800 Fifth Ave. S, Naples, FL
If you go: Rossopomodoro
Hours: Noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Thursday. Noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
Cuisine: Italian with an emphasis on pizza
Atmosphere: Vibrant and loud. If you want a quiet meal, go somewhere else.
Service: Always on top of things, quick to accommodate requests and full of suggestions
Prices: Mostly reasonable. The appetizers are a little pricey from $8 to $17, but entrees start as at $9 for dinner salads and go to $30 for filet. Pizzas are $9 to $20. Desserts are $7 to $10.
Recommended dishes: Mixed Neapolitan fritters, $8; bucatino pasta, $12; sausage with broccoli rabe, $16; Ventura pizza, $17; fried doughnuts, $8.
Verdict: A chain that doesn’t taste like one. This is a great place to grab a pizza or some more traditional Neapolitan fare.
NAPLES — Americans have a strange love-hate relationship with chains, especially restaurants.
We crave both authenticity and consistency. We want good tasting food, as long as it’s not too pricey, doesn’t take too long to prepare and can fit into our busy schedules.
So at the same time we malign chain restaurants, the Olive Gardens, Applebees and Outbacks, for their focus-group driven cuisine, we flock to them enough to validate their strategies.
To mention that Rossopomodoro is a chain seems to damn it. But this is a case where a chain produces food just as good as you’re going to find at most of the pizza/pasta joints in town.
Imported from Naples, Italy, the Fifth Avenue South outpost represents the chain’s first venture on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it shows a bit in the menu, which substitutes “typical” for “traditional” frequently in the food descriptions and labels a dish of cheese wrapped in bacon as vegetarian.
“Whoever did the menu is kind of an idiot,” our server said on a recent visit when asked about this new definition of cured pork as a vegetable.
But whoever designed the dish — two heaping balls of scamorza cheese, wrapped in bacon and served with mushrooms and grilled tomatoes ($15) — is some sort of savant. Served as an entree, the smooth, mozzarella-esque cheese becomes a bit more overwhelming. Order it instead as an appetizer for a big group and let everyone enjoy a bit of the creamy-salty-smokey interplay.
Appetizers to consider: Calamari ($14.50) so perfectly fried that it doesn’t matter the sauce is a bit lacking; fried eggplant balls ($13) served with simple, sweet cherry tomato relish; and a fried platter ($8) that included a crispy and surprisingly light potato croquette.
Although most people probably think of Rossopomodoro primarily as a pizza place, and the gleaming gilded-tile pizza oven is certainly the focus of the room, the menu is full of wonderful dishes that have nothing to do with flat dough.
The bucatino pasta ($12.50) — a thicker, hollow spaghetti — is served with smokey carbonara sauce the kitchen gussies up with ricotta cheese. Think of it as a more reasonable entree option to the scamorza while still enjoying some of the flavor.
Don’t want to weight yourself down with carbs, but want something substantial? Try the ‘a sasiccia ($16), a slightly spicy pan-fried sausage served on a bed of bitter broccoli rabe seasoned with garlic and chili flakes.
It’s nice to see that all tastes are accounted for on Rossopomodoro’s menu. But skip the steak. The strip steak with artichokes, arugula and Parmesan ($25) was underseasoned and really not that flavorful. You can get a better cut of meat at a lot of places.
Of course no trip to Rossopomodoro would be complete without pizza. It’s certainly a different experience that what most of us are used to, even those who seek out wood-oven pizza. The difference is the crust, which the imported oven manages to give a smokey charred flavor without making it crispy.
If you go in expecting New York-style slices, you are going to be very disappointed. The dough light and slightly spongy, making it a good vehicle to sop up some of the restaurant’s infused chili oil.
For toppings, Rossopomodoro’s white pizzas tend to be a bit more satisfying. The fresh-made red sauce is too watery for the most part and ends up with as much on the plate as in your mouth. The toppings are all top notch, though some purists may regard the use of the less complex grana padano cheese over the more highly regarded Parmigiano Reggiano as a bit of a skimp. The milder flavor seems to be an asset, however, when mixed with robust ingredients like prosciutto, arugula and basil on the Ventura ($17).
Although the bountiful dessert menu contains other standout dishes — a tiramisu with wonderful Nutella cream ($8) and the texturally light, but densely flavored dark chocolate and almond cake ($8) — the best are the devilishly simple fried doughnuts rolled in vanilla sugar and drizzled with Nutella ($8). Chewy and soft, with a contrast of crunchy sugar and creamy Nutella, these are the perfect way to end a meal. Or honestly as a stand-alone bite at the bar after dinner somewhere else on Fifth Avenue. These may be the best dessert offered on the street.
Connect with Jonathan Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jonathan_foerster