Take it from a real Italian: Authentic Italian food is hard to come by. Chicken parmesan, pepperoni pizza, fettuccine alfredo — just a few of many decidedly American, faux-Italian dishes all too easy to find. Fortunately, true Italian food can be found just a short walk away from campus at Il Canale on 31st Street. The restaurant and pizzeria serves delicious cuisine straight from southern Italy, with an emphasis on authentic pizza Napoletana. Forget shrimp scampi and chicken marsala; Il Canale is the real deal.
Unexpected for a pizzeria, Il Canale displays a sophisticated interior, showcasing contemporary art, sleek furniture and a neon-lit bar. Guests can choose to sit in the downstairs main dining room featuring an open kitchen and a wood-fired oven, or in the upstairs terrace, a seasonal, romantic spot overlooking the quiet C&O canal. But the main focus, of course, is the food.
Regarding appetizers, Il Canale boasts a great selection of charcuterie. The cacciatore delivers a flavorful punch with its variety of spices, the capocollo is wonderfully delicate in texture, and the speck perfectly smoked with hints of juniper and nutmeg. Another traditional Italian appetizer, the prosciutto e melone — pieces of cantaloupe wrapped in cured ham — offers a perfect balance between the salty, smoky flavor of the prosciutto, and the sweet, juicy cubes of cantaloupe. Simple, light, and easy to share, these dishes were the true definition of appetizers.
As for the pizzas: perfection. Long story short, truly authentic Neapolitan pizzas are exclusively made with ingredients from specific regions in Italy, and for this reason, the Italian government protects the heritage of Neapolitan pizza with the certification “D.O.C.” Il Canale proudly serves pizza Napoletana D.O.C., adhering to the standards set forth by the Italian government. Why should anybody care, you ask? Because Il Canale imports all of its pizza ingredients — flour, tomatoes, basil, bufala mozzarella — straight from southern Italy, which means its pizzas are incredible. In fact, even the ceramic, wood-fire oven itself was imported from Italy, handmade by experts of Neapolitan pizza.
I went with the simplest pizza on the menu, the margherita. Tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella and fresh basil, the pizza is literally that simple, and it’s that good. The tomato sauce is light and refreshing, providing a remarkably pure taste of fresh tomato. The bufala mozzarella when cooked in the wood-fired oven becomes delightfully creamy, its milky texture and ever so slightly sour taste blending perfectly with the tomato, neither one overpowering the other.
The dough is thin and tastes incredibly fresh as it’s prepared daily. In the oven, the dough picks up subtle hints of the burning wood, imparting a delicate smokiness to the crust: divine. To finish it off, fresh leaves of basil are sprinkled over the pizza, adding a slightly sweet and pleasantly aromatic bite to the pizza. In all, this was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had, second only (not by much) to one I had in Naples a few summers ago. I also tried the pizza Napoli and pizza Amalfitana, which were excellent as well, but found the taste and the simplicity of the margherita impossible to beat.
To end the meal I tried the tiramisu and the cannoli. The tiramisu was admittedly nothing special. I found it a bit bland and rather too mushy for my tastes. The cannoli, on the other hand, were fantastic. The ricotta filling was sweet, rich and incredibly soft, the fried pastry shell crisp and buttery. A true Sicilian tradition, the cannoli were a perfect, albeit very filling end to a great meal.
Il Canale is a relatively new restaurant, and it seems like it’s here to stay. With both the owner and executive chef being Italian immigrants, Il Canale brings true Italian cuisine to your plate, and it is not to be missed. Buon appetito!