Pass through Sand Springs downtown, and it is pretty hard to miss Napoli's Italian Restaurant. It sits across the street from the police station, on the southwest corner of McKinley Avenue and Broadway Street and has a bright hand painted sign on the window announcing its location. It is housed in a charming old brick building, home to a variety of businesses and municipal offices, over the years.
The owner bravely, and perhaps a bit optimistically, opened Napoli's during the snowstorm of January 2010. Well, if that's your scheduled opening date, you go with it, right?
It turned out to be a brisk day, and he actually had to call in a few close-by employees that he had told to take the day off because of the storm. In characteristically human fashion, Sand Springers decided, "Hey, if we can't do anything else, lets eat! And they've been eating at Napoli's ever since. We got a good demonstration of why on a recent Friday night in July.
We entered a long narrow dining room, lined on both sides with booths and dotted with tables down the center of the room. The walls were adorned with the typical Mediterranean artwork, the tables topped with checked cloths. We were immediately greeted by a young man who was cleaning and re-setting said tables, and we gathered by his accent that he might be Albanian as is owner Bekim Rexhepi.
If you have any sense of European and Mediterranean history then you know that until the mid 40's, Albania was not even a country in its own right, but a "possession" of the Republic of Italy, and heavily influenced by its culture and cuisine. Consequently, it is perfectly logical for an individual of Albanian descent to open an Italian eatery, as Mr. Rexhepi has done, and do an excellent job of it.
You know, if you have read many of my reviews, that I subscribe to the philosophy that a server does not learn, is not taught, and cannot not acquire the intangible "quality" that makes one a natural at it. You either have it, or you don't. You can learn to wait on people, you can learn to be efficient at what you do, you can memorize the menu, but that "Je ne sais quoi" is either there, or it's not.
Our server, a young lady named Micah, definitely had it, and contributed a lot to the ambience and overall charm of the evening. She is a natural, very charming and comfortable, completely at ease for such a young person. I recommend you try and sit in her station if possible.
Shortly after seating, a basket of the most incredible homemade, handmade Focaccia rolls were brought to the table. Hot, fresh, topped with sea salt, olive oil, and rosemary, they were, well, divine! So good in fact, that we asked Micah to bring us another basket, which she did, all the while sharing in our accolades for the creator of these tender, yeasty, airy nuggets of goodness.
In the meantime, she had guided us through the huge menu with perfect knowledge, giving us recommendations as we went. Her favorite got a lot of consideration from Katie. It was Tortellini Siciliano, if memory serves, but in true Katie style a seafood dish won out - Linguini Tuttomare - which if my limited Italian serves me correctly roughly translates to fruits of the sea. It was a huge plate of flat, perfectly cooked pasta, mixed with bay scallops, huge mussels on the half shell, and 6 absolutely giant shrimp. Shrimp are sized by the count per pound, ie. A 21/25 means there are an average of 23 per pound, a 26/30 means there are 28 and so on. The higher the number is, the smaller the shrimp. I am quite sure these were at the very least a 21/25, and may have even been a 16/20. These were absolutely huge for a dish priced at under $14. This is a very impressive and good deal.
We had started the meal with a plate of bubbling hot stuffed mushrooms, plump with a mixture of crab and sausage, and almost floating in an alla panna sauce - most accurately described as a white sauce with a ladle-full or two of red sauce stirred in. Essentially a pink sauce, I guess you could say. The mushrooms were fantastic, the sauce was the perfect accompaniment to a sopping up chunk of the Focaccia roll, and altogether they were a diner's dream.
A large chicken and veal section caught my eye, and after vacillating for awhile, I went for the Chicken Damabianka. Wow! This dish was rich, delicious, and bountiful, and I would order it again (and will) in a heartbeat. Thin spaghetti was tossed with a brandy and cream sauce, generously dotted with fresh sautéed mushrooms and served with a very generously sized chicken breast, pounded thin, dusted with seasoned flour, and sautéed. The way the dish was assembled makes me think the chef sautéed the chicken, added the mushrooms to sauté, deglazed the pan with the brandy, added the sauce, and allowed the whole dish to simmer for a minute. Then I think he dropped the pre-heated thin spaghetti into the pan and allowed the entire list of ingredients to become one cohesive dish. This is the way to prepare a dish like this. You don't pour the sauce over everything at the end. You let the entire orchestra simmer into one symphony.
Any of the 8 preparations in the chicken section can be substituted with veal for $2 more. That means all the chicken dishes like the one just described come in at a whopping $9.95, and substituted with veal for a mere $11.95. Chef Bekim offers a variety of house specialties; things like the Pomodoro and Alfredo dishes, plus a few less mainstream ideas like Chicken Carchove, a dish similar to mine only prepared with artichoke hearts, or the Napoli Special, thin spaghetti, chicken, Italian sausage, bell peppers, ham, and black olives in an Alla Panna sauce. This one breaks the bank at $11.95.
The menu is well-rounded with a section of entrées as well as side salads, sandwiches like Stromboli, Calzone, a sausage or meatball sub, and a Philly Cheese steak -- (not strictly Italian, but a good sandwich all the same). Additionally there is a respectable baked pasta section with lasagna, ziti, manicotti, baked ravioli and eggplant dishes, and a sampler platter. All of the aforementioned are priced at $7.95.
But it doesn't stop there. Chef also offers a large section of spaghetti and tortellini dishes with sausage, peppers, ham, meatballs and more.
10 items adorn the seafood section, including a lobster ravioli, salmon picatta, and much more. And if that all isn't enough there is a pizza section as well. Just to make choosing a little harder.
A nice dessert selection got little attention from us since we had to be wedged out the door after all of that food, but it did have some traditional selections at $2.95 - $3.75.
There is a bit of a drive from Tulsa to Sand Springs, probably 8-10 minutes, but road construction on the Sand Springs Expressway (64/51 West) is nearly complete, the roads are smooth, and the 5-mile drive west of downtown Tulsa is scenic.
Don't expect vegetable sculptures and balsamic syrup drizzles on your food. This is just good, very good, simple, Italian cuisine at it's freshest and tastiest. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.
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