An important thing to note if you choose to venture to downtown Wilmette’s newest hotspot, Napolita: there will be a line.
Get on the List
Sure, you can call ahead and put your name on the list, or even make a reservation for a party of 6 or more, but you’re still going to wait. Strategies include bellying up to the bar and ordering one of the well-made cocktails — I highly recommend the bitter/sweet Sbagliato ($11), a lovely blend of Campari, white vermouth and prosecco — or, if simply too crowded, leaving your cell number and venturing down the block to the Wilmette Wine Cellar to wait. One recent weekend, the Cellar was packed with happy people drinking wine, surrounded by Napolita pizza boxes. That works too.
Once you do score a table, immediately order the Arancini di Rosso alla Napoletana ($9), crispy fried risotto balls stuffed with tender braised beef, melty cheese and peas. They are beautifully made and come with marinara sauce for dipping. The Burrata Fresca ($16) is flown in weekly from Italy and is as creamy and unctuous as any I’ve had, though the price was a bit steep for the portion size. It comes simply drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and served with house-made crostini. We returned the Polpi alla Luciana ($14), which was dramatically over-salted.
There are four sprightly salad choices, all classics: chopped, Caesar, Caprese and beet. We opted for the Tritata Italiano ($12), a lightly dressed mound of chopped romaine, tomato, red onion, basil, prosciutto, soppressata salami, chickpeas and Grana Padano cheese, and the Barbabietola ($12), an Italian beet salad. Though it didn’t stray far from the roasted beet-goat cheese-candied walnut-arugula trope, it proved a solid rendition, filled with earthy notes from the roasted beets, with plenty of textural contrast.
Though we sampled the pasta — Funghi e Friarelli ($15), a tangle of tagliatelle tossed with sautéed wild mushrooms, pleasantly bitter rapini and a judicious amount of truffle oil, on the dry side — and the Vitello Milanese ($18), breaded and pan-fried veal scallopine served with lemon-kissed arugula and herby gremolata, accompanied by a side of creamy asparagus risotto, the pizza is clearly the star of the menu.
Pizza’s Where It’s At
The opening of the restaurant was delayed as owners Luke Cholodecki, Nick Hynes and Mike Chookaszian waited for the much-vaunted Stefano Ferrara wood-burning pizza oven to arrive from Naples, Italy, and then to train the staff along with Chef Brian Gusich, who worked previously at Chicago’s Forno Rosso. It’s a gorgeous oven, covered with black mosaic tile, personalized for the restaurant.
This pizza was worth the wait, although they are still working out some kinks (overloaded Neapolitan-style pizzas tend to sog in the middle, so topping the crust is a precise art). The crust is chewy and blistery, with a nice give. We particularly liked the Carni Italiane ($18), with spicy sopressata, sweet fennel sausage and crispy pancetta topping fresh mozzarella di buffala. Pizzas are specified as Rossa (meaning topped with tomato sauce) or Bianca (sauceless). Go out on a limb and try the Ricotta ($14), topped with fresh ricotta cheese, chopped dates, toasted pistachio and pesto. Any pizza gilded with an egg will be a delicious mess (remember the sog issue mentioned above?).
On our visit, the server mentioned that the desserts were not made in house at this time, so having already hit our calorie limit, we opted out, but you’d be unlikely to go wrong with gelato. It’s hard to believe that this was once Gilson’s restaurant and bar; the transformation is complete. And how wonderful it is to have real Neapolitan pizza so close at hand. Brava!
126 Central Ave.
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