2009-05-20 / Restaurant of the Week

Authentic Napoli Pizza and Pasta

If you weren't lucky enough to be born Italian, there's no need to despair. Napoli Pizza and Pasta is "your Italian grandmother's house" even if you never had an Italian grandmother! Napoli Pizza and Pasta is about as authentic as it gets, located on the subterranean floor of a house on the corner of 35th Avenue and 33rd Street in Astoria.

The dining room looks like nonna's kitchen and seats just a few lucky diners at a time, but serves up big portions of delicious pasta, chicken, meat and fresh fish and seafood, and of course, their famous pizza. The miraculous kitchen churns out dozens of dishes made with recipes taken from owner Antonio Petito's own family, from Avellino, a rural town near Naples, Italy.

Pizza originates from Napoli, and the classic Margarita, with tomato, basil and mozzarella, is named for an ancient queen of Napoli and is by far the most popular. The Casalinga pizza with fresh eggplant, mozzarella and tomato is also a good seller. Pies literally fly out the door as Napoli does a brisk take-out and delivery business. Napoli is also on NYPD's radar, and there's always at least one patrol car out front, waiting for a delicious meal to go. Besides the authentic, Neapolitan cuisine, the incredibly low prices make this a recession-proof choice for dining out.

Families and friends gather around the table and share Napoli's excellent appetizers which include platters of crispy calamari rings and house made fried zucchini sticks. A large antipasto salad is tossed with cheeses, olives, salami, peppers and more and goes very well with the hot and crispy garlic bread topped with a sprinkling of fresh parsley. The Caesar salad is also excellent, and can be topped with sliced, grilled chicken breast for a meal unto itself.

The busy waitress told us about the nightly specials, which included penne with broccoli rabe, sausage and lots of aromatic garlic. In addition, tender veal or chicken cutlets were prepared Sorrento style with sliced eggplant, prosciutto and mozzarella, sautéed in a delicate sauce. There are about a dozen pasta dishes to choose among, from the traditional dish of spaghetti with grandma's tomato sauce to the creamy Alfredo sauce. Choose your pasta, such as linguine, spaghetti, bow ties, ziti or rigatoni and choose your favorite sauce. My dining companion complimented the vodka sauce for its tangy flavor and light texture. Bolognese sauce is rich with ground beef, so thicker pasta such as rigatoni is a good vessel to hold this delicious sauce. Neapolitan puttanesca sauce with anchovies, black olives and capers goes best over spaghetti or linguine, as does their delicious clam sauce. I must admit, I often crave the simplest tomato basil sauce, or aglio olio, garlic and oil on spaghetti. Oven baked manicotti and stuffed shells are filled with fluffy ricotta, while the lasagna is full of savory meat and cheeses ($6.50). Pasta dishes run from $5.95 to $8 (yes, that's right) and when you think about it, it makes no sense to cook these dishes yourself.

Ask about fresh fish of the day, which may include flaky fillet of sole Francese style with a light lemon, butter and white wine sauce. Salmon is often available grilled or with a Dijon sauce, and the frutti di mare platter includes shrimp, clams, mussels and calamari over linguine with your choice or red or white sauce.

No proper Italian meal is complete without a delicious cup of espresso or cappuccino and creamy tartufo ice cream or homemade Italian cheesecake made with fluffy ricotta. Fresh hot zeppole sprinkled with powdered sugar are sold by the dozen.

Napoli does a steady catering business with party trays going out every weekend and weekdays too. From the 3, 4 and 5-foot hero sandwiches prepared as you like, to the steaming hot trays of veal, chicken or eggplant parmigiana, sausage, peppers and onions and your favorite pasta dishes, take the stress out of your next party and leave the cooking to Petito and his crew.

Napoli Pizza & Pasta is open 7 days a week for lunch or dinner and there is free delivery in the area. Lunch time is popular for their fabulous pizza, hot hero sandwiches, calzones, rolls and juicy hamburgers, though their dinner plates are also available at lunch time. Now everyone can feel like they're Italian at Napoli Pizza and Pasta, where authentic home style Neapolitan cuisine is proudly served. Salute!

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