It was a pretty spring day in Valencia, warm with a nice breeze. I walked to barrio Ensanche to try what I’d read was the best pizza in Valencia. When I arrived, I saw a fire in the Italian domed and tiled oven. I had a good feeling about this place.
It was 13:00, opening time according to Google, but the friendly employees said they’d be open at 13:30. I showed them that Google had incorrect open hours, and they pointed me to an older gentleman that I would come to know as Antonio.
We made a correction of their hours on the fly in the Google Maps app, and he thanked me with a clap on the back. He asked me if I was there to eat. I told him yes, that I’d heard their pizza was good. He asked if I would like an apertif while I waited for the kitchen to open, and I accepted. A young guy showed me to a table outside in the shade, and as I sat, another employee delivered 2 Camparis on ice. Antonio arrived, pulled another table closer and sat next to me.
As we made small talk, I found it a bit hard to follow Antonio. He was speaking Spanish, but I was sure I was hearing Italian too, and it was throwing me off. He introduced me to Miguel, who sat to join us. Miguel is from Madrid, in his late 20s, very fit, and is Antonio’s personal trainer. He’s a former basketball player, but injury ended his hopes of going further with the sport. They laughed telling me how Miguel wakes Antonio in the mornings by yelling at him from the sidewalk, then they go to train together.
Ingredients imported from Napoli
Olives appeared as Antonio explained that he and the olives are from Naples. The olives were large, meaty green and delicious. He owns 5 restaurants, this one in Valencia, and 4 more in Italy. Fresh warm bread appeared as he explained that they use oil, tomatoes, and flour from Naples, and triple filtered Valencian water (to remove the calcium). The bread was good, chewy and crispy at the same time, and fresh from the oven. Their pizza oven was imported from Naples. It contains stone from Mt. Vesuvio, is always at a temperature above 375C (700F) and cooks pizzas in about 90 seconds. Their pizzaiolo is Neapolitan. Miguel joked about how even the air in the restaurant is from Napoli. Antonio expressed sadness that most of what passes for Italian in Valencia is inauthentic. He is very proud of what they have done at IDON.
Miguel is still new to Valencia and all of his family are in Madrid. He nodded at Antonio, and conspiratorially joked that he hasn’t fully embraced his training yet, as we watched him eating olives and bread without regard for his waistline. Antonio said, “piano piano.” He explained they were making progress, “piano piano, a poco a poco” (little by little). I asked Miguel if he had any trouble understanding Antonio. With a little smile, he said that for Antonio, Spanish and Italian are the same language and he intermixes them freely.
Antonio explained the origin of the name of his restaurant, IDON. He told stories about the old days in Napoli when there was a Don for each neighborhood. The locals consulted their Dons on important decisions, and to gain permissions e.g., to start a local business, or marry someone from a different neighborhood. He said the Dons were men who wore jackets and ties. They were serious and formal in their dealings, trying to secure their neighborhood and do the best for its people.
Judge a Pizzeria by its Margherita
A Margherita pizza arrived, with wood oven charred crust, impossibly red tomato sauce, lightly browned pools of mozzarella and a few fresh basil leaves. Don Antonio watched me carefully. I said – first, a photo, for my wife, as he waited patiently. The fruity aroma of olive oil hit my senses, then the tart smell of tomato followed by freshly baked crust. Cutting into my pizza with fork and knife, I tried the fist bite – delicious. I love tangy sauce and chewy mozzarella, and this one delivered. I looked over and nodded at Don Antonio, murmuring mmmm as I chewed. He winked as he stood and walked away, like a man proud of a job well done.
In a few moments, a plate of tender baby tentacled calamari arrived with lemon wedges. It was perfectly seasoned, hot and crispy. Don Antonio reappeared and sat to eat a few bites. He instructed me to use my hands, not a fork, and when finished, to bite the lemon wedge to cleanse my palette. Watching Don Antonio interacting with staff and customers, you can tell that he’s respected and well liked.
I couldn’t finish the whole pizza, which had a wide ring of crust around it. When I walked inside to pay, the bartender said, “Antonio invites you.” As I thanked Don Antonio, he invited me to come back with my family. I promised to return.
The pizza at IDON was really good, and may be the best pizza in town, but I might have to try them all to be sure.