Saturday, February 5, 2011

Restaurant Review: Epcot's Via Napoli

Each year on our annual Disney trip, we like to try out different restaurants that we haven't tried before. Since it had opened since our last visit and the reviews we'd been reading had been coming out pretty positive, we decided to have dinner at Via Napoli. The restaurant (or "ristorante", as it were) is located in the back of the Italy pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase.

After reading several rave reviews about the service, food, and beverages - I was excited to sit down and try it out. We had spent the day eating "around the world", and we were ending our gustatory adventure with dinner at Via Napoli (which would also check Italy off of our list). We checked in and within 5 minutes were ushered to our table which was situated in a "back patio" area of the restaurant. This area was indoors, but was decorated like a covered outdoor patio complete with cement floors. The environment was really well done, which made getting settled at our table relatively easy.

Not only was this visit at the end of our day, it was also the last day of our vacation which meant we were used to the high quality of Disney food and service throughout the WDW Resort. Having said that - we waited quite a while before anyone came to fill our water glasses and take our drink orders. By the time the waiter came and took our drink orders, we were ready to order our meals as well. Adding to at least my husband's frustration was the fact that they were out of artichokes - which meant that all of the pizzas he had picked out for himself weren't able to be ordered. Thankfully, he does enjoy pepperoni pizza so he just joined in with the one that our friends had ordered. With that - the waiter was off to get our drinks and bring us some bread & oil.

For my drink, I ordered the vodka lemon drop. I wasn't really in the mood for wine, and the refreshing crispness of lemon sounded just about perfect. I was not at all disappointed when the drink was delivered. It was definitely refreshing, was ice cold and not at all watered down. I made sure to nurse this delicious libation throughout dinner because I'm sure it was deceptive in its non-alcoholic tastiness. Our friend Laura ordered a bellini, and the boys split a pitcher of the Italian beer (made specially for the American restaurant - talk about knowing your audience).

Via Napoli Lemon Drop
Bread & oil - tasty, but pretty standard really.

Soon enough after enjoying some bread and booze, the pizza came out. The first thing that struck me was that everything looked delicious... and the size of the pepperoni pizza that came out to our table. I don't remember what the word for it was on the menu (the online ones I could find called it a "half-meter" - the menu did not say that) - but the darned thing was HUGE.

Gigantic Pepperoni Pizza... for three? Maybe times ten...
I had ordered the Pizza Margherita because every review I had read about Via Napoli raved about it. People had said they were expecting one thing but then got this awesome pizza that was surprisingly tastier than they thought it would be. I will say that when it was placed in front of me - it certainly looked like it was going to live up to its reputation. The sauce looked good, the mozzarella was melted perfectly, and the basil was in good proportion to the cheese and looked fresh. I was ready to dig in.

Looks good enough to eat!

I picked up my first piece and was ready for that wonderful thin crust crispiness that I have grown to love on my pizza... and was met with a relatively soggy center crust. The sauce was warm, the cheese was tasty and the perfect consistency, and the basil lent that subtle hint of flavor that brought the flavors all together. But my crust... the beautiful picturesque crust... was a huge let-down. Because I enjoyed the overall taste and the outer crust was cooked perfectly - I did eat the whole individual order that I had requested. However - I was totally let down by the bottom layer of crust and knew, in that moment, that there was a huge difference between me and the people who had written the numerous reviews I had read singing the praises of this pizza.

They clearly did not grow up in New England.

There's something about growing up in a heavily populated Italian-American area of the country that lends itself to great pizza existing in plentiful amounts. This means that to be competitive, pizzerias must perfect their craft and get the crust perfect. Even on a thin crust pizza, the base crust has to be crispy in order to sustain the sauce and cheese and inevitable grease that develops when the cheese & toppings are cooked. Since thin-crust style pizzerias are seemingly on every corner up here and the biggest players are Pizzeria Regina, Sal's, and Papa Gino's - all known for their great crust, near-perfect sauce and all some of my favorite places to get a slice or two - I know what I like in pizza. And a huge requirement for me is a perfectly crisp non-burned crust that can hold up to the goods on top of it.

Via Napoli, unfortunately, fell short in this area.

After we ate, Steve confessed that the folks on the WDW Today podcast - who are mostly from New England or the Northeast - also had the same feedback on the pizza. He just felt bad because I was so excited to try it that he felt badly when he heard it... so he didn't mention it. I'm glad he didn't because if nothing else, reading about this pizza did get me in the door of the restaurant. I did truly like the atmosphere, the menu had tons of selection and yummy-looking food, the drinks were delicious, the toppings were spot-on, and once our waiter came over he was attentive the rest of the time we were there. All of those things in mind - I would absolutely consider eating there again on a future visit to the park.

I would just NOT order the pizza in any "flavor". It's not worth my money to get floppy crust. Not even from Walt Disney World.


SilverNeurotic said...

My great uncle owned a pizza place that my Dad worked at for many years so I grew up with homemade pizza and I'm pretty fussy about pizza and I can't stand chain's (don't get me started on Pizza Hut!).

Victoria said...

We're from northern New Jersey - also a haven for pizza lovers - and we agree that Via Napoli is a huge disappointment - especially since we are spoiled by an authentic neapolitan pizzaria, Amano, in Ridgewood, NJ. We took a chance and broke our rule about eating pizza in Florida - never again!

Anonymous said...

We ate a Via Napoli for the first time last week and had the exact same reaction -- why is the crust so soggy?

The pasta was good and the desserts were great, but the pizza was totally meh.

Watch Me Eat said...

Welcome to Florida. It's really hard to find good pizza around here. What I consider to be the best pizza in Orlando can't compare to the pizza up north. While the pictures of Via Napoli's pizza that I've seen do look awesome, I wouldn't expect much especially since it's essentially theme park pizza in a fancy setting...

Deborah said...

My daughter and I ate at Via Napoli in mid-December. We had the same problem with the wait staff but really enjoyed the food. The arancini on the appetizer menu was particularly yummy!

Anonymous said...

We blew off our reservation in Tutti next door, as we have eaten there before, because we wanted to try Napoli, as something new... Yeah, well, first impression, I didn't like the way the tables are placed, sort of a cafeteria feel. Busboys kept giving our food to the table next to us continuously, not just once, and of course, the bloody rednecks kept on eating everything placed in front of them without a doubt. Pizza was just ok, definitelly had way better... Overall, was not as amazing as I hoped, don't think I'd go out of my way to eat there again next time.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am Italian and work at the restaurant, so I see the pizza you are talking about every day.

I see that you compare Via Napoli to NY and NJ pizza. I've never been there, so I don't know what pizza is like there.

What I know is that Via Napoli does not try to imitate the New York pizza, it tries to imitate the real Italian pizza. And after having tasted it, I can tell this is worth being called Italian.

If you walk in any pizzeria in Naples, you'll find something similar to Via Napoli. Of course there are many different styles of making pizza in Italy, and this is one of them.

BUT! This doesn't mean it needs to be the best you ever tried in your life.

Your American pizza is totally different from the real Italian pizza. It has different ingredients, different cooking style, different toppings, different everything. Although they share the same name, they're different foods. Entirely.

If you are used to the very tasty American pizza, Via Napoli will disappoint you. Sorry to disappoint you, but this is exactly what Italia pizza tastes like. :P

Even all the ingredients are imported from Italy (I've seen them in the kitchen), and they're among the best you can find in my country.

All this really makes me wonder what this famous NY/NJ pizza tastes like... Hmm, I'm curious!