I remember when Così was a thing. When I lived on the East Coast, people went to Così because it was a step up from Starbucks. Just as expensive and just as corporate, but it didn't feel expensive and corporate.
For some reason, Tulsa didn't agree with that assessment and our Così near E. 71 Street and S. Yale Avenue closed.
Fortunately, an excellent restaurant has gone up in its place. Naples Flatbread and Wine, a Florida-based chain, opened its doors at 4929 E. 71st St. in September. It's already been a success. According to Theodore, our very sweet waiter (more on him in a bit), another location near the BOK Center has been approved and is scheduled to open its doors in the fall.
I only hope the food and service as good there as they were in south Tulsa. My wife and I will likely visit this location again.
Naples Flatbread is best known for -- you guessed it -- flatbread. In appearance, it looks a bit like thin crust pizza, but that really doesn't do it justice. It was much better than your average pizza.
For an appetizer (appeteaser Naples calls it), we ordered Fior-di-Latte -- tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, basil leaves, and mozzarella cheese topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The tomatoes weren't quite ripe, which detracted from the overall taste. However, they were quite good. The bell peppers in particular were a nice touch. While this is a common appetizer in Italian restaurants, and this one didn't stand out too much, you really can't go wrong with mozzarella slices. It will always taste great.
For our main courses, Theodore claimed that one flatbread is enough to fill two people and leave some to take home. This wasn't quite our experience. My wife ordered a flatbread -- the Basilico -- and ate it by herself -- though to be fair, she ate the last two pieces to prove a point.
Still, she ate the whole thing because she liked it. It was delicious.
Fresh baked and warm, the flatbread my wife ordered for her dinner was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Just perfect.
The Basilico comes with several toppings: chicken, asiago, caramelized onions, sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella, and a balsamic reduction (she got hers without the chicken). And pesto. Oh, the pesto. It really made the entrée pop. Even now, writing about the experience several days later, I get hungry thinking about it.
For my own meal, I ordered the lobster bisque, which at Naples is a pasta dish -- not a soup. Lobster, mozzarella, asiago, onions, tomatoes, and sherry bisque are combined with macaroni to create the greatest grownup mac-and-cheese you'll eat this year.
Theodore said he prefers the "regular" gourmet mac-and-cheese to the lobster bisque. But when he mentioned the mac-and-cheese, his eyes rolled into the back of his head at the memory of the taste.
And yes, the lobster bisque was that good.
The service was nothing short of perfect. Theodore was one of the chattiest waiters I've met in a long time. He regaled my wife and me with stories of how difficult it is to be a senior at Broken Arrow High School (just imagine the traffic!) and a tale of his recent car accident (he survived just fine). Some people can find that much small talk annoying, but Theodore was genuinely entertaining. It was like dinner and a show -- only the show was free!
Talking so much didn't prevent Theodore from doing his job as a server. Our food came promptly; he cleared dishes almost as soon as we were finished with our meals. He took great care to make sure we were enjoying ourselves.
Most of all, he knew the Naples menu backwards and forwards. He even knew the wine menu even though he's still in high school. I offer no opinion as to how he may know this.
Other servers -- busboys and seating hosts -- were equally attentive and ensured that we had a good time.
But it's safe to say that talking with Theodore was the highlight of our evening.
Naples has largely kept the atmosphere of the Così that preceded it. I don't know if that was intentional or if the two simply have similar concepts. The walls are a bit sterile, with faux-Italian colors and few decorations. However, everything is kept clean and the place feels welcoming.
A television played the C-USA basketball tournament in the background while we were there, but nobody seemed to be paying attention. Naples was the sort of place where you go for good food and good conversation, not to sit on your butt and watch the game.
I usually don't enjoy eating at franchises or chains. I do -- with an unfortunate amount of frequency -- but it's often because I know what I'm getting. I know chain Tex-Mex isn't going to be that bad, even if I know it's probably not going to be great. I didn't have many expectations going to Naples.
This restaurant exceeded every expectation I had. The food was delicious; the service was excellent. Even the atmosphere -- while nothing to write home about -- was comfortable.
But by far the best part of our evening was our conversation with Theodore. I've rarely had so good a waiter. Managers, if you're reading this, give that man a raise!
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