Jonathan Goldsmith owns one of the most, if not the most authentic Neapolitan pizzeria in Chicago, Spacca Napoli. Goldsmith opened the restaurant in February 2006 after a chance meeting on an airplane, and hasn't looked back ever since. He became certified as a Pizzaiuolo (pizza maker) in Naples and continues to refine his pizza making process at Spacca Napoli by continuing to train with different experts in Italy. Eater sat down with Goldsmith to discuss his love for Italy, future plans, and of course, pizza.
What made you bring this type of pizza to Chicago? How did you get interested in Naples in the first place?
I have always had a long history with Italy. My wife and I lived there in the late 1980s, early '90s. She was a painter in Florence. I always loved engaging Italians and after we moved back to the United States, we would try to travel there once a year. On one of my trips to Rome I sat next to a young Italian man and we were talking. It turned out he was reading the Sun Times and my picture was in it for the volunteer cooking I did at the Inspiration Cafe. He mentioned to me I should open a pizzeria. It was never in my plans. I was doing real estate at the time, but when I got to Italy I spoke with some friends and was bitten. I went to Naples to learn and realized there is something magical about Neapolitan pizza.
How often do you go to Italy?
I try to visit Italy two to three times a year for at least three weeks. I am going soon with my wife to be on a farm and try some wine, then down to Naples to meet with some pizza guys, to Cilento for more exploration of food and wine and then back to Rome. I consider myself an ambassador, sort of, allowing me to bring back all of the wonderful things from Italy to this country.
Do you constantly update your menu to reflect what you learn on each trip?
We recently changed our whole dough making process based on what I learned from Franco Pepe, a pizza artisan from a small town outside of Naples. Franco Pepe was in residence at Spacca Napoli and we introduced a few items from his menu at Antica Osteria Pizzeria Pepe including a soup made from tomato, trippa (tripe), guanciale, beef heart, veal, aglianico wine, bay leaves and a touch of pepperoncino. Pulmone (beef lung) is part of the recipe but is difficult to procure in the U.S. or in Italy. I also have participated in wine harvests and try to spend time sitting at Italians' kitchen tables and eat what they are eating. Various cheeses, new wines and different dishes you see on the menu have come from my travels.
How many of your ingredients come directly from Italy?
As many as possible. All of our oils, balsamic, all of our cheeses except the cow's milk cheese. We also get our wines and some of our produce depending on what makes sense, what is in season. Although some of it is more expensive we like to offer a good product at a fair price so people come in often.
Where are you eating when you aren't at the restaurant?
Mostly Italian. Ceres Table, Riccardo Trattoria, love the al fresco space at Piccolo Sogno. Tony Mantuano's Terzo Piano is a beautiful space, and Tony is a good friend. When I'm not eating Italian, I like Katsu and Salam.
Any plans to open other locations of Spacca Napoli or a different restaurant?
Never. I have been approached to sell, franchise but I can never see myself doing that. Most of our staff has been there from the beginning. It feels like a family. I like the freedom to take time to go to Italy, and I always want to be a gracious host. I don't want to scramble. Plus, I am still evolving and have a lot more to do. I believe if you focus on your craft, the money will come.