The Vacation Kingdom of the World: A Tale of Two Italian Restaurantsby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Like many frequent Walt Disney World visitors, we tend to plan several meals ahead of time by making advance reservations. We definitely do not plan every meal, but we do like the advantage of knowing that a few of our meal plans are made ahead of time. Typically, each member of the family gets to choose one meal. That's how we decided to have dinner at one of the Magic Kingdom's better known locations: Tony's Town Square Restaurant on Main Street U.S.A.
Lately, however, we leave many meal times open so that we can be a bit more adventurous now and then, stopping by restaurants we've never visited and asking if there is availability. I like to call this "planned spontaneity." At any rate, that's how we ended up eating dinner at another Italian location, this time at Epcot's relatively new Via Napoli, located at the back of the Italian Pavilion in World Showcase.
When we returned home, I did something I rarely ever do: I read some online blog reviews of each restaurant. It struck me that the reviews were almost uniformly polarized: negative or positive. Things were all very bad or all almost perfect. I wondered why.
Both of our meals were enjoyable, but in very different ways. There were elements of each visit that might have been better, but none of these were dealbreakers. What follows are reflections on our meals with the hope that readers might be better able to decide whether or not these locations might be good for their next visit. Let's see what each restaurant has to offer.
Atmosphere and Location
For us, one of the joys of dining at Walt Disney World is the sheer variety of locations. We've come to appreciate the hustle and bustle of Chef Mickey's as well as the relative calm of a lunch at Le Celllier Steakhouse. It's fun to join fellow tablemates in the revelry of Germany's Biergarten, but it is to also enjoyable to dine in relative private and quiet in a cozy nook in the Liberty Tree Tavern.
Tony's Town Square Restaurant offers an interesting blend of the boisterous and the quiet. The setting is lovely, and I'd forgotten about the heavy, dark wood moldings, the Victorian papers, and the marble-topped tables of the main dining room. The quiet murmur of The Lady and the Tramp fountain helps contain ambient noises, and the heavily framed scenes from the classic 1955 Walt Disney film enhance the feeling of stepping back in time to the turn of the last century. Even the costumes of the staff here are elaborate and detailed, perfectly themed to the time period of Main Street.
In contrast to the Victorian elegance of the main dining room, the veranda features filigreed Victorian ironwork and large windows which open to views of Town Square and City Hall. This area, while gracious in its Victorian stateliness, is much more vibrant than the dining room, providing guests with the feeling of being in the middle of it all, only from a quiet vantage point. And, of course, Tony's has the advantage of being located "right in the middle of Main Street U.S.A." For location and atmosphere, Tony's Town Square is hard to beat.
Via Napoli, one of the newest dining experiences in Epcot's World Showcase, is very different in both tone and atmosphere from Tony's Town Square Restaurant. Located at the rear of the Italian pavilion, Via Napoli looks as if it has always been there. It blends with the classic Italian-style architecture of the surrounding buildings and adds a sense of depth and country-estate charm to the pavilion. Congratulations to the designers of this new addition for staying true to the look, and the spirit, of the original design of the surrounding area.
This restaurant looks like an Italian country estate, complete with inviting large doors, beautiful potted greenery, and a large expanse of glass doors opening onto the courtyard. Inviting groups of umbrella-topped tables line one side as well.
Once inside, the "classic old-world" look of the exterior begins to blend harmoniously with a newer contemporary European look. While the walls and the a open kitchen retain the old-world look, funky lighting, eclectic chairs and tables, and a vibrant energy infuse Via Napoli's main dining area. This energy is enhanced by the large tables in the center of the room where families and travelling parties share dining space in much the same way as guests dining in Germany's Biergarten do.
There are additional tables located around the periphery of the restaurant, and many, many quiet tables along the lovely glass-doored gallery to the right of the main dining room. Via Napoli managed to bridge two distinct atmospheres, the traditional and the modern, in a very successful, very memorable way.
One of the areas most discussed on Disney-related dining blogs is that of service. Guests seem to expect completely perfect service. In some ways, this is justifiable. Dining at Disney table-service locations is often an expensive outing; thus, patrons feel entitled to that extra-special service for which Disney is famous.
Sometimes, however, these restaurant reviews teeter on the obsessive. Just because the waiter or waitress doesn't flatter each patron excessively or make a larger-than-life fuss over every single "it's my birthday" button does not mean that the service is bad. On the contrary, there are any number of diners who prefer a less gregarious, over-the-top, call-attention-to-me sort of service. Perhaps because our expectations are less demanding than some diners, or simply because our servers were fine without being overbearing, we enjoyed the service at both Italian locations.
At Tony's, the hostess who seated us set the tone. She was gracious and warm, without a hint of phoniness. Our waitress was also highly proficient and very accommodating. At the beginning of what was to be a very busy evening, she took her time with us, answered questions about menu options, and attentively brought refills throughout our meal. She also graciously replenished bread when one of the kids dropped his.
The food came quickly, but during the meal, we did not feel rushed or hurried. We enjoyed a nice, quiet, family dinner here. Dessert items were nicely displayed, but we felt no pressure to purchase any. As the dining room filled, our waitress was clearly busy, but never too busy to stop by and check in with us. And while it did take a rather long time for the bill to arrive, it was understandable, considering the crowds at the time.
At Via Napoli, we also enjoyed a family dinner, but one that was much more boisterous than at Tony's. On a lark, we asked if there were available tables. The hostess informed us that it was, unfortunately, a busy evening, but that she should be able to find us a table in 10 to 15 minutes. In much less time than that, we found ourselves seated at one of the side tables that ring the main dining table near the pizza ovens and the kitchen.
Here, the atmosphere was very different from Tony's Town Square; there was movement everywhere, a dynamic feeling of visiting a large Italian family for dinner. It was noisy, but not in an offensive way. We could easily visit above the quiet din of fellow diners. The staff here, filled with International Program participants from Italy, was gregarious and attentive. Because the menu offers many unique varieties of pizza, our waitress took plenty of time to explain our options, even offering for some suggestions to "customize" our meal. Despite the fact that we arrived without a reservation at a very busy time of day, our experience at Via Napoli was wonderful and unique.
Quality and Pricing
The fare at Tony's Town Square is just what you would expect to find at an Americanized Italian restaurant. That is not to say that the food isn't delicious or that the servings aren't generous; just know in advance that while the meals here are crowd pleasers, they might not be especially extravagant or unique (of course, the location and the atmosphere couldn't be more unique.)
We tried a variety of items on the menu: the Spaghetti and Meatballs, the Chicken Parmigiana, and the Cannelioni. All three entrees were just what you would expect: large portions, mild (but tasty) sauce, and well-presented plates. All were served with warm bread. The children's meals were especially good; the spaghetti dinners included milk, fruit, and bread.
Prices for adult meals ranged from $16.99 - $19.99. This might be an issue for some diners as these prices do not include salad (like so many local Italian restaurants do). The children's meals were very reasonably priced at $8.59. All told, our group of five spent more than $120 here, and we skipped dessert. Pricey, perhaps, but it was our one meal out that day. The atmosphere at Tony's Town Square is unparalleled, but while the food is good and the portions generous, the prices are a little steep.
At Via Napoli, we decided to go with the specialty of the house: wood-fired authentic Pizza Napoletana. According to the menu, these pizzas are made with "Caputo flour imported from Naples, San Marzano tomatoes, handmade fior di latte mozzarella, water from our own wells identical to the water found in Naples, to make our pizza as authentic and delicious as that found on the streets of Naples."
Our waitress suggested that we try some of their signature pies, and that we could sample several by dividing the toppings on the same pizza. At her suggestion, we tried the Picaante (Italian spicy sausage) and the Quattro Formaggi (mozzarella, parmesan, fontini, provolone). For our group, of five we choose the Mezzo Metro.
When our meal arrived, the pizza was huge, delicious, unique, memorable – and did I say huge? The crust was thin, but not crisp like most American pizza. The cheeses, the meat, and the sauces boasted hearty flavor, but the overall effect was lighter than most American pizza. Not only was the food and service wonderful here, but reasonably priced. Our bill was less than $50—for five of us. Via Napoli is definitely worth a try.
We found both dining experiences to be very positive, and we hope to revisit each location during future visits. We recommend both, but for very different reasons. Tony's Town Square offers Victorian charm and is perfectly themed to Main Street U.S.A., while Via Napoli mixes tradition and contemporary in a strikingly memorable way.