Pizzeria Don Antonio, credited for ushering authentic, Neapolitan pizza stateside, has anointed decorated pizzaiola Giorgia Caporuscio as its successor. She assumes ownership from her father Roberto Caporuscio and his mentor, maestro Antonio Starita, who together opened Don Antonio NYC in 2012.
Giorgia takes up the mantle of a pedigreed institution: Don Antonio descends from Naples oldest pizzeria, Starita a Materdei, inaugurated in 1901 by Starita’s family. Immortalized in L’Oro di Napoli, a 1954 film that stars Sophia Loren as a pizza vendor (a prophetic foreshadowing of Caporuscio’s new role as Don Antonio proprietor) the business is still run by the 3rd-generation Starita today. Starita and his former pupil, pizzaiolo Roberto Caporuscio of Kestè fame, then teamed up to debut Don Antonio in Hell’s Kitchen. Today, the pizzeria reigns as a bastion of Neapolitan tradition – and has become a beloved destination in Manhattan.
Among the few recognized women pizza makers in both her native Italy and adopted home of New York, Giorgia first studied under her father and then Starita before embarking on lengthy and intensive internships around Italy. She swiftly rose through the ranks, winning first place in the World Championships Classic Pizza Category out of a staggering 500 competitors. She is also the youngest of only two women to ever win the category, marking her as a pioneer in a perennially male-dominated industry.
“When I started this career 13 years ago, I’d often be the only woman in the kitchen or at events,” shares Giorgia.
She moved to the Big Apple at 19, supporting her father first at Kestè and then Don Antonio. By 2020, she was set to formally inherit Don Antonio – but what should have been a celebrated debut was stymied by the COVID pandemic. A partial closure and renovations followed. Finally – as of this year – the pizzeria is under Giorgia’s leadership.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d have a pizzeria in New York City,” says Giorgia. “I strive to bring you to Naples, to Italy – while not forgetting we are the US’s pizza capital and truly the best city in the world.”
Giorgia’s menu remains unabashedly Neapolitan, with a particular emphasis on pizza fritta. While fried food has belonged to Italy’s gastronomic tradition since the 1500s, it emerged as a vital staple of the Southern Italian diet throughout WWII. Scarce on fresh ingredients and workable ovens, locals began to deep-fry dough using out-of-season ingredients like broccoli, anchovies, and artichoke stems. Women (as portrayed in L’Oro di Napoli) often hawked the pizza, giving rise to the expression “la pizza fritta è donna,” or “fried pizza is woman.”
At Don Antonio, Giorgia elevates the humble street food, utilizing high-quality, made-in-Italy brands like Olitalia, Farina Caputo, and Ciao il Pomodoro di Napoli. Her calling card, the Pizza Montanara, enjoys a quick dip in the deep-fryer before being adorned with tomato sauce, smoked buffalo mozzarella, and basil, then passes through the pizza oven to evaporate any remaining oil – giving way to a light, never greasy result. “Making fried food is a kind of religious ritual in some Italian regions, and Campania is one of them,” explains Giorgia. “The Montanara is the one I love the most: to me, it reaches perfection in a dish.” An heirloom passed down from Giorgia’s grandmother, her Montanara recipe also comes in “Genovese” (beef and pork white ragu onion-based sauce, pecorino romano) and “Al Tartufo” (fresh mozzarella, truffle cream).
Other specialities include her Calzone Fritto, a half-moon pocket of fried dough brimming with fresh ricotta, cherry tomatoes, and salami; and the ricotta & broccoli rabe-stuffed Pizza Pianeta, finished with a generous scattering of ricotta, basil, and cherry tomatoes. All 7 pizze fritte on her menu are cooked with FRIENN oil, developed by Salerno’s “king of fried foods,” pizzaiolo Pasquale Torrente. 100% palm-oil free, and infused with rosemary extract, the sunflower oil is also replete in antioxidants and vitamins. While New Yorkers are likely already familiar with pizza napoletana, pizza fritta remains unknown to most Americans, absent on menus throughout the country. Don Antonio sets itself apart as one of the only spots to offer genuine, hand-crafted pizza fritta.
In addition to her pizza fritta, the menu boasts 45 types of Neapolitan pizza, all of which undergo a 48- hour fermentation. Pies bake in Don Antonio’s volcanic soil, high temperature wood-burning oven for a mere minute, resulting in an unabashedly thick yet light crust. Signatures span the Macellaio, a carnivorous pizza inspired by storied butcher Dario Cecchini (mozzarella, sausage, porchetta, salame Toscano, prosciutto di Parma, basil, EVOO) and the Pistacchio & Salsiccia (mozzarella, fresh pistachio pesto, sausage, basil), a recipe Giorgia describes as “a meld between my father and I.” All pizzas can also be made gluten-free, and are prepared in a separate area of the kitchen in their own oven.
Behind the bar is Giorgia’s partner in life and work, Matteo Bassani, who oversees the beverage program. While the wine selection stays faithful to Italy, beers favor both Italian and American makers. New to the cocktail menu are a series of amaro tasting flights conceptualized by Matteo.
Along with safeguarding Neapolitan pizza tradition, Giorgia also hopes to encourage other women to join the field. She currently serves as the Ambassador of “Women in Pizza”, a movement that empowers women in the pizza industry. “I want to inspire women to do this job on a professional level,” she says. When I first started, pizza was 99% a man’s world. I understand the importance of sharing my experiences with women who are newly interested in this industry; they shouldn’t hesitate to make their mark.”
Don Antonio is located at 309 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019.