Few industries are as plagued with inefficiencies as that of Italian specialty shops in Paris. Prices are often rapacious. And queues are often interminable, due to the hellish combination of a) widespread French unfamiliarity with even the most basic Italian foodstuffs, and b) the tendency of Italian purveyors of foodstuffs to natter on endlessly with each under-informed client. Many shops further restrict their clientele by offering opening hours that prioritise siestas. On the occasions I actually enter an Italian specialty shop in Paris, I usually exit soon after, irritated and empty-handed.
Strolling away, mentally revising whatever dinner menu I had in mind, I find myself looking forward to the semi-apocalyptic event that will occur among Italian specialty stores in Paris in 2018, when upscale Italian supermarket juggernaut Eataly is slated to open. Eataly is not cheap, of course, but in my experience the chain's quality standards are high; its product selection is immense; and on principles of economic scale alone it should be able to undercut just about everyone. This is the only instance I can think of - besides Uber and, to some extent, Amazon - where I actually support the idea of a multinational chain disrupting a heterogenous community of small purveyors. The small purveyors of Italian foodstuffs in Paris need to work faster, sell more, and stop overcharging. Never again, I hope, will I pay 7€ for a small jar of chili flakes. (This actually happened at a shop on rue Saint Maur.)
Anyway, on Judgment Day of Italian Specialty Shops in Paris, Charonne-area épicerie Drogheria Italiana will be spared annihilation. The chili flakes are more reasonable, and, far more importantly, the épicerie serves, at just six window-facing counter seats, the city's most addictive* pizza.
My friend J's office is nearby and it's to him I owe the pleasure of discovering Drogheria Italiana's lean, delicate margarita. The crust - granular, savoury, and discreet - is probably the greatest I've tasted since leaving my old workplace in Los Angeles, Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali's celebrated Pizzeria Mozza. At 8€, La Drogheria's margarita is also among Paris' best lunch bargains. (Prices of pizzas, strangely, climb rather steeply once one goes into toppings. But whatever, I only ever order the margarita.)
In the shop's product selection - the usual crammed deli display of uneven stracciatella, pecorino, mortadella, and so on - there is little to distinguish Drogheria Italiana from numerous other Italian épiceries in Paris. Prices are perhaps kinder than some others. But as a client, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the épicerie business is a drag on what could be a booming pizza business for Drogheria Italiana. The shop insensibly keeps retail hours, closing at 8pm, right around the time take-out orders would otherwise be rolling in.
"They have it all wrong," J always repeats, whenever we meet for lunch there. "They need to just open a pizza place."
Drogheria's wine selection is a bit of a crap-shoot, with classics like Produttori del Barbaresco sharing shelf-space with modern yawn-wines like Prunotto. Glass selections seem to be chosen at random. Once one co-owner was kind to open a bottle of Il Feuduccio Pecorino for me, an Abbruzzese white I remembered fondly from Mozza days.
Given how much my tastes have evolved since that time (2008), I half-expected to no longer appreciate the wine, but I was pleasantly surprised. It remains a technically precise, characterful and varietally pure pecorino, with the grape's wild oiliness buffed to a sheen. Vinified and aged in steel, the wine tasted somewhat like malo had been blocked on some part of it. I don't have any feelings this way or the other about that, for now - I'm simply happy to encounter white wines with sufficient acidity that far south. Similarly, I don't insist on a masterful Italian wine list in Paris - I'm just happy to find something drinkable alongside such profoundly great pizza.
In trying to descry the origins of shop's dough recipe, I initially anticipated some regional secret. But owners Daniela, Lucca, Mauro, and Allessandro hail variously from Puglia, Sardinia, and Calabria. Daniela offers a simpler explanation: "We took a course in pizza-making," she says ingenuously. "Then we made our own changes, trying to make something light."
I'd say they got it right. All the foursome need to do now is make a few more changes, to the business model this time. Acclaim is right around the corner.
* I should mention that I am aware there is no etymological connection between the Italian drogheria, which means 'a small grocer,' and the similar-sounding English word drug. But the sonics are apt in this case.
35, rue Léon Frot
Tel: 01 43 73 40 85
Il Brigante's (75018) pizza is quite good by Parisian standards, if a bit soupy at times.