Joe Pizza's Neapolitan returns to its southern Italian menu

March 17, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

The unassuming Neapolitan is a restaurant with a lot of history behind it. Joe Pizza's grandparents opened it in the late '20s, a few months after Little Italy's first restaurant, the Roma, opened.

Later his mother and two uncles each started their own restaurants, one of which was Chiapparelli's. In the '40s, Mr. Pizza says, he could stand on the Neapolitan's steps, look down the street and see the four restaurants his family owned. (There were seven then in little Italy.)

In recent years the Neapolitan has fallen on hard times. Last fall when I ate there I enjoyed my meal, but the new (as of last summer) and more sophisticated northern Italian menu never drew crowds to the tiny dining room.

Now Joe Pizza has gone back to the restaurant's roots, southern Italian food. He let his chef go and is doing the cooking himself. The formal white tablecloths have been changed to cheerful green and white checked oil cloths. Each table is set with red paper napkins and red carnations. Business, Mr. Pizza says, has tripled since the change.

The menu now consists of pizzas (I'm sure he's heard all the

jokes about his name) and pastas. Prices are low. Three of us stuffed ourselves; and the check, including two glasses of wine, came to $33. Of course, the wine reminded me of not-too-sweet apple juice and came in plastic tumblers. But at $1.75 a tumbler, who can complain?

Pizzas are outstanding here. Crusts are thin and crisp, the tomato sauce is chunky and homemade. We had ours with still-crisp slivers of fresh green pepper and fennel-scented Italian sausage.

Homemade tomato sauce seems to be a specialty; we had a fine spicy version with the penne arribiata. The new menu also offers a few other basic pastas, along the lines of spaghetti with meat sauce and stuffed shells.

You could start with soup; we had a good, if a bit too salty, spinach and pasta soup, served piping hot. Or order the pane farcite, soft Italian bread stuffed with tomato sauce and mozzarella. (Ask the kitchen to bake this to the point of real crustiness. Otherwise it's uninteresting.)

The house specialty is a hot salad. Lettuce, vegetables (including thin slices of potatoes) and prosciutto are sauteed in the house salad dressing. Weird, ugly and delicious.

The reason the kitchen can saute something in its salad dressing is that it's mostly oil. I presume it's the same one we had on the little house salad of white iceberg lettuce, white hothouse tomatoes, white onions and curls of carrot. OK, so maybe you aren't going to get your vitamins in this meal.

Forget the vitamins. You might as well go whole hog and finish off with a crisp cannoli with a creamy ricotta filling or the Neapolitan's homemade apple cake, fresh and moist.

Neapolitan

Where: 915 Fawn St.

Hours: Tuesdays to Fridays 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Saturdays 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sundays noon-9 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards

Features: Pizza, pasta

Non-smoking section? yes

Call: (410) 547-1630

Prices: $1.95-$6.75

** 1/2

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