It’s a long way from Italy to Iowa. But at Napoli’s Italian Ristorante, located on a hill overlooking First Avenue near the Cedar Rapids-Marion border, diners can experience a bit of Italy right here in the Midwest.
Owners Johnny and Gony Qerimi–who are here in Iowa via Italy–love serving great food. “My father always said ‘you need to love your job, whatever you do,’” says Johnny. “I look forward to getting to work every day.” Cooking food in the tradition of Napoli–that’s Naples, Italy (in southern Italy, just above the toe of the boot)–the brothers bring some of the best traditions of that country to Iowa.
On the day we visited, we opted to eat inside, but we all thought we’d come back some evening to sit at the outdoor tables that overlook First Avenue. Patio dining is proving popular–the patio is in cool shade from three in the afternoon on, so lots of diners enjoy dining al fresco.
Johnny himself brought us out some starters. First, there was caprese salad with creamy slices of mozzarella and thick red tomato sprinkled with fresh basil and drenched in balsamic dressing. The tomatoes and basil had the taste of summer.
We also had my favorite, the Napoli salad. It features the perfect mix of ingredients: crisp lettuce, black olives, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and two kinds of cheese–parmesan and mozzarella. The olive oil and lemon dressing is light and fresh and ties everything together. This salad can be ordered with chicken or shrimp for an extra charge–it would be the perfect summer lunch.
A basket of warm rolls and a dish of seasoned olive oil were the perfect accompaniment to these salads. Made fresh in the kitchen every morning, the rolls are a favorite of Napoli’s diners. Making rolls from scratch is a big job. “We use 150 pounds of flour every morning when we make the dough,” says Johnny. The dough is used to make rolls, bread, and pizza crusts for the restaurant.
At Napoli’s cooking from scratch is the way it’s done. According to Johnny, about 99 percent of the food served at Napoli’s is made in-house, mostly by Gony, who works in the kitchen while Johnny is front-of-house with his welcoming smile and boundless energy.
Many diners come to Napoli’s for the pasta, but we love the entrees, many of which come with a side of pasta. The first one we tried was shrimp scallops served with scampi sauce and pasta. The shrimp and scallops were done to perfection–tender and savory–and the sauce had the right mixture of garlic and tomatoes.
We also had some Chicken Marsala: Tender medallions of chicken breast coated in a rich, creamy sauce and topped with mushrooms. No ordinary mushrooms here, either, but hearty portobello mushrooms. “We could make it with ordinary mushrooms, but we wanted something special,” says Johnny. It is indeed a special dish.
None of us had tried Chicken Scarparelli before, and we were glad we got the chance. The sautéed chicken is served with green peppers, onions, sausage, and a lightly-spiced marinara sauce.
Our meal was accompanied by some of the house wines, including the popular chianti and moscato–the brothers order these wines directly from Italy. Napoli’s boasts a robust wine list and full bar.
We couldn’t pass up the dessert menu and were glad we didn’t. The crème brûlée was light with a crackling crunch, and topped with fresh fruit. We also tried two special Italian desserts. A crisp tube-shaped pastry dipped in chocolate and filled with a rich creamy filling, the chocolate cannaloni was a special treat. The three-layer Italian cream cake–Johnny says it’s often served at weddings–was tender and delicious, studded with chopped nuts and frosted with a rich cream cheese frosting, the perfect end to our meal.
Anyone looking for a delicious meal made from fresh ingredients–and one with a European ambiance and menu–will find what they’re looking for at Napoli’s.
Napoli’s Italian Ristorante
500 Marion Blvd
Article by Jane Claspy Nesmith
Photography by Justin Fox