by Vance Cope, Contributing Writer
Walt Disney World’s newest restaurant, Via Napoli, is now open at Epcot and offering guests a new option for lunch and dinner. Located at the rear of the Italy pavilion and operated by the Patina Restaurant Group, Via Napoli offers fresh Italian fare, an extensive drink menu, and authentic Neapolitan pizza. Once rumored to have a counter service aspect, the restaurant only provides table service, though Epcot Vice President Dan Cockerell said that a take-out option may become available in the future but that a new table service restaurant best fits the current needs of their Epcot guests. He added that he enjoys the family feel they have accomplished in the restaurant.
The exterior of Via Napoli fits in nicely with the surrounding architecture of the pavilion, while still maintaining its own unique identity. At 9,760 square feet, Via Napoli can seat 250 diners inside, with an additional 50 on the exterior patio area, which looks out onto the pavilion’s courtyard. Once you pass through a small waiting area, Via Napoli opens up in a large dining room with a tile floor and high ceilings. Lit by huge chandeliers and natural light coming in from the large windows, it gives the restaurant a very open feeling. The walls of the seating area on the right side Via Napoli are painted with an extensive forest scene with mountains visible in the background, while the rear wall is painted in a very light golden hue and accented with various framed Italian-inspired art.
The focal point of the main seating area is a long wooden table decorated with very detailed tile artwork running through the middle, which seats over 20 people. Cockerell said he enjoys the family feel they have accomplished in this restaurant—that is, the restaurant has managed to create a a very nice family feel, almost as if everyone eating there knew each other. The design however, is such that it does not absorb sound very well, leading to a very noisy environment.
The highlight of Via Napoli is the pizza and show kitchen located on the left side of the restaurant and Stromboli, Vesuvio, and Etna, its the three wood burning ovens named after three of Italy’s active volcanoes. Sculptured faces take up the entire front of these ovens, with open mouths serving as the openings to the ovens, adding a lot of whimsy to the restaurant. Open to the dining room, the chefs invite you to walk up and watch as they create the various dishes served here, sliding them in and out of the “mouths” of the incredibly hot ovens.
Fresh Neapolitan pizzas are the signature dish here, and Nick Valenti, CEO of the Patina Group, has taken great care to make sure the pizza, is “as authentic and delicious as that found on the streets of Naples” as the menu describes it. In order to achieve this authenticity, the Patina Group sought out water wells in North America that matched the quality and mineral content of that found in Naples, Italy. Along with the attention given to the water, Via Napoli imports Caputo flour (considered by many to be the best for making pizza dough), San Marzano tomatoes (an heirloom plum variety from Naples), and handmade mozzarella from Italy, and uses the freshest ingredients they can find. All of these factors, plus the ovens, result in a very fresh tasting product with a crust that is crispy on the bottom and slightly chewy on the inside. Valenti hopes that they can introduce the art of Neapolitan pizza to more people through Via Napoli, and notes that he is very pleased the way the restaurant turned out.
The menu offers nine different pizzas to choose from, with something to please pretty much everyone. Those who are looking for simpler pizzas to please the whole family can choose the classic Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil), Pepperoni, and the Quattro Formaggi (four cheese). Those with more adventurous palates have plenty to try, like the Carciofi (artichoke, pecorino, mozzarella, and truffle oil), the Calamari, or the Prosciutto e Melone (fontina, pecorino, mozzarella, prosciutto, and cantaloupe). There is no build-your-own option at Via Napoli so any special requests are addressed with the server. The price of the pizzas are based on size, not type, and start at $16 for an individual size, $27 for a large, and $36 for the largest, which is described as a “1/2 Meter” to share.
Many other offerings on the menu please any non-pizza eaters. Meals can begin with a selection of Antipasti (appetizers), including a classic Minestrone soup and Caponata alla Siciliana (eggplant salad with olives, capers, tomato, and raisins) for $8 each. The largest appetizer designed for a whole table to share is the Fritto Misto ($24), which is an assortment of fried vegetables, fish, cheese and Arancini (fried risotto balls filled with mozzarella and meat ragu,also available on its own for $10).
Pasta options begin at $17 with the Fusilloni Trapanese (corkscrew pasta tossed with tomatoes, almonds and basil) and going up to $22 for the Mafaldine Amatriciana (ribbon pasta, guanciale and pomodoro sauce)—each of the pasta dishes are baked in one of the wood burning pizza ovens. Also available are three different types of Insalate (salad). Pollo (chopped salad with lemon chicken with a honey-citrus dressing), Calamari (fried calamari, arugula, and carrots served with orange vinaigrette) and Bistecca (chopped mesclun, grilled steak, tomato, red onion and gorgonzola with red wine-mustard vinaigrette) are priced at $17, $18, and $19 respectively.
The “Traditional Desserts from Our Childhood” section of the menu includes the Zeppole di Caterina (ricotta cheese fritters) served with whipped cream and chocolate sauce ($10). Also available on the dessert menu is a classic Tiramisu ($8), Gelato Frizzante (Italian-style ice cream soda, $9) and the Coppa di Brutti Ma Buoni (Amarena cherry and vanilla gelato sundae, $10). Via Napoli also has several hot coffee-based drinks (such as espresso and cappuccino) listed on the dessert menu, ranging in price from $3 to $6.
A wide variety of beverages can accompany your meal. Via Napoli’s (non-alcoholic) signature drink is the Acqua Fresca ($5) and is available in three flavors: Limonata, Blood Orange, and Strawberry. The drinks, described on the menu as “seasonal fruit juice coolers” are chilled by large blocks of ice and dispensed from two different drinks stations on the dining room floor before being garnished with fresh fruit. A full drink menu includes aperitifs/cocktails, Via Napoli Signature Drinks and an extensive wine list, as well as a selection of imported Italian beers and bottled water. Available exclusively at Via Napoli is a double malt Italian lager called La Rossa, available by the mug ($9) or pitcher ($22).
Those under 9 can order off of a children’s menu with its own small selection of appetizers, entrées, and desserts. The kid-friendly entrées are $9.50, with a choice of Pizza Margherita, a Calzoncino (mini ham and cheese calzone), and Spaghetti con Polpettini (meatballs), as well as a free juice, milk, or bottled water (refills are not included). The kids also have their own specialty drink called Graspia, which combines grape and orange juice “with a splash of seltzer water” for $3.
Via Napoli is a participant of the Disney Dining Plan and is a one Table Service credit restaurant if you plan on ordering a regular entrée or an individual pizza, though there is an option to use more credits to order a larger pizza. If your table decides to order a large pizza, it will require two adult credits or for the price of four adult credits you can order the “1/2 Meter.” Via Napoli also accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20 percent discount, as well as offering a 10 percent discount to Disney Vacation Club members and Annual Pass holders at select times. Dining at Via Napoli is currently only available for walk-ups, but you can book Advance Dining Reservations for lunch and dinner for dates beyond September 9.