A caramelizing bath of extra virgin olive, a sizzling cut-to-order vitello filet serves as a melodic accompaniment to the muted thud of a quick-tapping knife. In its rustic simplicity, ebullient marinara simmers quietly while the metallic rattling of long-handled kitchen tongs signals the assembly of a perfect plate; this is the rich symphony of a well-run restaurant. Owner and chef, Giuseppe “Joe” Manzi, is positioned at the stove and serves as the conductor of these delicious meals - or more appropriately - Maestro. This well-orchestrated kitchen concert is just the beginning of a robust, multi-sensory food experience at Villa Napoletana in East Longmeadow.
The hidden gem restaurant known for distinguished dishes and exquisite ambiance will soon celebrate a delicious twenty-year anniversary - an achievement realized by a constant culinary challenge. Joe, a brilliant chef with a big personality, says that’s what he’s enjoyed most since he opened in 1998, perpetually modernizing classic dishes indicative of his roots in Naples, Italy. His menu is ever changing, creating new dishes to meet the demand of changing food trends, competition, and local flavors. While his kitchen serves as a laboratory for culinary experimentation, fresh ingredients, attention to detail and superb service are just a few attributes that will never change.
“Recipes are rooted with my grandmother, mother, and father - that’s the base of starting everything,” says Joe. “This is Neapolitan cooking - we’re a sauté kitchen - a practice that’s becoming extinct. It’s more work, but it’s the heart of our kitchen. Here, we go after home cooking, sauces, house made pasta, bread making, and fresh pizza dough; we make everything from scratch here. What we do here is different.”
Influenced by different cultures, Neapolitan cooking has ancient historical roots, using an abundance of fresh ingredients with a balance of vegetables, high-quality meat, sauce, pasta, herbs, fish, olive oil and cheese; each is a critical component. It’s this same selection of top-notch meats and prime ingredients that prevents Joe’s customers from enduring long drives to Hartford, New Haven or Northampton for a great dining experience. He provides an option to “stay local,” with varied selections with panache on his highly customizable menu.
At Villa Napoletana you can order conventionally, choosing from a selection of spectacular dishes that meet a variety of flavor and dietary preferences. Or, as Joe says, “you can put the menu away and have the waiter sing to you.” Based on your palate that particular evening, servers offer a tailored tabletop tour describing innovative specials, seasonal offerings and surprising suggestions from start to finish. Here, it’s not just going out to dinner; it’s a fine-dining exploration of Southern Italy.
While the menu offers familiar favorites like Chicken Marsala and Chicken Francaise, further down are unexpected selections like Chicken con Cognac (pan sautéed breast of chicken with artichoke hearts, prosciutto, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and finished in a cognac sauce) and Pollo Inpacottata (pan-sautéed breast of chicken with mushrooms, garlic, basil and stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto then finished with a touch of lemon). Traditional dishes like Vitello alla Mamma Flora (veal medallions layered with sliced eggplant, fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese in a roasted garlic tomato sauce), pay homage to Joe’s grandmother while Italian cold cuts (prosciutto, pancetta, soppressata) celebrate lineage and are homemade by family in Little Italy. Menu options are all inclusive, making dinner fun, rather than worrisome when looking at an ala carte menu. Whichever the selection, with these seasoned chefs, there’s little chance for disappointment.
Today Joe is relaxed in the kitchen, laughing and joking, all the while preparing and plating artful dishes; his work seems effortless. However, the evolution of his food and wine offerings is noticeably calculated. For instance, meat is kept whole and only cut when ordered. Chefs use every aspect, trickling the ingredient down to fulfill every menu item, like sauces and broth. Some fresh pickings even come from Joe’s garden, located behind Bond 124, his most recent restaurant addition in Somers. Back in East Longmeadow, a new handpicked wine list - that took seven months to prepare - is set to roll out in September. Scrupulous selections include crisp whites and supple reds from Italy, Napa, Argentina and beyond, all distinguished and intended to complement the finest food possible.
Inside, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming with separated nooks filled with art, warm candlelight and cozy finishes. All dishes are made to order, allowing time for a unique dining experience with free-flowing conversation and delicious food. Meals are punctuated with in-house espresso drinks and confection selections like (the most incredible) homemade tiramisu, crème brûlée and red velvet cake. Each a treat, each as meticulously prepared as the next.
Fresh flavors continue into fall with Lobster Fest - from September 5 to September 23 - that pays homage to the waning summer and celebrates New England’s favorite flavors. Succulent dishes like the Lobster Volcano, Lazy Man’s Lobster Casserole, and Lobster Mac & Cheese will accompany traditional lobster dinners and even a raw bar. On November 14, an annual Harvest Dinner is a night to thank customers, traditionally serving as an evening to “give back.” Decorated for autumn, the evening starts with valet parking, an open bar, and live music. From there, the night turns to a food-wine pairing experience, evolving in tandem over six courses - a deal for just $100. Sunday Brunch, Wine and Dine Old-School style on Sunday evenings (featuring selections from the original 1998 menu), and evenings filled with live music round out their offerings, along with weekly specials.
Original, locally owned, friendly and a beloved fixture, Villa Napoletana is a feast for your five. The full-sensory approach to dining is an immersive culinary adventure, one that’s to be shared with good company and – of course - a perfectly paired wine.
Villa Napoletana • (413) 732-9300 • villanapoletana.com
664 North Main Street • East Longmeadow, MA