Dining Out

Mission Pizza Napoletana

A Neapolitan Pizza Restaurant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Neapolitan margarita pizza served at Mission Pizza Napoletana
Written by Jenn Rice

After devouring a Neapolitan pizza in its birthplace last summer—by way of a classic margherita from L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, one of the oldest pizzerias in Naples, founded in 1870—I realized that pizza in Italy is much more than just dough with melted cheese atop. It’s a rite of passage. On that same trip, I found myself maneuvering the line to make it past the pizza bouncer and inside the world of Pizzeria Concettina ai Tre Santi, which is now my favorite margherita pizza. The sauce and cheese and on-the-table basil plant, from which you can pluck fresh leaves to scatter onto your pizza, made it feel vibrant and alive—far grander than anything else in this world.

The exterior of Mission Pizza Napoletana

What makes a Neapolitan pizza so good? Time and simplicity—the opposite of America’s take-your-pizza-to-go culture. It’s quite basic: good Italian flour-turned-pizza dough, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, salt, and EVOO. Back in Durham, I found myself constantly daydreaming about these Naples pizzerias, so I hopped in my car and drove 90 minutes to Winston-Salem to satisfy my pizza craving at Mission Pizza Napoletana.

Many industry friends—whose opinions I trust—shout to the rooftops that Misson’s is the most incredible Neapolitan pizza in the Southeast, and as I discovered, they are right. Owner Peyton Smith has eaten at hundreds of pizzerias around the world. “Mission states our commitment to the product, to the culture of proper Neapolitan pizza—to telling its story, showing people what it really is, how it’s done, etc.,” says Smith. “The name is also a bit of a self-imposed bar of accountability for us to have to clear consistently.”

I enter and post up on a counter stool. There’s a letter board up front that reads, “To-go pizzas are not advised. Nor cut. Fresh is best.” Even so, while I’m sipping on a chilled glass of Barolo, a customer waltzes in for takeout. “You’re going to make me box this pizza up before you’ve tried it,” Smith half-jokingly says to them. “Sit down next time.” Once you dive into the first bite of a margherita pizza done right, you’ll quickly understand that subjecting it to a 20-minute car ride would be so evil—to the pizza and to yourself. A Neapolitan pizza must be enjoyed at peak deliciousness, fresh out of the oven and straight into your mouth.

Peyton Smith making pizza at Mission Pizza Napoletana

At Mission Pizza Napoletana, each pizza is crafted with mindfulness and care in a customized Stefano Ferrara oven. Nine hundred-ish degrees and the end game will transport you into the heart of Naples. Mission’s menu is divided into Pizza Rosse (crushed tomato sauce and EVOO) and Pizza Bianche (no tomato sauce, plus a few wild cards like Pizza Rachetta: “pizza in the front, party in the back,” which is totally up to the pizzaiolo—the pizza maker). I still fantasize about the Bianche pizza with guanciale, smoked mozzarella, black pepper, lemon zest, and arugula (it’s the zest that does it for me).

Mission Pizza Napoletana’s success is due in part to being unapologetically exactly what they want to be. The pandemic changed Smith’s priorities in terms of operating a restaurant. Set in downtown Winston-Salem, the pizza shop is open four days a week (pre-pandemic, it was seven). “I want to have a life outside of the restaurant,” he says. The spot’s Instagram (@missionpizzaws), operated by Smith, sets the tone for what to expect: a one-of-a-kind dining experience nonadherent to consumer fads and requests. “Dear lady who furiously complained on the internet as if we called her baby ugly…No we do not put chicken on this pizza. No way, no how, never,” Smith wrote on the page earlier this year. Here, it’s best to sit back and enjoy what’s offered on the menu as is.

Mission Pizza Neapolitan pizza dish

Or go bold. Pizzakase—the first of its kind—is a take on Japan’s word “omakase” which means “I’ll leave it up to you.” In this case, the diner sits at the pizza counter and surrenders to Smith and his kitchen, who deliver an off-menu pizza dining experience. Expect anything but ordinary. “It’s off the cuff,” says Smith. “On the fly we can do interesting things.” The beauty of it is that the entire meal is a surprise: It could be a smoked pizza, where toppings and the dough are smoked, or a decadent fried pizza filled with oozing burrata. You won’t know until you go. The prix fixe menu, which changes frequently, is five courses (pizza included) but also left in the hands of the kitchen. No nitpicks are tolerated in these experiences, which teaches the diner to go with the flow of insanely good food.

What you’ll hopefully take away from dining at Mission Pizza Napoletana is the ability to enjoy a pizza as the Italians do: ordered just as it’s stated on the menu, sizzling hot and fresh out of the oven, and along with a group of friends (or strangers sitting next to you at the counter). If Smith’s around, hearing him wax on about his travels and the greatest pizza legends he’s encountered is a real treat. Just don’t ask him for a side of ranch.

about this restaurant

  • Chef

    Peyton Smith

  • Address

    707 Trade Street North West
    Winston-Salem, North Carolina

    • Italian

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