Mama Mia! Naples Lives Up to Its Name with Great Italian Restaurants



With a name like Naples, you might expect a heavy population of Italian restaurants. In the case of Naples, Florida, you would be right. A number of Italian-born and Italian-American chefs have made their mark on the local restaurant scene. This list cuts through the fierce competition to bring you the most popular and brightest stars in the genre.

The variety ranges from your standard issue pizza and pasta joints to fine dining experiences that draw on the Italian philosophy of simplicity, quality ingredients and pairing products grown and raised in the same region.

The newest Italian eatery on the scene, Osteria Tulia calls its brand of authentic cuisine and interior design "rustic farmhouse." It is situated on Fifth Avenue South, which alone counts a dozen or so Italian restaurants along a seven block strip. This list includes fine dining Alberto's of Fifth and the more casual, lighthearted Pazzo! among that particular roll call of Italian restaurants.

The list demonstrates the seriousness with which local Italian restaurant chefs treat their creations - from hand cut pasta to house made fennel sausage. Beyond Fifth Avenue South, it covers off the "eaten path" treasures from Bonita Springs in the north to Marco Island in the south. 



10
Arturo's
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

 

The dining room at Arturo's may be huge and dramatically classic in style, but it is almost always full. Call many days in advance, even out of season, and expect to feel a bit crowded in. The menu is equally large, covering most of the Italian standards in the pasta, seafood, chicken and veal categories. Start with mussels marinara or eggplant rollatine, splurge with the gnocchi Gorgonzola, then try the veal Sorrentino with prosciutto, eggplant and marinara sauce or the snapper Livornese with green and black olives, capers, anchovies and tomatoes. Other entrees come in traditional francais, picatta, parmigiana, marsala and florentine styles.


9
Old Naples
Pazzo!
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


 

Pazzo! is one of the most reasonably priced Italian restaurants in Naples, particularly for Fifth Avenue South. The decor at this "crazy" (as the name translates) restaurant, purportedly one of the most exciting in town, is casual and modern with a bit of a Southwestern influence. The display kitchen adds an air of Iron Chef drama to the dining area. Menu favorites here include a prosciutto wrapped shrimp scampi or house butternut squash ravioli appetizer, classic Caesar and Caprese salads, homemade pasta dishes, grilled fish and meat, and grouper or veal piccata. The wine list is quite admirable, and the dessert menu downright irresistible.


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Old Naples
Barbatella
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


 

Have a seat in the European-style courtyard or make new friends at the communal table inside. Known for its authentic Italian pizza and gelato, it equally excels at a select menu of pastas, seafood, meats and sandwiches. This is cousin to Sea Salt just down the street – the casual one in the family. But the food is every bit as complex and creatively conceived. Start lunch with figs and burrata on ciabatta bruschetta or fennel and radicchio salad. Order a glass of wine from the extensive cruvinet offerings. The signature pizza at lunch and dinner holds eggplant, pork sausage, fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella. Or go for the BLT-e with a fried organic egg and smoked paprika mayo. For heartier appetites, there's a seafood platter with everything from octopus to Maine Lobster or rabbit cacciatore with rabbit sausage meatballs. But remember to leave room for a scoop of creamy, silky gelato, at the very least.


7
Sam-Bucco Bistro


 

Heavy on the Italian, the menu flexes beyond traditional with Turkish, French and other Mediterranean influences. The inviting atmosphere of earth tones, linens, low lights and heavy drapes feels as warm as the Mediterranean sun. Simplicity and quality ingredients make the difference in appetizers such as bruschetta, goat cheese crostini, babaganouj, Turkish grilled calamari, grilled portobellos topped with roasted red peppers and goat cheese, and baby greens topped with braised pears and Roquefort cheese. Taste Italian in entree selections such as whole wheat penne with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, Gorgonzola and tomato sauce; veal with capers, grape tomatoes, tarragon, lemon zest and Chardonnay; grilled salmon with sun-dried tomato scampi sauce; and the light-as-a-dream tiramisu. Then there's the inevitable French influence: tilapia Provencal, veal champignon with brandy cream demi-glace and steak au poivre.


6
Old Naples
Campiello
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


 

This class-act Third Street South restaurant occupies the historic Naples Mercantile Building and a pleasant Rome-reminiscent courtyard to its west. Inside, you will find an inviting dining area, spacious bar area and large, open kitchen complete with a traditional wood-burning oven. Some of the pasta, such as the pappardelle with braised veal, is made in house. Many of the ingredients - capicola for one of the wood-fired pizza, cheeses and sausage - get shipped from Italy. There's short ribs with smoked tomatoes or pan-roasted black grouper for dinner, chicken and caramelized pear salad for lunch and warm citrus cake with strawberry prosecco jam and fior di latte for dessert.


5
Caffe dell'Amore
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


 

When Conde Nast Traveler magazine readers voted Naples #17 on the U.S. Cities for Foodies list, editors named Caffe dell'Amore as one of the reasons. Its off-Fifth strip mall setting belies an elegant, Old World atmosphere of linens and candlelight. The menu sticks close to Old World tradition itself, with classic favorites such as the lasagna alla Bolognese and homemade tiramisu. Others show a streak of imaginative originality: wild boar alla cacciatora, Cornish hen braised in white wine with a touch of sambucca, ravioli stuffed with grilled vegetables and goat cheese and pasta pouches filled with gorgonzola cheese and pear.


4


 

Whether it's your fantasy to dine under the Tuscan sun or the Florida moon, Sale e Pepe brings it to reality in a replicated, palace-proportioned, Italian-villa setting with an outdoor terrace. Perched on the second floor, it affords a sweeping gulf view. Inside, choose a formal frescoed dining setting or a more casual lounge setting. Everything's made fresh, from the crusty breads to the pasta, soup, sausage and hibiscus panna cotta. The succinct dinner menu adapts to the seasons, paying tribute to antipasto, fish, meat and pasta. In the pasta department, there might be sweet corn and ricotta stuffed agnolotti. From the "terra", try the breaded veal chop with buffalo mozzarella salad; from the "mare," crispy skin Scottish salmon with orange beurre blanc. The formal dining room also offers a tasting menu and summer early dining specials. Stop in the huge gas-lit bar, a shrine to artist Toulouse-Lautrec.


3
Alberto''s on Fifth
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

 

Torino-born Alberto Varetto created a sensation as the original chef at Sale e Pepe on Marco Island. He left several years ago to open his name brand place along dining hot spot Fifth Avenue South. The sensation continues in a sleek, sand-toned dining room that spills out onto the sidewalk. Using house made ingredients such as sausage, pasta and sauces, Chef Alberto creates a select menu of authentic Italian dishes such as yellow tomato soup with shrimp, black ink fettucine with calamari, risotto with roasted jumbo scallops, Chilean sea bass with wild mushrooms, veal tenderloin with eggplant and roasted pepper ragout, and tiramisu.


2
Angelina's Ristorante
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


 

The kitchen's excellence stems from exquisite attention to detail – from a house-cured cherry in the Manhattan cocktail in the convivial bar to fanfare touches such as baby kale tucked in among the Caesar salad's romaine lettuce, citrus tomato butter with Angelina's long-favored butternut squash ravioli and slow-roasted pork belly with the pan-seared scallops. Other stellar dishes: Caprese Moderno salad, mussels Puttanesco, agnolotti pasta stuffed with slow-roasted veal and topped with wild mushrooms, and pan-seared cobia with cauliflower puree. An award-winning selection of wine occupies a three-story glass tower in the elegant, Old World-style dining room. The final superlatives go to the staff - friendly, unflappable and uncommonly capable.


1
Osteria Tulia
Photo courtesy of Osteria Tulia


 

The first dilemma: Sit al fresco and people watch along busy Fifth Avenue South or enter the embrace of "farmhouse chic" indoors, where repurposed barn wood creates warmth and character? Then the food ordering decision! Like the décor, the menu, reflects the rustic side of Italian cuisine refined. Culinary marvels range from antipasti selections such as Brussels sprouts caramelized with house-made fennel sausage and Sicilian meatballs studded with the added serendipity of pine nuts and currants to homemade pastas such as braised duck ragu with stracci noodles and the wonderfully simple grouper acqua pazza. Besides the pasta, Chef Vincenzo Betulia prepares most of his cured meats in-house. What he doesn't make himself he imports from Italy or sources from local seafood and produce providers.


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Meet Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton – the Local Expert for Naples, Florida and the Caribbean – has been covering the destination for 30 years. Her top-selling Sarasota, Sanibel Island, and...  More About Chelle

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