by Max Brantley
Nothing Arkansas about this except the eaters, pair of Arkies the only English speakers in a joyous Neapolitan restaurant filled with families enjoying a Sunday evening repast. And I do mean evening. The restaurant did not even open until 8 p.m.
But what a way to end a trip in Naples -- an old school restaurant.
It was our best pizza in Naples, far better than the guidebook picks. The crust was blistered in the hot oven, but crisp on the bottom all over, no soggy center. The toppings were chopped tomatoes, a lavish amount of mozzarella, basil, fresh mushrooms and thinly sliced ham, cooked to the crispness of bacon. It was popular all over the restaurant Sunday evening.
I had the house special linguine, with shrimp, clams and fish in a red sauce atop firm strands of pasta. Garlicky, but not too much. Salty, but not too much.
In the background of the photo, you can also see remanants of a platter of battered and fried vegetables, including squash blossoms, cheese and fritters made variously with rice, potatoes and ham. The frying was impeccably crisp. A platter for one, 10 euros, was enough for about 4.
The house red from the region, Campana,washed everything down in fine fashion.
We were sorry we couldn't get around to more seafood. The fish, fresh from vendors on the boat dock across the street, was arrayed on ice in the middle of the restaurant, glistening and fresh. It smelled only of the sea. The shellfish wiggled when the waiter held them up for inspection.
I was stuffed, but I had a slice of baba, the rum-soaked Neapolitan sponge cake. We also had coffee and a shot of grappa.
All this, plus entertainment from a strolling guitar player and friendly service from veteran waiters clad in white jackets and black bow ties for $100. That covered everything -- food, drink, tax, tip, entertainment.
I'd do it again and again. Ciro's Mergellina. Go there if you find yourself in this sprawling, fascinating and, yes, somewhat gritty, place. There's a Ciro's cafe for just coffee, desserts and pizza on the waterfront, but the real thing is set back about a block from the water. Think of it as Gallatoire's Naples-style, but cheaper.