asked: “Here for Pepe?”. An hour before our reservation, Ryan regretted his big lunch, afraid he wouldn’t be able to binge. That morning, the guys had joked about skipping lunch, but still ate a three-course meal.
The 6-week wait and glowing reviews built up our expectations of Franco Pepe and his gastronomical creations. He’s a third generation baker and sources the best ingredients from local farmers, gaining his pizzeria the title of “best in the world” twice in a row. So obviously, we were starstruck when the man himself greeted us at our table – making Ryan stutter and Julian blush like a 14-year old girl at a Bieber concert.
We all went for the tasting menu because it was impossible to just pick one pizza out of the 47 (forty-seven!!) on the menu.
As a starter, this fried pizza cone was served, stuffed with melted 12 month-old Grana Padano, rocket pesto, and a black olive crumble. Ryan and Julian already moan at the sight and smell. After their first bite, they both exclaim it’s the best thing they’ve ever eaten. Fried Neopolitan pizza can be pretty heavy (I mean, it’s pizza, DEEP FRIED!) but this one did not feel greasy at all. Pepe’s known for fermenting his dough over a long time, which aids digestibility and creates large air bubbles. An incredible opener that set the tone for the rest of the night.
Before we ate this pizza, we all squeezed the cloudy crust between our fingers, which bounced right back. It didn’t need anything more than its 3 ingredients (tomato, garlic, and oregano), making it perfect for vegans too. Pepe sources his tomatoes from farmers that grow ancient varieties like the pomodoro riccio. The olive oil comes from century-old local trees. These pizzas aren’t just incredibly tasty – they tell the region’s story.
Sbagliata means wrong or mistaken. This “wrong” pizza margherita is Pepe’s signature dish: a pizza bianca (“white”) with buffalo mozzarella as the base and tomato sauce on top. You get the classic margherita flavours but turned upside down. Even though I expected the green sauce to taste more like a pesto, the basil reduction was like biting into basil leaves straight of the plant. I’m getting full by this point but Julian tells the waiter to keep it coming.
Pepe doesn’t mind some tongue-in-cheekiness when it comes to Italian traditions. Julian explains that scarpetta describes those who clean every last drop of sauce on their plate with a piece of bread, something one shouldn’t do in formal situations. Yet I don’t know a single place Ryan wouldn’t wipe his plate (a finger works fine if he’s already eaten all the bread). The 3 different kinds of cheese (buffalo mozzarella, 12-month aged Grana Padano, 24-month aged shaved Grana Padano) melted onto the plate, waiting to be mopped up.
The last pizza I had, was also my favourite. The boys went on to share another pizza, while I was ready to pass out in a heavenly food coma. Topped with creamy scamorza, fiordilatte, and basil reduction, this pizza truly stood out above all the others because of the crunchy grana padano cheese crackers. Although I’m a very strict vegan and currently on the FODMAP elimination diet, this pizza was worth breaking all the rules for.
“la crisommola dal vesuvio”
The only dessert pizza I’ve eaten before is Nutella pizza: so heavy I immediately regretted ordering one. So, I’m sceptical when it comes to sweet pizza. Pepe served a fried base topped with a cream of lemon-flavoured buffalo ricotta, Vesuvius apricot jam, toasted hazelnuts, black olive crumble, and fresh mint. For me, it epitomised Pepe’s pizza: a fluffy and crunchy base, topped with the best flavour combinations of sweet, sour, and salty ingredients, incorporating creamy and crispy textures. Oh Pepe, you’re making me drool just writing this.
The bill came to €200 for 4 people that had aperitivo, 2 beers each, water, and the full 9-course degustation menu. The same experience in places like Belgium or England would easily be that price per couple. If you’re not interested in eating the full menu (although I seriously recommend you do), no pizza comes to over €10.
Visit Pepe in Grani in the province of Campagna. It’s located in the picturesque village of Caiazzo, in Vicolo S. Giovanni Battista 3. Make sure to book your table well in advance to skip the long line of pizza-empty bellies.