January 25th, 2013 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (8)
I’ve been reading the chapter called “First Love” in D.H. Lawrence’s grand novel “The Rainbow” so maybe I’ve set the bar too high. When you dine at Naples Flatbread you won’t experience the surging passion that overwhelmed Ursula Brangwen when she first saw her glamorous army officer. You won’t rush star struck into the night to be swept away by a moonlit epiphany. (Well, maybe that pork shank might…) Still, you will have a fine hearty meal, way above average for that part of town. It’s a nice cozy setting too.
Though in some ways it evokes memories of sunny Napoli, Naples Flatbread hails not from Italy but from Naples, Florida. This is the first and so far only branch of this restaurant to open outside that southwest Florida town (which incidentally is right near the fictional town where novelist John Updike’s famous hero Rabbit Angstrom drops dead). Here’s what sets it apart from any other restaurant around.
That gas-fired oven features a hot stone floor on which the restaurant’s namesake flatbreads, their pizzas, and many other entrees are baked to perfection. (Though I love gluten, I should add that most of the flatbreads and pizzas are available gluten-free.) We ordered just about the only entree which is not baked in the oven, and when it came to the table we were glad we did.
Yes, if any dish here could inspire first love, this would be it. It’s a pork shank ossobuco ($20). Like the traditional Milanese veal dish, this one is first seared, infused with pork demi-glace, then braised for hours. It’s served on a bed of farro with melted Asiago cheese and portobello mushroom chunks. The meat, and there was a lot of it, was impossibly tender, and delicious too. We were sharing the dish but I grabbed as much of it as I could get away with.
There’s a huge menu selection devoted to incredibly creative flatbreads. Most are between $13 and $16 and could serve two people. They are basically pizzas with a very thin crunchy crust. You can get one with figs, duck confit, cheese and caramelized pecans. Or one with chicken tikka, mozzarella and coconut. Or one with lobster, bacon and portobello mushrooms. Or… well, there are lots of others. We settled on one which might insult the waiters if you shout it out: Hey Jerk!
According to the menu this big boy is topped with “pulled pork, mozzarella, applewood smoked bacon, pineapple, coconut, caramelized onion, roasted peppers, Caribbean jerk sauce, balsamic reduction.” I was eating the ossobuco and reached for a slice as an afterthought and it woke me up. It was surprisingly good. The cheese had melted over everything and the whole mess blended together and it was rich and full of flavor. Good enough so that a few days later I said, hey let’s go again.
On our second visit we decided each to order one of the “Hearth Baked Pastas” ($11 each). Each of those is baked in the big oven. While we waited we had nice salads ($2 extra with any entree). Then the pastas came.
All three looked exactly the same until you cut into them. The one above is mine, Penne a la Vodka. It was rich and gooey and cheesy and I liked it. It didn’t have the distinctive flavor of the Penne a la Vodka I’m used to (it’s a popular dish in Brooklyn and there it comes with a rich pink creamy sauce) but still I liked it. Bette got Three Cheese Alfredo. (She cut the side to show the interior.)
This was creamy too, and I liked it even better. Here’s Cathe’s lasagna.
Not bad, but a bit dry and I liked the others more. I definitely preferred the pork shank ossobuco to any of them. Still, it was a fine hearty meal.
Naples Flatbread and Wine Bar
4929 E. 71 St. (northeast corner of Yale)
Open daily from 11 AM to around 10 PM (Lunch specials available before 4 PM, including $8 flatbreads)
Brian Schwartz: Author
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.