by John Kurowksi
The landscape of the Italy pavilion in Epcot dramatically changed recently as construction scrims and scaffolding came down to reveal the new, highly anticipated restaurant, Via Napoli.
Italy, as both a nation and a World Showcase pavilion, features some of the most beautiful architecture, people, and vistas found anywhere. But for many, the true key to embrace Italian culture lies within its rich and flavorful food. The popularity of the former Alfredo’s, and the current Tutto Italia prove that many Walt Disney World guests crave Italian fare while visiting and lucky for them, they now have a new offering. Via Napoli specializes in pizza with some pasta dishes and salads on the menu.
The decor lends itself to the story that Disney Imagineers concocted for the new eatery. The son of a wealthy Italian family that owned a large and thriving parcel of land in their community returned home and transformed his parents’ estate into this 400-seat trattoria. Tutto Italia, found right next door, serves as the family’s former home and Via Napoli sits on the former site of the family’s villa, shop, and stables. In fact, this new restaurant matches Tutto Italia in terms of design and architecture.
Guests enter into the restaurant’s foyer, the former villa. Three glass walls separate the foyer from the rest of Via Napoli. In the center sits a very ornate chandelier decorated with glass fruit. The glass fruit actually arrived the morning of our visit. As of right now, because of the small size of this room, and the constant opening and closing of the automatic sliding glass door, the outside temperature controls the temperature of this room. One circular air conditioning vent sits in the center with the chandelier underneath it.
Via Napoli houses a giant open kitchen with three very unique wood pizza ovens, named Stromboli, Vesuvio, and Etna.
All named after volcanoes in Italy, three Roman god-like faces outline the ovens with the appearance of flames in their mouths.
Aspiring chefs will love to have a view of the bustling kitchen to watch these chefs do their work as they dine, while others will take in the charm of the murals, paintings, and decorative light fixtures throughout the restaurant. There is also a large wooden table in the center of the room. This table is for large groups as well as extra seating for other small parties. Like the tables at the Biergarten or Teppan Edo, guests seated at this table may find themselves sitting with other parties.
The section of the restaurant that simulates the former stables features a 79-seat outdoor area, separated from the rest of the restaurant by two glass doors. Being outdoors, this seating area faces the elements, but this section will soon be covered in sliding glass doors that will remain open during fair weather, but will be closed off in extreme cold and hot weather in order to be heated or air conditioned.
The Patina Group, the operators of the restaurant, wanted to make the pizza served in Via Napoli to taste as authentic to the pizza found in Naples, Italy as possible. Many pizza chefs say the trick in making a good pizza dough is in the water, so to overcome the differences in the Orlando water, Via Napoli actually imports their water from an undisclosed spring in Pennsylvania with some extra minerals added to be an authentic match to the water from Italy. The flour comes from Naples, Italy directly and the tomatoes come from Murano, Italy. The pizza comes in three sizes: small, which is billed as individual; Large, which can serve two-three; and 1/2 Meter, which is 12″x18″ of pizza.
Our server recommended the margherita pizza, with fresh, handmade mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. We were in the mood for some pepperoni so we asked if they could make one half margherita, and the other half pepperoni. She said that the only size they can do that with is the 1/2 Meter so that is what we ordered. The crust is very thin and charred. We found on the margherita pizza the charred crust overpowered the taste, but the kick the pepperoni gave on the other side balanced out the strong crust.
The restaurant also offers an extensive wine and cocktail list. While entering the main dining room three glass coolers are prominently featured containing the restaurant’s unique non-alcoholic offering, Aqua Fresca. This is available in three flavors: Limonata, Blood Orange, and Strawberry. These are a tad pricier than other soft drinks available and come in a smaller glass than the typical Coke products the restaurant serves. The Aqua Fresca does not come with free refills. The restaurant also features two imported Italian beers: Moretti, a light beer that is currently available throughout the Italy pavilion, and La Rossi, a darker amber lager available only at Via Napoli.
Decadent describes the desserts on the menu. The tiramisu, our server’s favorite, is very similar to the one offered at Tutto Italia. The Copa di Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly But Good) was our favorite: a cherry and vanilla gelato sundae with “ugly but good” cookies. But the most popular dessert seemed to be the Zeppole di Caterina. These are ricotta cheese filled fried dough fritters (they look like Dunkin’ Donuts’ Munchkins) with whipped cream and chocolate dipping sauces.
The restaurant is in soft-open phase until August 5, when they will have the official ribbon cutting ceremony. The ceremony will be done fairly early in the day and is by invite only. The restaurant will open at 3:30 that day to the public. From now until September 10, the restaurant will only take walk-ups. Starting August 5, guests will be able to make reservations for dates after September 10. They do accept Tables in Wonderland and will take one Table Service Dining Credit on the Disney Dining Plan. This is a great time to check out the restaurant as it is fairly easy to get into and the food is quite tasty.