664 North Main St., East Longmeadow, 413-732-9300
Hours: Sun.-Thu. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 - 11 p.m.
Prices: $6.95 to $22.95.
There is always a place in the community reserved for ritual, no matter what town you’re from. The food is good and pretty much always the same in every season. In East Longmeadow it’s an Italian place tucked away in a strip mall. Villa Napoletana is where marriage is proposed, weddings are catered and baby showers are held. The food is old-school southern Italian, as in “Forget your diet.” The service is new-school, as in, “Hello, I’m Ted and I will be taking care of you tonight.”
Ted takes care of you, carefully explaining each dish, apologizing profusely for fish substitutions and crumbing between each course. His solemnity fits the scene: serious eating takes place in this 10-year-old eatery where “locavore,” “heart-healthy” and “juice fast” are not topics for discussion.
Antipastis include squid, sweet sausage with greens and deep-fried cheese. Calamari Fra Diavolo is fresh calamari lightly fried and tossed with garlic, banana peppers, cherry tomatoes, white wine and butter. This dish was mountainous and extremely flavorful. If you don’t like garlic, try the mozzarella en carozza–a classic Italian dish. It is, simply, a square of breaded, whole milk mozzarella cheese that is deep-fried in nice clean oil. It is served in a neat square swimming in very spicy, even complex red sauce. It is the Mona Lisa compared to the U.S. version: fried mozzarella sticks with dipping sauce.
The other nice appetizer is Friarielli, broccoli rapi sautéed with sweet sausage and extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon. (Next to the item on the menu is an out-of-nowhere comment: “Delicious!”, which is true.) Anyone who has experienced good broccoli rapi will say the same. Strips of sweet sausage are enfolded in generous rapi that is cooked only long enough to get the bitterness out.
There are five salads on the menu, but since the entrees come with a nice chunk of iceberg with a dollop of dressing and there’s so much eating to do, what’s the point?
The costatelle Napoletana is a 14-ounce bone-in pork chop stuffed with spinach, roasted red peppers and Asiago cheese stuffing and finished in a white wine sauce. It stands tall and leans like the Tower of Pisa. The dish is succulent; the combination of the sharp cheese and roasted chop cut with wine sings an aria to anyone lucky enough to figure out that this is the best dish on the menu.
The phrase “When in Rome” comes to mind when the Tartufo ravioli appears. Southern Italian food is basic—sauce, pizza, macaroni. Historically, people in this region had little access to the farms in the north. The pasta was fine, the sauce was rich and maybe in their day the mushrooms had a wild streak, but no more.
On the seafood side, the Mishio di Pesce featured fresh mussels. The grilled salmon might be substituted with scallops the size of little pillows. The fish and generous helpings of spinach are tossed in a lemony cream sauce and served over fettuccini; the citrus is a perfect foil for the heavy pasta and cream.
The Scalopine al ‘Nero is blackened tender sea scallops served over a bed of risotto with roasted red peppers and drizzled with a pesto oil. This risotto is actually closer to Uncle Ben’s than the creamy, small-kerneled northern specialty. But the scallops were large and extremely spicy, as advertised.
Desserts are pastries brought in daily. Espresso, cappuccino and other Italian specialty coffees are also on the menu. The beer and wine lists are extensive. When in Rome, order risotto; when in East Longmeadow, order the mozzarella en carozza. It will make you sit up and say, “Ciao Bella!”