Somehow, timed just right, Whitney and I are boarding our train from Naples to Bologna absolutely stuffed. We have eaten more pizza in the last week than I ever did working fulltime at Domino’s Pizza in college. Now, we’ve made this quick stop at a very highly recommended pizza joint, L’Antica Pizzeria di Michele, to really top it all off. The dough, the sauce, the oil, oregano, basil and mozzarella…It’s unbelievably good. Ok, ok, let me wipe away the drool and continue to share the rest of our time in this busy little city.
Our time in Naples was short; we only spent two nights in a B&B type hotel before taking off for the Amalfi Coast, but as usual we made sure to see all we could. We arrived at lunch time to check in then headed straight into downtown for something to eat. Our host recommended Vesi, a small pizza chain, and just as we entered the old part of town with the narrow stone streets and numerous shops, we saw the restaurant. Without hesitation, we requested a table. The waiter handed us a couple menus and before he even walked away I ordered the famous Margarita pizza. It was the perfect start to our visit in this city.
From there, we then set off to see the Castel Nuovo near the Port of Naples. This castle was built in 1279 under the reign of Charles I who moved the capital of the Kingdom of Naples here with the city growing up around it. We wandered through a few of the narrow streets on our way taking note of various menus and prices looking for the best dinner option. Consumed at times with frequently dodging the vespas and motorcycles, we peeked inside a few shops just to check it out and soak up some AC while slowly leaving the crowded tourist areas. We knew we were nearing the Castle when we saw the ferry and cruise ship terminals; soon we were looking up at the strong and intimidating facade of the Castle. We decided not to go inside as we weren’t really in the mood for a museum especially in the blazing heat and no AC inside, so we wandered back toward home.
Heading back toward city center, we passed through the historic Galleria Umberto a high-end shopping mall opened in 1890 that was undergoing significant renovations. It was one of the projects of the risanamento (make healthy again) in rebuilding a cleaner healthier Naples during the late 1800s. It is going to be gorgeous again once all the renovations are done and the scaffolding comes down. From here, we veered from the main street, drawn by a few “cute roads” and strolled through numerous streets in a very old and residential area of town. It was even complete with a pickup truck passing through selling watermelons over a loud speaker.
That evening we were set on finding some seafood pasta. Hoping to enjoy the evening as a Napoli person would, we first sat down for an apertivo at Intra Moenia Caffee Letterario. The appertivo is always a drink that comes with some sort of nuts, chips, or crackers. Whitney and I got a little time to chat about the journey so far and what we hope to do in the coming weeks while the evening faded into night and the locals began to gather in the square near our table. “Whitney, If we weren’t from New York, people might think this place is a little sketchy…” I said. Whitney responded, “I think this is absolutely our sort of place, what are you talking about?” Apparently our views were very different.
After our appertivo we found a small restaurant with outdoor seating and ordered our seafood dinner, Whitney the spaghetti con le vongole (spaghetti with clams) and me the anchovy basil pizza.
Continuing our food tour of Naples the next morning, Whitney put together an actual self-guided food tour itinerary for us. We got up early and headed to Gran Caffe Gambrinus for an authentic Italian café, (espresso shot) but end up getting 2 cappuccinos to sip while standing at the bar. Looking around we could imagine the wealthy men and women that must have passed through on their way to some of the high-end stores at the Galleria Umberto just across the street.
Next we planned to try sfogaliatelle a sweet ricotta filled pastry originating in Naples. We hoped to visit Pinatauro, a hole-in-the wall pastry shop, but they were closed. Apparently Sunday was not the best day to attempt this self-guided food tour, but it was our only day so on we went ending up at another pastry shop a few blocks away. The sfogaliatelle was spectacular with a sweet flaky crust poking our lips as we bit into the ricotta filled center.
As we left the pastry shop we entered the Piazza del Plebiscito, named after the plebiscite in 1863 that led to Naples joining unified Italy. This public square is partially surrounded by a semicircle of four palaces. These include the Royal Palace of Naples, with its 30 rooms having been transformed into a palace museum; or the largest library in Italy, the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III. Anyway, there was no time, so we got back on our food tour.
Next, we headed to the Mercato di Porta Nolana. Whitney and I find markets fascinating with the displays of seafood and produce alongside a grand variety of other things. The continuous bartering and selling provides an exciting form of entertainment. However, this particular market as a whole was like no other we have seen. Open nearly every day of the year with the usual food sales highlighting the area, we were surprised to see so much. We were initially amused by the seafood market, Italian salesmen slinging bags of seafood into the hands of eager customers and fileting a fresh catch in a matter of seconds. We later passed the usual fruit and vegetable stands and bought a bag of fresh olives…3 euro for a kilogram, way too many for the two of us. We noticed that the market continued down various streets with a never ending array of second hand clothes and other household items intermixed with the knock-off purses/handbags. I even considered a hair clipper set for 6 euro, but turned it down…Good times.
From here, Whitney directed us toward La Masardona planning to have a pizza fritta (deep-fried pizza dough stuffed with dried lard cubes, salami, ham, smoked provola cheese, ricotta, and tomato). How could this not be amazing!?! This too turned out to be closed, but not just for the day…sadly, they are closed for the month for their annual vacation. (Another glitch in our Italian food tour).
We passed La Masardona and arrived at Enoteca Belledonne just about noon. This is sort of like a gourmet cafeteria (think along the lines of Eataly) with multiple stations serving varying types of meals along with the actual ingredients for purchase. We were there just as they were opening and since we were a little full from our morning we simply browsed the displays and local concoctions available.
Back on the self-guided food tour, we were on the search for that Pizza Fritta I mentioned hoping to have a little something before sitting down for a late lunch. We easily found it at nearby pizzeria and fell in love with this ‘delicacy.’ Somehow, we wanted to have what equates to a small deep-fried calzone for a snack before lunch. We were eating our way through Naples I guess. On our way back into old town and nearing Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo, we noticed there was no line out front…we instantly knew it too was closed and the sign on the door left no other possibility. Either way, it was on our list to have a Marinara pizza so the next pizzeria we saw we entered and split this pizza and a house salad.
As we left there, Whitney sighed stating that it looked like Gay Odin, a tiny Neopolitan chocolate shop, was closed too. More than overstuffed, I shrugged my shoulders knowing that there was no way I’d have room for anything else. On the quest to find these restaurants and indulge ourselves, it was time for a break from all the eating and we were ready for some AC back home.
To finish out the night we headed back into the city center for dinner. We were back on the hunt for pizza and put our name on the list at Pizzeria di Matteo as it looked like one of the popular places in town with a queue outside. With a little time to wait, we went right next door for another apertivo, Spritz for Whitney and my favorite Coke Zero. Back at the pizzeria, I ordered my go to pizza a Diavola which was basically a pepperoni pizza and Whitney got her own with cherry tomatoes, capers, olives, basil, oregano and mozzarella both of which definitely did not disappoint.
Although our time in Naples was limited, we absolutely loved it. Having made our own food tour, we found no better way to explore this city. On this incredible food tour we only spent about 25euro each ($30) for everything…and actually couldn’t have consumed any more than that. We appreciated all the excellent restaurants we visited and the people running each establishment were happy to share their creations. The downside to our experience besides being too short was dealing with the constant barrage of vespas on the pathways and roadways darting in and out of everywhere. Our last recommendation to anyone traveling here is to avoid the late July and August when many restaurants are closed for vacation and try to spend a lot more than the two days we did to experience some of the sites I mentioned.
Arrivederci Napoli, next stop is the Amalfi Coast!