The road to cuisine throughout history travels from China across Asia to Europe and the Mediterranean. Similarly, the path of great food in World Showcase East now follows a similar trail, as guests pass through China and Germany on their way to Italy, where newly christened Via Napoli entices guests to take on an adventure. With pizza having been a plague amongst food fanatics throughout the history of Walt Disney World, it is easy to see why Via Napoli has had a very low standard to meet and a plethora of skeptics weary of taking a leap of faith. As it turns out, all of these fears and low expectations can be thrown right out the window, or better yet, burned to a cinder in Via Napoli’s stone ovens.
You know this is something different the moment you walk through the front door, especially with windows featuring the phrase (aria condizionata), otherwise known as air conditioning. The chandelier in the entranceway is made from some of the most expensive Italian glass in the world, and the vibrant colors are breathtaking to behold. Once inside the restaurant proper, the three large ovens, placed inside the gaping maws of figures that embody the three active volcanoes in Italy, Vesuvio, Stromboli, and Etna, immediately catch the eye. Along the back wall are a selection of vintage Italian travel posters, gorgeously designed tiles can be found throughout the establishment, and there is even a chipping mural depicting classic pastoral Italy. While décor and ambience do not a restaurant make, this type of dedication to the history and heritage of Italy bodes well for the meal to come.Our server, Filippo, was simply amazing! He did a fantastic job of not only walking us through the menu, including offering reminders of what drinks were and were not complimentary refills, but he also graciously answered questioned, was devoted to making sure the meal went smoothly, and even related several details about the various design elements of the restaurant throughout the time we were there.Getting to the heart of the matter, or stomach as it were, let’s talk about the food. The group I was with, which included my wife, father, and our good friends Bonnie and Andy, decide to sample five of the nine wood-fired authentic pizza Napoletana. The pizza’s themselves are made from imported water, tomatoes, flour, and mozzarella, and are cooked in stone ovens that could blacken the crust’s edge, in the way that handmade pizzas have always been prepared in Naples. Our table tasted the Quattro Stagioni (eggplants, artichokes, parma cotto, and mushrooms), Pepperoni (spicy pepperoni, tomato, and mozzarello), Carciofi (artichoke, pecorino, mozzarella, and truffle oil), Piccante (Italian spicy sausage, broccoli-rabe, tomato, and mozzarella), and Prosciutto e Melone (fontina, mozzarella, pecorino, prosciutto, and canteloupe). The group also explored the Italian beverages, both of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic persuasions, as well as the Caponata alla Siciliana (eggplant salad with olives, capers, tomatoes, and raisins).After the first bite of pizza, it was clear that the pattern of lackluster pizza that has been paraded around Walt Disney World had come to an end. Via Napoli’s pizzas used fresh ingredients and had an authentic preparation. While some of the flavor combinations were not to the liking of the entire table, the pizzas themselves were top-notch. It is worth noting that the pizzas were crafted in Naples style, so those seeking out a New York or Chicago style pizza may have to adjust their perception of pizza. From the pizzas we sampled the Piccante and Carciofi were hits with every one, while the Caponata alla Siciliana and Quattro Stagioni were unique combinations that pleased some and were too distinctive for some traditionalists. The Pepperoni was just what one would expect from this pizza staple, and it would be quite suitable for finicky eaters and children.As Filippo, our waiter, asked after we had been dining for a while, “Is the pizza better than American pizza?” In all honesty, I have to say that Italy is the home of pizza, and very rarely can you improve on the original. However, these pizza transplants are delightful, and bring with them a taste of Italy that has long been missing from the pizzas of Walt Disney World. From architecture to décor, flavors and preparations, Via Napoli is sure to become a hit with food aficionado and families alike.