Same Old, Same Old
With Naples, that’s a good thing
by Gay Lyons
Nothing says traditional, family-owned Italian restaurant like red and white checked tablecloths, so it’s not surprising that you’ll find those at Naples, where the same family has been preparing traditional favorites for 26 years.
It had been a while since I had eaten at Naples. I like to try new places and to visit a wide variety of local restaurants, but sometimes it’s good to re-visit a restaurant and see if anything has changed—for better or worse. Based on my recent visit, nothing much seems to have changed at Naples, but that’s OK. This is a restaurant that has found its niche. It has frequently been voted “best Italian” and “most romantic” in local polls. The full parking lot at lunch and dinnertime attests to the restaurant’s popularity and loyal clientele.
When three companions and I visited Naples on a recent weeknight, the place was instantly familiar: red walls, wooden booths, trailing ivy, soft lighting and, yes, red and white checked tablecloths. It’s popular for both family outings and for dates. If romance is your intention and close quarters don’t bother you, try the blue room, an intimate, private booth for two, creatively fashioned from a former closet.
Naples offers several enticing-sounding appetizers such as sausage and peppers, shrimp scampi and crab cakes. Minestrone and a soup of the day are also offered along with a number of different salads. There’s a house salad and a Caesar salad, but the list also includes an antipasto salad, seafood goddess salad and Mandarin walnut salad.
We tried the asiago stuffed olives as our appetizer, mainly because none of us had ever ordered these before. They turned out to be hot, crispy, delicious fritter-like morsels. The minced olives and creamy asiago at the center of the small fried balls were a delicious contrast to the crunchy exterior. The sun-dried tomato sour cream accompanying these was tasty but completely unnecessary. We assiduously divided the olives among us, but I liked them enough that I could have eaten them all myself.
The wide range of entrées includes classic dishes representative of northern and southern Italian cuisine with daily specials. Pasta choices include spaghetti, fettuccini alfredo, lasagna and manicotti. There are quite a few seafood choices, such as scallops pignole and frutti de mare, along with beef, veal, duck, pork and chicken dishes. One of my favorites from previous visits is the beef bracciolle, sliced roast beef stuffed with horseradish and ricotta baked with provolone cheese and marinara sauce.
We decided on two traditional favorites, eggplant Parmesan and chicken picatta, and two daily specials, blackened salmon and blue crab ravioli. The breaded, fried eggplant cooked in the restaurant’s trademark marinara sauce was just as we remembered it, a hearty dish with plenty of sauce and cheese, served very hot. The white wine sauce accompanying the chicken picatta was slightly thick and perfectly lemony, with a liberal helping of capers mixed in. There was just enough of the light, tangy, buttery sauce for every bite of chicken to get a little dab of it.
The ravioli were cooked just right, not too soft, and were stuffed with a mildly seasoned blue crab mixture. As was the case with all the other entrees, the portion of ravioli was large enough to be termed generous. The blackened salmon was fresh and flaky with a spicy coating that enhanced the flavor of the fish.
The rosemary bread accompanying the meal was a treat. The thick slices of freshly baked bread were served with butter softened to the perfect spreading consistency. Cold butter that is impossible to spread is one of my pet peeves. The house salad was fairly typical. The lettuce, cucumbers, shredded carrots and red onion rings, topped with a couple of nondescript croutons, wasn’t bad; it was just ordinary. I think next time I’ll probably order Caesar salad instead.
I can never pass up a crème brulee, but since I lost the dessert vote, I had to, and so I can’t say whether it’s as good as I remember. After a spirited debate over the merits of tiramisu, key lime chess pie, chocolate chip cannoli and Italian cream cake, we decided on chocolate ravioli. The five ravioli served in a pool of raspberry sauce with a center of whipped cream was a good choice, except for one thing. Five is not divisible by four. We solved the problem by dividing the fifth ravioli into four neat quarters, a tiny bite for each of us to dip into the last of the rich raspberry sauce.
Naples’ prices are moderate, ranging from $6.99 for spaghetti in marina sauce to $20.99 for an 8-ounce filet, grilled and served with a Chianti sauce. Service was professional. The atmosphere was welcoming and cozy. All in all, it was a pleasant, satisfying meal. m
This fall Naples is holding a drawing for a complete tailgating meal for eight before every UT home game. For more details, see my report at www.wbir.com/life/programming/local/style .