Napoli Pasta Bar balances authentic Neapolitan fare with a neighborhood vibe.
Chatting with Antonio Ferraro about his mom and grandmother waking up early on Saturday mornings to whip up paccheri ragu and Genovese pasta back in his Neapolitan hometown of Vico Equense could make even a non-Italian feel nostalgic. The traditional dishes of Southern Italy are what drove Ferraro to open his own restaurant, Napoli Pasta Bar, last March.
Ferraro has spent his career working in the fine dining business, first on the Amalfi Coast at Michelin-starred restaurants and five star hotels then eventually at the front of the house at Cafe Milano in Georgetown. After eight years there, Ferraro was ready to trade in his suit for jeans and a T-shirt. “It was too straight,” he says of the white table cloth world.
His dual level eatery in Columbia Heights’ Park View neighborhood features a charming exposed brick interior and a spacious patio with turquoise and white tables and chairs reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast. Colorfully mismatched plates flown in from the Sorrento coast and Ferraro’s own photography from the region are a few of the ways he channels his roots.
On the menu, Neopolitan staples including zuccotto di melanzana (eggplant and ricotta), millefoglie di baccala (marinated cod wrapped around buffalo mozzarella) and a rotating cast of pasta dishes that will change seasonally. In his dedication to recreating classic textures and flavors, Ferraro uses dry pastas from a neighboring Italian town called Gragnano, famous for its production of quality noodles. Contrary to popular belief, he explains, dry pasta achieves a more optimal level of al dente, which is why he spends extra to have it imported. He has added a few varieties made in-house to appease diners who get excited when they see “homemade.”
Ferraro acknowledges that there is no shortage of Italian restaurants in Washington, but it’s his commitment to tradition that sets Napoli apart. For the first time restaurant owner it’s about creating a place that honors his past and sharing it with his community.
He admits the obstacles never seem to end in this line of work. “It’s challenging, but it’s also more rewarding,” he says, adding that the sweetest part is his “gratification when I see Neapolitan people or Italian people who like it and they come back. Then I say ‘Oh, that means we’re doing it right.’”
WHAT TO ORDER:
Zuccotto di melanzana ($12)
Paccheri o’rrau ($19)
Napoli Pasta Bar | 2737 Sherman Ave., NW | napolipastabar.com | Entrees start at $16