Disney, Patina Group debut Via Napoli at Epcot's Italy pavilion

August 5, 2010, 2:01 PM · LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida - Walt Disney World and the Patina Restaurant Group officially opened Epcot's newest restaurant this morning, Via Napoli, the second restaurant in the theme park's Italy pavilion.

Mickey and Minnie help cut the ribbon to open Via Napoli

Via Napoli will be familiar to west-coast Disney fans, as it might be considered a sibling to the Anaheim Downtown Disney's Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria, also a production of Los Angeles' Patina Group. But Via Napoli occupies a much grander space, with a soaring wood ceiling and long communal table anchoring the room.

Interior of Via Napoli

Executive Chef Charlie Restivo has developed a menu that showcases the work of the restaurant's trio of wooden-fired ovens. Pizza Napoletana is the focus of this table-service restaurant, which will also offer a selection of salads, pasta and appetizers.

Executive Chef Charlie Restivo
Via Napoli Executive Chef Charlie Restivo

Don't expect typically Americanized pizza here. You won't be ordering a large, thick crust with pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms. You won't be selecting personalized toppings at all. Via Napoli offers nine selections of its thin-crust pizza:

Margherita pizza
A server shows off a large Margherita pizza.

I fear that misconceptions will sink this restaurant before many fans give it a chance. Neither the selections, nor the prices, are in line with what most Americans consider when thinking about a pizzeria. But if you accept Via Napoli on its own terms, as a fine-dining spin on authentic Italian pizza from Naples, then you'll find this a welcome new option in Epcot.

My advice? Share! The food was presented at this morning's media event by servers walking the room, carrying plates from which we could sample the various menu items. Frankly, that's the ideal way to enjoy this cuisine, which relies on fresh ingredients, presented simply, but with flawless cooking technique.

Joachim SplichalPatina Group master chef Joachim Splichal samples the artichoke-and-truffle-oil pizza.

Unfortunately, noshing at a reception won't be an option when you visit. So select a pizza or two, add a salad or the fritto misto, and share among all at the table. The "individual" pizzas run $16, but can serve two easily. A large ($27) would serve a family of four and the "'1/2 meter' to share" ($36) would best be "shared" by your entire softball team.

The worst mistake you could make here would be for each person in your family to order his or her own entree, and then attempt to eat just that. The simple flavors here will grow tedious by the time you get a third of the way through your entree, and no one will finish. Why waste food and money? Via Napoli, like the best Italian restaurants, is best experienced by a large group that's willing to pass their plates around the table.

Fritto misto
A sample of the fritto misto, with asparagus and calamari

I'd recommend ordering the fritto misto ($24 - again, more than enough to share), a great test of a kitchen's technique. The heat of cooking can enhance a food's flavor, but not if much of that flavor is lost to the cooking medium, as often happens in boiling or sauteing. Fritto misto, by protecting each vegetable in a light batter, allows the vegetable to be heated without losing its flavor to the oil, or losing its moisture to the heat of an oven.

Done well, as it is here, asparagus becomes a revelation, with the fresh taste of the spear enhanced by a slight bite of saltiness. Done poorly, however, as it is most other places I've tried fritto misto, you end up with a veggie in lost in a greasy batter. The fritto misto at Via Napoli includes an assortment of asparagus, zucchini and artichokes, as well as calamari and Arancini (fried balls of risotto, mozzerella and meat ragu).

For dessert, Via Napoli offers tiramisu ($8), a gelato soda ($9), a gelato sundae ($10) and sorbet ($7). The speciality (which I didn't see available to sample) is Zeppole di Caterina ($10), ricotta cheese fritters served with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

Replies (12)

August 5, 2010 at 6:33 PM · Thank you, Disney. Good choice. It's not fine enough to deter picky guests, but it is authentic enough to attract someone looking for a quality meal.

These Neapolitan pizza joints have become rather popular in a lot of major cities. There were at least two or three in D.C. on my visit in the winter. The pizzas are fresher and lighter than a typical American pizza, usually served with a good selection of micro-brewed beers. On that note, any word on the booze selection, Robert?

August 5, 2010 at 6:55 PM · Eight cocktails, seven "signature" drinks (including a Napolitini - with vodka, limoncello and vermouth), four sparking wines, two house wines, 11 white wines and 11 reds. Most of the wines are available by the glass, quartino and bottle.

Also three beers, plus La Rossa ("now debuting only at Via Napoli!"), an "amber-colored double malt Italian lager."

August 5, 2010 at 7:19 PM · I sampled four of the pizzas. My favorites were the Margherita and the Carciofi, which I found delightful - the artichoke and truffle oil played together nicely, over a light cheese and crust foundation.

I found the Quattro Formaggi just too much cheese for my taste. And I found it nearly impossible to engineer getting a bit of both the prosciutto and the melon into each bite when eating the Prosciutto e Melone. Too fussy.

But my favorite item was the fritto misto, as you might already have guessed. :-)

August 5, 2010 at 10:07 PM · Maybe there will be good Pizza in FL finally ;)

I have always thought that Italy needed to show off their pizza and how its different from American Pizza.

I think it will do fine because many that come from WDW are from the East Coast and will be a bit familiar with this style of pizza. I know what to expect anyway!

August 6, 2010 at 12:53 PM · The food in the pics I have seen does look good.

BUT, there is so much good Italian in so many places, why should I go to WDW and eat (really expensive) Italian? EPCOT can be such a food adventure, I say stretch you food palette and eat something you haven't had.

Try Morocco. Go take a shuttle boat to The Boardwalk and go to Cat Cora's Kouzinna. Visit a fairly authentic-looking pub in Rose and Crown.

August 6, 2010 at 6:23 AM · Hey Anthony- I haven't tried Via Napoli yet, but it definitely won't be a "finally good pizza in Florida" experience! You obviously have not sampled pizza in Orlando which rivals pizza I have tasted anywhere in the world including Chicago(which by way isn't all that and I am from Chicago).

Next time you are in town try to include a trip to Gino's. You won't be disappointed (and I don't work for Gino's!) and that is just one of the many fine pizza eateries in O-Town!

Of course, I cannot wait to try Via Napoli. I will write a review by the end of August!

August 6, 2010 at 7:25 AM · Quick question -- sorry if you've already mentioned this, but is the table-service, sit-down Italian restaurant still open? We really like that one. Just checking. Thanks.
August 6, 2010 at 7:47 AM · Yes, Tutto Italiano remains open, also under the management of the Patina Group. I'd recommend that restaurant if you're looking for pasta, or a meat or seafood dish. Save Via Napoli for pizza and fritto misto.
August 6, 2010 at 8:25 AM · Andy -
I have tried Morocco. It's disappointingly unadventurous. Frankly, the pizza here looks more diverse than the options at Marrakesh.
August 6, 2010 at 12:53 PM · Marrakesh not your thing? Try the quick service Tangierine CafĂ© or get a dessert crepe from the stand outside France or pony up to the tequila bar in Mexico.

I guess if you live in a place like LA, NY, or Chicago, you have very diverse eating opportunities. I don't. I love Italian as much (or more) than the next guy, but sometimes I like to try something different. EPCOT offers that - an international festival every day of the year!

August 7, 2010 at 12:12 PM · When does it open???????????
August 8, 2010 at 8:11 AM · It's open now.

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