Welcome to Naples-ville — Fiammé Pizzeria

November 2012 View more

NM1112_TableForTwo_1Back in 1997, two major motion pictures covering roughly the same geological ground—“Dante’s Peak” with Pierce Brosnan, and “Volcano” with Tommy Lee Jones—hit screens within months of each other. While the storylines and stylistic approaches differed slightly, the smoldering piggyback at the multiplex was still something fascinating to behold. That Hollywood was short on original thinking was no great revelation, but why the sudden and concurrent interest in flowing lava?

The Neapolitan Wars

Fast-forward 15 years and a similarly odd confluence seems to have unfolded on the downtown Naperville dining scene, with blistered dough replacing charred soundstages. After years without an authentic Neapolitan-style pizza joint, residents suddenly find themselves with an embarrassment of wood-fired riches, thanks to the recent debut of Fiammé Pizzeria on the site of a long-shuttered Washington Street gas station. This comes just months after the opening of Pizzeria Neo, only a few blocks away. Whatever the reason for this pizza pile-up—simple coincidence, astrological alignment, tax credits for those really long pizza peels—Fiammé reaffirms that it’s the diners of Naperville that appear poised to benefit.

NM1112_TableForTwo_4Despite a similar dedication to the authentic recipes and techniques, there are differences between the two Neapolitan newcomers. For instance, whereas Neo projects a darker and clubbier vibe, Fiammé is lighter and airier, with stone and wood accents throughout the smallish bar and dining room. Fiammé also sports a handsome east-facing patio that should rival Jimmy’s down the street for elbow-to-elbow crowds during the warm months—a welcome prospect to look forward to as we stare down another cold winter ahead.

Pizza Plus

While the star at Fiammé is undoubtedly the pizza, the menu offers a fair amount of variety as well. Starters include traditional favorites like bruschetta and calamari, along with a handful of salads. In a nod to the impending fall season, we opted for a not-terribly-Italian harvest salad, featuring apples, walnuts, cranberries, and gorgonzola in a delicious balsamic vinaigrette.

NM1112_TableForTwo_3With a number of intriguing pasta selections offering a bit of a diversion from the expansive pizza list, we decided to split the bill with one of each. For the noodles, a richly satisfying tortellini ricotta with garlic and mushrooms in a spinach cream sauce, proved an excellent choice. Meanwhile, the all-important pizza decision mirrored the two-party, color-coded ultimatum that we’ve become all too familiar with during this election year. In this case, red (rosse) versus white (bianche). Pizza fritte, a deep-fried third-party candidate that is apparently big in Naples, seemed a bit too extreme for this evening. We wound up settling on a red-sauce option featuring fennel sausage, parmesan and basil and had no qualms about our choice after the plate was bare.

The dessert slate, by contrast, was far more compact, but certainly no less appealing. Here again, we attempted to survey as much of the landscape as possible between our two choices, with a light and satisfying lemon torte on the one hand, and a decadent brownie sundae with generous scoops of mint chocolate chip gelato on the other.

NM1112_TableForTwo_2Whether the explosion of Neapolitan goodness between Fiammé and Neo can be sustained will be determined, in due time, by simple market forces. But having experienced both in quick succession, it seems as though there may be room for more than one interpretation here in Naperville.

After all, back in 1997 some moviegoers liked watching the Pacific Northwest get torched, while others preferred the fiery urban landscapes of Los Angeles, and in the end, both volcano movies ended up in the black. These two pizza-making endeavors surely must be hoping their hot concepts meet a similar fate.

Fiammé Pizzeria
19 N. Washington Street