In Disneyland last week, I chose to have lunch at Naples, a restaurant/pizzeria located in Disneyland’s Downtown Disney area and run by the Patina Group — the same folks who will be running Via Napoli in Epcot’s Italy!
As you know, Via Napoli will be opening as a Pizzeria in Fall 2010, just in time for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, and we’re all eager to determine whether this will be the opportunity to get some really great pizza in Walt Disney World.
We dined here primarily to see what we might be getting in Disney World this fall, but we had a wonderful experience that makes Naples one of our new favorite and must-do restaurants in Disneyland.
The “focal point” of the open and airy Naples dining room is the huge, wood-fired pizza oven, presided over by a giant icon of a carnivale-masked chef.
Right in front of the oven, you’re welcome to watch chefs prepare pizzas with the freshest ingredients and toppings — and even watch your own little chefs prepare some pizza dough themselves!
The rest of the two-story dining room is filled with vibrant colors and ceramic tiles, casual dark-wood tables, and an impressive bar area. An elevator leads up to an outdoor dining and event space, and doors to your right lead to a very nice patio for dining.
Naples offers an extensive menu of appetizers and salads, pastas, paninis, main entrees, and, of course, wood-oven baked pizza! We began the meal with some fresh bread and olive oil brought by our wonderful server, who happened to be from Transylvania, Romania, and who remembered us from Napa Rose the night before (he works there as well!).
Personally, I’ve never met a risotto I didn’t like, so I had to order the Arancini — saffron risotto croquettes with roasted bell pepper dip. The croquettes were very good, and the saffron risotto hidden inside was light-tasting and creamy. However, I’m pretty sure my taste buds were expecting a creamy marinara sauce as accompaniment, so the red pepper dip tasted almost bitter at first bite. It was a different dish — surprising, but still within the realm of choice for a picky eater.
We also sampled the Ceasar salad with olive oil croutons. It was a pretty typical salad — nothing too extraordinary about, but sometimes simple = delicious.
For our entrees, we ordered an individual-sized pepperoni pizza and the Penne con Pollo to share. Both were outstanding.
As many of you know, I lived for several years in New York City, where I learned to love wood-fired, thin-crusted pizza — my favorite being pepperoni pizza at Lombardi’s on Spring Street in Little Italy. Spongy, thick-crusted pizza just doesn’t do it for me, and I can’t abide by soggy, thin crusts, either. Luckily, this was neither of those.
The crust was crispy and well-done, the mozzarella was freshly laid on the pizza — this was no dried-out, “shredded” cheese, and the pepperoni was just starting to get crunchy when they pulled it out of the oven (me, I like my pepperoni a bit crunchier, but I can understand the average expectation). While the sauce didn’t have the “zing” of Lombardi’s, and I wasn’t given my favorite toy — a parmesan cheese shaker — to use with gusto, the pizza still ranks in the top 10 of those I’ve tried in my lifetime. If this pie was any indication, the Patina Group’s pizzeria will be a welcome and well-booked restaurant in Epcot’s World Showcase.
Oh, and don’t forget, the water to create my pizza was special! It’s from a source that closely resembles the mineral constitution of water in Naples, Italy. (I didn’t notice exactly how that made things different, but my review still stands.)
Our second entree, the Penne con Pollo, sounds rather innocent, doesn’t it? The promise of creamy marinara won me over on the menu, and we had to order this fine dish. And, I have to tell you, it was phenomenal. The sauce was so good I could have eaten it as soup (and I’ll never admit that I, after we’d both eaten our fill of the dish, used the serving spoon to do just that), the penne was cooked perfectly (al dente), and the chicken — usually a “throw-in” item in dishes like this — actually had good flavor and texture. We were both excited to see learn later that this is one of the dishes on Naples’ delivery menu (!!!), available to Disneyland resort guests! Total bummer that we ate too much at our meals for the rest of the week to even think of ordering more food in our room; we’d have loved to try this dish again (fingers crossed it’s on the Via Napoli menu this Fall!).
Finally, we simply had to order a dessert. While we usually sample two, we weren’t wowed by the menu items, so decided to only try the cannoli. This was my husband’s choice, as I’ve never really had a cannoli that I enjoyed very much. I wasn’t expecting much, and figured it would just be another Italian restaurant dessert fail. I’m happy to say I was wrong. You know I give it to you straight, and even though we were full to the gills, we practically licked the plate on this one. The shells were cinnamon-y, and the filling was chock full of chocolate chips and had a sweeter taste than I’m used to from other cannoli dishes I’ve tried.
As you can see, the eats here are simple, understated, and — you’ll have to take my word for it — well worth the visit. Judging from our experience, just about everything on the menu is well-done (we enjoyed it more than our visit to Tutto Italia in Epcot).
This brings us to the matter of price. When we first reported about the pizzeria in Epcot’s Italy and posted links to the menus for similar restaurants run by the Patina Group, folks were shocked at the price for a pizza. ($45 for a large pizza is a bit outrageous by anyone’s standards.) We paid around $17 for our individual-sized pepperoni pie, and my husband and I have deliberated about whether or not we think the price is fair.
Our conclusion?: maybe.
If you’re particular (read: snobby) about your pizza (as we are), the $17 was a fair price to pay for the individual-sized pizza, which could have fed both of us as an entree. I’m not sure I’d be able to part with $45 for a large version of the same, but, I imagine that $45 pizza would feed an army. So, split the price amongst a family of 5 (or more), and you’ve probably got a pretty economical meal.
Have you dined at Naples? Are you eager to sample Epcot’s Via Napoli? Let me know what you think in the comments section below!