Disney’s newest Italian restaurant, Via Napoli, opened yesterday morning at EPCOT in Walt Disney World. Located in the back of the theme park’s Italy pavilion, this new table-service eatery features various Italian tastes, focusing on pizzas cooked in unique volcano-themed ovens.
The opening ceremony featured a pair of boisterous Italian women stomping grapes, Mickey and Minnie Mouse arriving in grand style via horse-drawn carriage, and a few words spoken by vice president of EPCOT Dan Cockerell as well as CEO of the Patina Restaurant Group, Nick Valenti. After the ribbon-cutting, all in attendance were invited to wander the indoor restaurant, sample the food, and marvel at the unique ovens that command patrons’ attention.
Before we get to a review of the food, here’s a video featuring highlights of the grand opening, including a tour of the restaurant, interviews with Cockerell, Valenti, and executive chef Charlie Restivo, and (of course) a glimpse at Via Napoli’s food:
The restaurant’s operators from the Patina Restaurant Group are quick to say the secret to achieving the authentic Neapolitan flavor in the pizza is the water they’re using, inspired by that found in Naples, Italy, and taken from two special wells within the United States. When asked what is so special about the water, Valenti told me, “The water in Naples has a high alkaline content which works its magic on the flour and […] when cooked properly in these ovens that we have behind us, it causes the dough to be crispy and chewy at the same time, which is a texture that is very hard to reproduce.” So it appears it wasn’t just an excuse when my dad (of Italian heritage) used to blame the Florida water for his traditional meals not tasting quite how he remembered them when his grandmother used to make them.
So does the food live up to the hype? As a fourth-generation Italian and highly picky eater when it comes to Italian food, I can honestly say yes. The focus of the menu is on pizza, and for a good reason. I sampled the Margherita (tomato mozzarella, basil), Pepperoni (pepperoni, tomato, mozzarella), Quattro Formaggi (mozzarella, parmesan, fontina, provolone), and Carciofi (Artichoke, pecorino, mozzarella, truffle oil). Of these four, the Margherita was easily my favorite, as I’m always drawn to the simple red, white, and green Italian flag colors evoked by the ingredients. The basil and mozzarella are fresh, and when combined with the thin crispy dough and subtle but flavorful tomato sauce, the result is a nearly-perfect pizza.
Surprisingly, my least favorite of the four I tried was the Quattro Formaggi or four cheese. Ordinarily, I am a cheese lover. But when it comes to pizza, I like my cheese to be thin and complementary to the other flavors. This pizza, however, had a thick topping of cheese due to the four different kinds of cheese present. The flavors underneath the cheese (no tomato sauce, just olive oil and what tasted to me like a hint of garlic) were fantastic, and I actually enjoyed this pizza more after I removed the cheese. It may have just been too much of a good thing.
In addition to the four I sampled, there are five more pizza flavors to choose from at Via Napoli. The remaining five include spicy sausage, calamari, eggplant, prosciutto, canteloupe, and other vegetables. From what I hear, the Prosciutto e Melone is one of the best.
While the pizza is Via Napoli’s main focus, the restaurant does offer plenty of additional Italian fare, including parmigiana dishes (chicken, eggplant), antipasti (appetizers), salads, and desserts. In the world of appetizers, the Arancini (fried risotto balls filled with mozzarella and meat ragu) are dangerously addictive. I only had one at the grand opening, but not by choice. Had a tray of them come around a second time, I likely would have grabbed a handful or more. If you’re a fan of mozzarella sticks (one of my favorite foods) and/or risotto, you will fall in love with these. The Calamari Fritti is a bit fishy for my tastes, but then again, I’m not a seafood eater. For those who enjoy calamari regularly, the light and crispy outside texture of these will not disappoint.
For dessert, I tried the Tiramisu, Gelato Frizzante (ice cream soda “Italian style”), and Zeppole di Caterina. I still enjoyed the Tiramisu (despite not being a coffee fan) as well as the Gelato Frizzante, but the star here is definitely the Zeppole. Often called Italian doughnuts, these “ricotta cheese fritters,” as Via Napoli’s menu describes them, are served in a traditional paper wrapping, topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, and will disappear from your table in seconds. Hot from the fryer, they’re soft and delightful.
Via Napoli offers a wide range of aperitifs, signature drinks, and wine to pair with meals. I don’t normally drink alcoholic beverages, but the Sangria I was served was crisp, refreshing, and quite enjoyable. But for those wanting to avoid alcohol, Via Napoli offers Acqua Fresca, a trio of “house-made, seasonal fruit juice coolers” that should not be passed up. Currently available in strawberry, blood orange, and limonata (lemonade) flavors, each provides the ultimate refreshment to fight the blazing Florida heat outside. They’re cold, very sweet, and definitely shareable.
The high recommendation I give for Via Napoli also comes with a bit of a high price. An “individual” pizza costs $16, though when paired with an appetizer ($8-14) can easily be enough food for two. A large pizza is $27, and the “1/2 meter to share” is $36, but both are likely to leave you with leftovers unless you’re with a big group. Some prices are more appropriate than others. At $10, the Arancini (risotto balls) are a great value. But at $5 per glass, the Acqua Fresca will become a once-in-a-while treat for me rather than an every-visit refreshment. You can view the full Via Napoli menu here, complete with prices (subject to change, of course).
The restaurant itself is surprisingly large for a “pizza place.” The decor and seating have a casual feel, and the staff is both friendly and attractive – they are Italian, after all. One long table stretches nearly the entire width of the restaurant opposite the three pizza ovens while smaller tables surround the walls. Outdoor seating is available as well.
Despite Via Napoli holding its grand opening yesterday, it won’t be “officially” open for another month. You can make reservations now, but only for dates after September 10. Until then, the restaurant is open for walk-up patrons only in a “soft opening” phase. And as you heard Valenti say in the video interview above, the restaurant is table service only – for now. Hopes are high among many who look forward to one day grabbing a slice to go of Via Napoli’s truly authentic Neapolitan pizza tastes. Still, in the meantime, there’s ample seating and friendly service to ensure comfort and satisfaction to all who want to sample a new taste of Italy while at EPCOT.
More photos from the grand opening of Via Napoli at EPCOT:
All photos by Katherine McElroy