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An Unsung Neapolitan Favorite

An Unsung Neapolitan Favorite

Ristorante L'Europeo, my favorite in Naples.

I've got a new favorite restaurant in Naples, a city I love. This eatery was unknown to me and seems unnoticed by the guidebooks, but it was founded in the thirties. Then it was Fratelli Mattozzi, a simple pizzeria, where soon-to-depart emigrants could have a final meal at the port of Naples with friends and family. The place prospered, moved to larger quarters, and (in 1961) officially changed its name to the more worldly L'Europeo. The sign on the front door still says Ristorante Mattozzi, but set aside any expectation of a pizzeria before entering.

Alfonso Mattozzi presides with the ease of a third-generation restaurateur and recognizes almost everyone that comes into his establishment. Professors and students from the nearby university, businessmen, shippers, politicians, nobles - all Neapolitans who care about food pack the dining room daily. The decor is quintessential trattoria: marble-chip terrazzo floors, walls hung with brightly painted plates, photographs, paintings of Naples and its region, with copper pots over the entrance to the kitchen.

Regulars declare their appetite and then negotiate a seasonal meal with Alfonso. Mention my name and Epicurious (he speaks English) and he'll assist you in the same way. The menu is large and packed with regional classics. Diners may begin with seafood salad, sauteed mollusks, marinated anchovies, or pickled eggplant. Don't miss the incredibly fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella or just-made focaccia topped with thinly sliced salumi (cured pork delicacies). Of course, pizza tempts - especially Margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil), cheeseless Marinara, or the Europeo, topped with lots of seasonal stuff. The home-style soups (Pasta Fagioli, Pasta Piselli) feature legumes like chick peas, peas, or lentils paired with pasta that's never mushy. These would be considered pasta dishes by most travellers. Rigatoni are sauced with mussels and zucchini (or squash blossoms, depending on the season), fusilli with meat sauce and ricotta. Have a hearty appetite? Then continue with local fish such as a pezzogna or coccio - who knows what they are called elsewhere? Or enjoy some deep fried squid.

Try to save room for the sampler of traditional desserts, which includes small sfogliatelle (crisp layers of pastry, shell-shaped, holding a ricotta filling), tiny custard tarts topped with wild berries, a wedge of pastiera (a lattice-crusted tart filled with a grain-and-ricotta custard) and cannoli.  That should do it.

Back when people ate shellfish from the Bay of Naples (many, many years ago), L'Europeo employed an ostricaro (an "oyster-man") to open oysters and clams. A man named Salvatore held this post for decades. He's long retired, and oysters are shucked in the kitchen, but Salvatore remains a fixture on the premises. Offer him a glass of wine and he may sing for you in local dialect. Don't be embarrassed if you don't understand him - no one can.

L'Europeo di Mattozzi, via Marchese Campodisola 4, Naples; tel. 39-081-5521323. 
Closed Sunday and all evenings, except Friday and Saturday.

April 30, 1999


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