Beginning Monday, Feb. 1, Napoli Pasta Bar will offer a pop-up at its Arlington sister restaurant, Napoli Salumeria. For $40, chef Andy Clark will create a four-course meal featuring some of his most popular dishes from the Michelin-recognized Columbia Heights eatery. The menu is available for dine-in, carryout and delivery, but owner Antonio Ferraro recommends booking a seat at the chef’s counter to see Clark at work.
Napoli Salumeria just received its beer-and-wine license, Ferraro says, and he hopes this will help attract customers to dine in at one of the 20 indoor seats or outside on one of two patios, one in front of the restaurant and another at the Pentagon Row ice rink.
Since its opening at the start of November, the concept of Napoli Salumeria has been smoothly pandemic-ready. An Italian market with a grab-and-go case but also food that’s prepared to order, it provides for both Italian food fans ready to dine in and those who prefer to grab some pasta and dessert from the refrigerators to take home. But what should guests try when they head to Napoli Salumeria? I ate my way through the menu in order to share my recommendations.
When most of us hear “Neapolitan pizza,” we think of a thin, sparsely topped pie with a crust quickly blistered in a blazing oven. But Ferraro wants you to know that there are two great pizza styles that were created in his home town. At Napoli Salumeria, Ferraro serves pizza montanara, a version made from puffy rounds of fried dough.
Napoli’s version of the montanara isn’t exactly what you’ll find in Naples. Rather than deep-frying the dough, Ferraro’s pizzas are lightly pan-fried to give them the crisp, slick exterior the style requires, without inundating the whole thing with oil. When a customer orders one of the pies, the cook tops it and is able to serve it after just four minutes in the oven.
It’s greasier than the average pizza, no doubt, but who said that was a bad thing? The Margherita is zippy with its simple topping of San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves. The Salame Piccante, enhanced with imported meat and spicy Italian honey, is slightly too far on the sugary side of the savory/sweet spectrum for my tastes. But I will eagerly pair my Margherita with a mushroom-and-black-truffle-topped Tartufo on my next visit.
Ferraro says that one of the most popular items on his menu of foods prepared to order is the Mimi, his take on an Italian sub. It showcases a crunchy seeded roll from Maryland’s Gold Crust Baking Company that’s filled with prosciutto, coppa, Genoa salami, mortadella and provolone. Since Napoli hasn’t settled on a single distributor, sometimes the meats are imported, other times they’re from either Virginia or Philadelphia, says Ferraro. This could change the character of the sandwich from visit to visit, but the one that I sampled was a rich-tasting take on the classic that would have benefited from a bit of acid, perhaps some vinegar.
A new sandwich that hasn’t made it on the printed menu yet, however, is worthy of a visit on its own. The chicken Parmigiana isn’t your average pizzeria-style sub. The freshly fried chicken breast is enhanced with not just tomato sauce, but a cheesy, nutty pesto so flavorful that the gentleman at the counter gave me a cup of it with my pizza, too. And the innovations don’t end there. It’s finished with basil and a bouncy slice of smoked mozzarella. All this conspires to make every bite of the sandwich novel.
But what of the grab-and-go case? It contains an excellent lasagna, to start. The fresh pasta contains layers of tangy meat sauce and stretchy cheese. That’s it. Its edges are lovably chewy, its center soft. It’s ideally unfussy, the lasagna you wish your grandma had made. There’s also homemade mafalde in that jewel of a pesto, sprinkled with sundried tomatoes, and gnocchi in a basil-bedecked San Marzano tomato sauce that’s dotted with springy chunks of fresh mozzarella.
Desserts are a highlight, too. The pastiera is a family recipe that Ferraro’s mother used to make the week before Easter. The aromatic dessert features toothsome wheat berries cooked in milk blended with ricotta and orange flower water. A rustic slice is even better enjoyed with some fresh berries on your own kitchen table. But the standout sweet is a jiggly, robustly vanilla-flavored panna cotta covered in fresh strawberry sauce. It reminds me of my favorite panna cotta ever, which I enjoyed showered with wild strawberries at an Emilia-Romagna-style restaurant in Rome. For $5 and no plane ticket, that’s quite a feat. And that’s a grab-and-go case worth visiting. Make it a take-home treat after a freshly prepared meal of pizza or pasta. // 1301 S. Joyce St., Arlington
See this: Color is the operative word here, from the aquamarine and white paint to the hand painted plates from the Amalfi Coast for sale.
Eat this: Pizza Margherita, chicken Parmigiana panino, panna cotta alle fragola
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