In 1889, King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Italy, visited the waterfront city of Naples. Known for its large population of working poor, Naples also had in abundance a distinctive dish, one that was cheap to produce and could be eaten quickly. Though ancient Egyptians sometimes ate topped flatbread, it was the pizza of Naples that would become the most beloved food of slumber parties, late night study sessions, and diet cheat days.
I doubt Queen Margherita anticipated the dish’s eventual culinary domination, but she was intrigued by the colorfully topped flatbread the Neapolitans seemed to scarf down with such relish. Tired of posh dinners full of the kind of fancy French cuisine fit for royalty, she decided to see how the little folks live and give it a try.
She had her people do some asking around and soon summoned Raffaele Esposito, the proclaimed best pizza chef in Naples, to Capodimonte Palace so he could make her some pizza. Thirty minutes (or less) later, Esposito became the first pizza deliveryman as he set up shop in the palace kitchen and prepared three varieties of his best pizza for the queen to try.
Margherita didn’t care much for the one covered in garlic. Nor was she fond of the one sporting anchovies (because she evidently had taste buds), but she quite liked the one topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil. She liked it so much, Esposito renamed it margherita pizza and assured her majesty that anytime she was in Naples, she need only call and he would deliver one hot and ready to her door.
And of course she loved it, because sometimes after a long day of feigning delight in the company of wealthy Neapolitans, waving in the direction of the poor workers, and looking generally queenly, I bet it can seem pretty daunting to sit up straight, use the correct fork, and choke down an endless parade of haute cuisine dishes (roughly translated as small portions of fancy rich food you won’t find on pizza).
Sometimes, you just want to relax, grab a paper plate and a can of Coke, and answer the door to a nice hot cheesy pizza. We’ve all been there. And that’s presumably where one Oswego, Illinois resident was a little over a week ago on the evening of January 25. It had probably been a long day and it was pizza night.
Unfortunately, the delivery driver took a shortcut through a corner parking lot to avoid a red light and got pulled over by the police. When they discovered drug paraphernalia in the car, the police arrested the deliveryman and pizza night was headed for ruin.
Except that police officers are people, too, and they also have those nights when they just need dinner to come to their doors.
When they realized the pizza had been paid for and that it had been bound for a home just a few blocks away, the officers went ahead and delivered the pie to a surprised, but grateful customer.
I love that story. And I love the story of Queen Margherita and the first ever pizza delivery. Of course the latter, like so many good tales from history, is unsubstantiated and according to Zachary Nowak, the assistant director of Food Studies at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy, is quite probably false.
He has good reasons for his claims, though his evidence is by no means conclusive. I’m not going to worry about any of that. The start of the school day was delayed here because of icy roads and I’m terribly behind. It’s shaping up to be a long day. I’m thinking this evening I may grab a paper plate and a can of Coke, and open the door to a hot, cheesy pizza. I just wonder who’s going to deliver it.