Good pizza doesn’t happen by accident.

Peyton Smith, owner of Winston-Salem’s Mission Pizza Napoletana, knows good pizza comes from tradition — in this case, Napoletana pizza, the original pizza, which is the only kind they make. It’s about ingredients, sure, and Mission Pizza uses only the best. Technique is important too: pies go into a wood-fired oven that can hit 1000 degrees, blistering the crust in about 90 seconds. That’s why Mission’s pizzas have been named the best in the state by Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis.

But like all food, pizza is about people.

So at the beginning of the summer, Smith took four of his best pizza folks on an extended pizza binge in New York City, both as a reward for making the best pizza in the Triad day after day, but also to tie them into the grand tradition of which they are a part.

“It was an opportunity for experience,” Smith says, “and for us to see where we stand, how other teams are executing at a high level in the big city.”

He also invited a bunch of his pizza buddies from Orlando, Chicago, New York City and across the river in New Jersey to join on the jaunt. The 12-member crew hit no fewer than 10 pizza joints throughout the island of Manhattan, eating everything they could get their hands on along the way.

It started with slices Downtown at Joe’s Pizza at 10:30 a.m., and then the thin-crust stuff at Martina on 11th Street. Then it was on to Kesté Pizza & Vino, where Roberto Caporuscio makes what is widely acknowledged as the best pizza in New York City.

“He’s become like the godfather, so to speak,” Smith says.

Mission Pizza $-$$

707 Trade St. WS, 336.893.8217

Song’ E Napule made the cut because it’s an authentic hole in the wall in SoHo, and because of proprietor Ciro Iovine’s passion for the form. They hit the Woodstock under the High Line on the West Side, Motorino in the East Village, Joe & Pat’s for tavern-style thin crust, Una Pizza Napoletana for Neapolitan, Scarr’s for the old-school stuff and Prince Street Pizza for what Smith says is “probably the most Instagrammed pizza in New York.”

It was fun, riding through Manhattan on a tour bus with a bunch of pizza nerds and sampling the best the city has to offer. And it provided something invaluable to the culture at Mission Pizza.

“Every day, down here on Trade Street, we operate in a vacuum,” Smith says now from the counter of his own pizza temple in the Arts District. “The guys always wondered what kind of product we were putting out — the look, the taste, the smell, the traditions. They didn’t know how it all compared with what we do every day. They just had to buy in without knowing the difference. I mean, Phil had never been on a plane before.”

The trip confirmed what Smith had been telling his staff all along: that they are engaged in the ancient practice of Napoletana-style pizzamaking, in much the same way it was done 300 years ago in Naples, and that their pizzas can stand right up the with the best.

“It gave them a lot of pride to understand where our product is on a national scale,” Smith says. “They got really inspired by all these pizza people doing their thing, carving out their own little slices of the world.”

The team will travel back to Manhattan in October for the New York Pizza Festival, pitting their pies against the finest pizzamakers in the world in its undisputed pizza capital. And after their pizza mission, they know they’re up to the task.

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