Is Pepe in Grani the world’s ultimate pizza restaurant? We rented a car and followed the roads to Caiazzo Italy to find out for ourselves.
For centuries, people have said that all roads lead to Rome. For us, all roads lead to Caiazzo, at least the pizza roads in Italy.
As professional food travelers, we travel far and wide to experience the world’s best food. Renting a car to drive an hour for the best pizza in the world was a no-brainer for us since Daryl has stick shift skills and also because… pizza.
Our 50-kilometer drive was spectacular – filled with rolling hills, local, family-owned trattorias and centuries-old dwellings. We entered the narrow streets in the hill town of Caiazzo and found a city filled with ancient walls, hanging orange trees and jutting, winding stairways.
After a bit of searching, we found Pepe in Grani, the world famous Campania pizza restaurant, hidden among these alleys. Famed pizzaiolo Franco Pepe welcomed us with Italian coffee and introduced us to his world of pizza craft.
Watch our YouTube video to see what it’s like to eat the world’s best pizza. See Franco Pepe feed pizza to one of us, an ultimate pizza experience. Bonus points if you can guess who gets fed by the pizza master before you watch the video.
Why We Went To Pepe In Grani
While living for a month in a Naples apartment and eating as much Naples pizza as our waistlines could handle, we heard rumblings that there was even better pizza outside the city.
Better than the best pizza in Naples? Inconceivable! We love the pizza in Naples!
Read our Naples pizza guide.
These rumblings were about Pepe in Grani, a Compania pizzeria opened in 2012 and helmed by pizzaiolo Franco Pepe. Respected culinary professionals have sung their praises for Pepe and his restaurant Pepe in Grani. We’re talking about people like Nancy Silverton, Emeril Lagasse and the late Jonathan Gold.
Intrigued, we reached out to Pepe in Grani and requested a reservation. A couple weeks went by with no response.
And then, just days before our month in Naples ended, we got an email inviting us to the restaurant with an opportunity to meet Franco Pepe. Score! Of course, we replied with a resounding yes.
Since our visit to Franco Pepe’s temple of pizza gastronomy, Pepe in Grani has grown in popularity. The burgeoning YouTube generation has learned of Franco Pepe through the channel Alex French Guy Cooking, while Netflix audiences have vicariously experienced his legendary shop through shows like Ugly Delicious and Chef’s Table: Pizza.
And, despite the restaurant’s remote location, more culinary food tours are adding a visit to Caizzo to their tour itineraries. Sure, legendary pizza parlors like 50 Kalo, Da Michele and Sorbillo have branched out, opening new outposts in cities like London and New York. However, a journey to Caizzo and to Pepe in Grani is a singular experience, a pinnacle of eating in Italy.
There’s no pizza in the world like Franco Pepe’s. In this era of crazy global accessibility, we’re okay that eating the best pizza in the world requires a special journey to the intimate, ancient, tight, dark stone alleys of Caizzo. For food travelers like us, it’s worth the extra effort.
Franco Pepe – The Pizzaiola Behind Pepe In Grani
Franco Pepe has pizza running in his veins. After learning the pizza making ropes from his father and grandfather, this third generation pizza maker embraced the global slow food movement and took his family’s trade to the highest level of pizza craftsmanship.
Commanding in the kitchen and passionate when he speaks, Pepe doesn’t rest on the laurels that he has achieved. Quite the contrary – Pepe’s work ethic reminds us of top chefs that we know in Philadelphia and New York. He demands excellence from himself, his staff and his products. Especially his products.
Pepe, a vocal proponent of the hyper-local food movement, exclusively utilizes ingredients from local farmers and producers. He goes out of his way to procure the best local ingredients like tomatoes and other vegetables from La Sbecciatrice, a nearby farm in Villa Santa Croce and olive oil from Ruviano’s Petrazzuolo.
Pepe nurtures his relationships with these producers, which goes a long way. We witnessed this in action when we met one of Pepe’s olive oil producers at the restaurant. Like us, he was all smiles in the home of pizza excellence.
As Pepe explained to us, it all starts with the flour. He uses a special blend of zero flour that is manufactured in Bari to his exact specifications, though he is also experimenting with new flour recipes using ingredients exclusively from Caiazzo. Pepe’s pizza magic starts with that flour, but it doesn’t stop there.
Pepe mixes the flour by hand and then lets the resulting dough settle for 12 hours in special wooden flour casks. As we watched the dough bubble like something out of a horror movie, the future pizza seemed to be a living entity, both scary and beautiful at the same time.
Our Dinner At Pepe In Grani
We expected to find a typical pizzeria in Caiazzo. We were wrong.
Pizzeria Pepe in Grani is located in a historic three-story stone building that could easily house a fancy restaurant. It has multiple eating areas, private dining rooms, spectacular views and two decked out hotel suites.
In other words, Pepe is offering a luxury destination dining experience fit for a wedding as well as for people who love pizza. We won’t be surprised when, not if, Pepe in Grani earns its first Michelin star.
For our dinner, we agreed to skip the Pepe in Grani menu and experience the restaurant’s tasting menu at the suggestion of sommelier Davide Guarino. We originally wanted to order full pies, but this would have meant that we’d only get to try a couple pies. Instead, by going with the tasting menu, we got to try a wide sampling of pies plus a few extra treats.
Guarino steered us toward drinking beer with our meal. About 60% of Pepe in Grani’s customers opt for pizza and beer, with many ordering the Triticum beer that local Birra Antoniana exclusively brews for the pizza restaurant.
At Guarinio’s suggestion, we shared a bottle of Karma’s Marilyn, a light yet highly fermented beer with a malty, herbaceous flavor. Not surprisingly, Birrificio Artigianale Karma is just a 14-minute drive from the Franco Pepe pizzeria.
But what about the pizza?
Just like he embraces hyper-local ingredients, Pepe also champions the seasonality of food, a trademark of the slow food movement. Pepe confided to us that autumn is the best time for ingredients since the weather is perfectly balanced between hot and cold, but we can’t imagine a better meal than the pizza feast we ate during the winter.
Our tasting menu took us on a tour of Pepe’s pizza genius in eight glorious courses. As we shared the creatively colorful, miniature pies, we kept thinking “Is this for real?” Luckily, we have the photos and video to prove that this food was indeed for real.
Course 1 – Libretto
Proving that Pepe is a man for the people, this libretto cost just €1.50 at the time of our meal. This small sized pizza has tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil. Stored in the oven, these inexpensive starters are ready to eat when ordered.
The libretto was our ‘introduction’ to Pepe’s incredibly airy, flavorful flatbread. It was also a simple ‘folding door’ to what was to follow.
Course 2 – Potato Croquettes
Pepe in Grani serves 5,600 potato croquettes every day of the week. That’s a lot of croquettes!
We ate a lot of tasty fried food in Naples, but these were tastier than the treats we ate at Neapolitan friggitorias.
Course 3 – Fried Pizza Calzone
In Naples, we ate fried pizza for a euro or so. But that fried pizza couldn’t hold a candle to the stuffed calzone we shared at Pepe in Grani. This calzone was filled with ricotta cheese, smoked scamorza cheese, salami and pepper.
Course 4 – Classic Margherita And Mystic Margherita Pie
Margherita pizza was allegedly invented in Campania many moons ago for Queen Margherita, and Pepe honors that history with his classic Margherita pie. This pie is topped with tomato sauce, fior de latte (a semi-soft cheese similar to mozzarella cheese) and extra virgin olive oil.
Ramping up the Campania classic, the PDO Margherita pizza sports Mozzerella di Bufala DOP, raw riccio tomatoes from La Sbecciatrice, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
Course 5 – Profumi Del Matese And Scarpetta Pie
The Matese half of this pie was topped with fior di latte cheese, Matese cheese, porcini mushrooms, oregano from Matese and baked, flavored little tomatoes.
The Scapretta half featured Mozzarella di Buffala, 13-month aged Grana Padano cheese cream tomato compote, freeze-dried basil, 24-month aged Grana Padana cheese shavings and extra virgin olive oil.
We hate to pick favorites. So we didn’t. Instead, we ate both halves until they were gone.
Course 6 – Sfizio Ai Pomodori And Alleterata Pie
Little yellow tomatoes, oh how we love you. Maybe that’s why we loved the Sfizio ai Pomodori pie half with little yellow tomatoes, salted sundried San Marzano tomatoes, Mozzarella di Bufala DOP, Grana Padano cheese and extra virgin olive oil.
We also love tuna, but we didn’t fall in love with the Alletterata pie half with its Talletterato tuna, Mozzarella di Bufala DOP, onion cream and baked in ice celery. It’s not that this pie was bad; rather, the flavor combination just didn’t work for us.
Course 7 – Fig And Strong Cheese Pie
Who knew that fig and strong cheese would work so well together and on pizza? Now that we know, we wonder why this dessert-like pie is not on more pizzeria menus.
Do try this combination at home. It’s way better than the more typical Nutella pie.
Course 8 – Biscuits And Brandy
Seven courses down, we were so full that we could barely move. Somehow, though, we found room for the final course of biscuits and sherry. We always do when it comes to Italian desserts and drinks. Do you blame us?
Called Nonna Amelia biscuits and made with Pallagrello wine, olive oil and hazelnuts, these cookies were a sweet version of the savory taralli biscuits that we ate by the bagful in Naples. Washing them down with small glasses of 3-year aged Antica Distilleria Petrone’s Falernum Elixir was a sweet ending to our ultimate pizza meal.
Pepe In Grani Menu
The Pepe in Grani menu is separated into the following sections:
Prices remain fair despite the pizzeria’s fame. Pizza prices start at 5€ for a Marinara Classica pie and go up to 15€. Tasting menus range in price from 35€ to 65€. Prices are subject to change at any time.
Getting To Pepe In Grani
For customers making special trips to eat Pepe in Grani pizza from Italian cities like Rome, Bari and Naples, the most direct way to get Caiazzo is by car. Other options include taking a bus, train or taxi.
As for us, it was easy. We rented a car in Naples for the scenic 50-kilometer drive. Since it was just a one-day car rental, the cost was affordable for our Pepe in Grani trip.
Learn how to drive a manual transmission or “stick” before you rent a car in Europe. The cost is exponentially lower compared to renting automatic cars in Europe.
Plan Your Caiazzo Trip
We decided not to stay overnight in Caiazzo, a decision that we regretted once we arrived in Caiazzo. Not only is Caiazzo a cute town with intriguing alleys to explore, but the dark drive to Naples is not so fun after eating a multi-course pizza meal.
If you plan ahead, you can try to book one of the luxurious on-site hotel rooms at Pepe in Grani. If not, Caiazzo has various accommodations for all budgets.
Pepe in Grani is located at Vicolo S. Giovanni Battista, 3, 81013 Caiazzo CE, Italy.
Hungry For More Pizza In Italy?
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
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Original Publication Date: July 6, 2017