Seafood and a Sunday Stroll Along Naples’ New Traffic-free Waterfront
Today I was stranded in Naples. A business trip to Puglia all Saturday kept me in town today and far away from Silvia, Sofia and Emily. There are worst fates, but even if
I was the first civilian visitor to the moon if it was Sunday I would still rather be with them in Pescara biking along the Adriatic Sea towards pizzette at Trieste or just a ride over the pedestrian bridge to the sailboats docked on on the other side.
Hungry for family but nothing else I headed out this morning to explore the new traffic-free miles of Naples’s waterfront stretching from my apartment here towards Castel dell’Ovo on the island of Borgo Marinara. The waterfront is almost the same as has been for decades, what is new is what it is missing.
Almost a month after this stretch of waterfront was closed to traffic to host the America’s Cup catamaran regattas, the sports villages and tents are gone but the city decided to keep the cars away anyway. It has caused the traffic to build up elsewhere but now Naples now has one of Europe’s longest and most beautiful downtown pedestrian rivieras. And it makes hanging along the seaside on Sunday a dream (and walking home from the office on a Tuesday evening a pleasure).
Neapolitan’s love their cars but those who live and work in this area are quickly catching on and the waterfront has come alive. With no plans for the day I set out along the 3-km (2miles) boulevard towards the Castle that has attracted four generations of my family to this city that too many people foolishly fear. It took over two hours with detours into the Villa Comunale park and a climb along the massive white stones of the Rotonda Diaz breakwater. Familes, groups of kids from elementary school to their twenties fooling around on the beach, couples hand-in-hand, families on rented rickshaws were all around me. I even passed a family taking first communion photos of their two young daughters in white dresses and flowers in their hair. About half way along a young man was on his knees, holding the hand of a young woman sitting on the wall, their forms so sweet and intense that even out the corner of my eye I knew he was proposing. So much everyday living theatre in this beautiful natural cinemascope soundstage.
As I walked over the bridge towards the castle, Ipassed the sailboats towards the restaurants in Borgo Marinaro the sounds of a jazz group was singing Italian and American standards between the the tables of the restaurants made the walk to my goal and the wait for my table that much more pleasant.
La Scialuppa is one of Naples’s oldest restaurants. Its menu says it’s been serving locals and travelers since the unification of Italy in 1860. My history with the place goes back two generations because my grandfather Richard (“Dick” to most of the people who knew him here in Italy) would always eat most of his meals in Naples when he came almost every spring for twenty years. I’m not even a smidgen Italian-american, but I grew up with his gifts and stories from Italy and Graka – our family name for him, is a big part why I’m here and who I am. And his meals and friendship with the Starita family that run the Scialuppa are part of those stories.
While La Scialuppa is, as some critics accuse, also up-market draw for tourists staying in the hotels across the footbridge, it’s one that is easy to be drawn back to for the food, wine, and beauty of eating surrounded by sailboats under the shadow of a mediaeval castle. As you would expect for a restaurant in a place who’s name means “sailor town”, seafood is king on the menu. I resisted the urge for sautéed shellfish – not easy as mountainous plates passed by me as I sat down – and I went for paccheri (very large flat rings of pasta) with little octopus, shrimp and and baby tomatoes. As I dug in I remembered that growing up I would have never eaten anything with tentacles or an exoskeleton, now I love them, especially when washed down with their excellent house white wine. I followed with a plate of frittura di paranza (a random mix of small fried fish and squid), all of it fresh and tasty.
It’s also in the little things that La Scialuppa touches home – the bread basket included thick slices of neapolitan wood-oven pan cafone bread and neapolitan taralli (ring shaped hard bread that are a bit oilier than their counterparts in Puglia). The sorbetto, a champaign flute of a soft, frozen lemon concoction, hid wild strawberries (visible) and a hint of cedro (the big, sweet cousin of
lemons and limes used in fancy perfumes).
And last but not least, I could leave thanking Salvatore, who still remembers when he was a little boy and my Graka – his “Dick Bell di Wauwatosa – would come to his father’s restaurant in the Spring.
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