Napoli's new owner handpicked veteran chef Brody Weaver to craft a menu of classic Italian dishes that rely on what Weaver calls simple, clean flavors with minimal ingredients. "Everything in the kitchen is done from scratch," said Weaver, so Napoli's marinara is made with heirloom tomatoes, its lasagna features mozzarella made in house, and the demi-glace for his Marsala combines the aged wine with a stock that takes three days to make.
"Getting the right people in the kitchen and in the front - experienced, knowledgeable - was key to me," said Monty Koffman, who bought Napoli late last year and opened the restaurant in February.
Regan Barnum of Hilton Head Island, a 30-year veteran of food and beverage, was retained to develop the concept and design of the restaurant and to help set up the staff.
Koffman, a successful businessman from Toronto, retired to Hilton Head six years ago. He takes pride in his restaurant's location at 68 Bluffton Rd. (Hwy. 46) and in bringing a slice of Italy to the heart of Bluffton.
Now open daily for dinner, Napoli will start serving lunch this month and open dining on the wraparound patio, offering live entertainment on weekends.
An early dining menu, available daily from 5 to 5:45 p.m., includes two courses and a beverage for $17. In addition to soup or salad, entrée choices include chicken or eggplant parmesan, fettuccini Alfredo or shrimp carbonara.
Napoli's small plates have become signature dishes, according to Weaver. Bruschetta, a farm-to-plate blend of Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and arugula served on Italian crostini brushed with an herbs de Provence olive oil and touch of white Balsamic, $7, is as Mediterranean as the hand-painted murals of Old World seaside villages on the walls.
Calamari, $10, is coated in crispy parmesan and pepper, flash fried in Meyer lemon garlic aioli, and accompanied by house marinara. Mussels are shipped in fresh from Prince Edward Island, simmered in garlic, white wine, lemon butter and basil, $10.
Lasagna, $15, combines layers of house made mozzarella with goat cheese, parmesan, Bolognese and marinara. Shrimp Portofino, $21, features sautéed mushrooms, spinach, toasted pine nuts, lemon butter sauce and cappellini pasta.
Weaver sings the praises of Chef Cody Johnston, who mans the pizza ovens at Napoli, where seven ingredients go into the hand-tossed dough.
Medium 12-inch pies are priced from $12 to $17 and include eight slices. Large 16-inch pies offer 10 slices and are priced from $14 to $19. Try the Skinny Girl, with tomato sauce, a light sprinkle of cheese and fresh basil, $13 for a medium, $16 for a large.
Save room for at least one of the chef's incredible homemade desserts, $7, including classic Italian Tiramisu, with espresso-dipped ladyfingers, creamy mascarpone custard and notes of Amaretto, Frangelico and a dusting of cocoa, or a seductive crème brulee, its brittle caramelized topping a perfect contrast for the light, creamy custard.
Napoli has an impressive wine list from around the world, many offered by the glass. The main dining room and more intimate bar, with trompe l'oeil frescos of dancing nymphs, are an attractive, delicious addition to Bluffton's dining options. Call 843-706-9999 for reservations.
Freelance writer Pam Gallagher was a copy editor at USA Today and a staff writer and fashion editor for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.