The typical Neapolitan trattoria is a place where you go to eat like you would at home: the cook buys everything fresh in the morning, just like at home, and then spends the rest of the day in the kitchen, which he rules like a maestro.
For the quintessential trattoria experience, we head to Fuorigrotta, a working-class district on the west side of Naples. There, close to the border with the seaside suburb of Bagnoli and not far from the Cavalleggeri Aosta metro stop, stands Cucina da Vittorio, a small trattoria with a few tables and a steady rotation of regular customers.
The Fuorigrotta (“Outside the cave”) quarter is so named because the area has been connected to the center of Naples by one or more caves ever since the Roman era. The Romans built the first of these caves around 2,000 years ago to reach the imperial fleet that was docked in Pozzuoli.
Visitors rarely make it to this corner of Naples, which we think is a mistake; we love spending a morning strolling through the Fuorigrotta Market, whose aisles are lined with typical products and traditional food, and then stopping by Vittorio Correale’s spot for a leisurely lunch.
Vittorio is a child of the culinary arts: his parents owned a restaurant near Piazza del Plebiscito in the center of town. In 1965, at the age of 20, Vittorio decided to open his own small place in Fuorigrotta, which underwent intense expansion in the 20th century, particularly after the Second World War. Today, 74-year-old Vittorio still runs the whole kitchen by himself, like a great conductor. “Only” 30 years ago, Antonio Ziccardi, who goes by the nickname Tonino, arrived and became Vittorio’s helper, taking over the dining room duties.
Even though 54 years have passed, the restaurant is the same as when it was founded: 10 tables, around forty seats, almost all of which are occupied come midday.
“Only here do I find my favorite meatballs in sauce, with fried peppers, just delicious,” said Anna, a very elegant lady who, with her equally elegant friend Maria, traveled from Chiaia, the aristocratic quarter, specifically to eat at Cucina da Vittorio.
The clientele is mostly made up of regulars, a mix of employees of the nearby university, students, and seniors who do not want to cook at home alone and who speak fondly of the days gone by when they used to come here in the afternoon and play cards with Vittorio and Antonio.
Now a few tourists, mainly Americans and Japanese, have started to make the trek out to this neighborhood spot, a surprise for both Vittorio and Antonio. “Since the Internet came about,” said Antonio, “they have discovered us all over the world.”
On our most recent visit, two workers came in and ordered takeaway panini. Vittorio prepared two huge pieces of bread (palatone) overflowing with sausages and fried friarielli, the typical Neapolitan broccoli. Although technically called a snack (marenna in Neapolitan and merenda in Italian), Vittorio’s panino is in fact a huge meal.
Even though 54 years have passed, the restaurant is the same as when it was founded.
But the main dish here, said Antonio, “is the stockfish [unsalted fish, usually cod, preserved only by cold air and wind] stew. The fish quickly softens and cooks in a white sauce with oil and green olives.”
The menu is written on a blackboard in the center of the room. “It is almost always the same,” said Antonio, “a few typical Neapolitan dishes: pasta and beans, pasta and potatoes, steak, sausages. And then there are the special dishes of the day, but only a couple. Today there is Sicilian baked pasta (with eggplant) and Sorrentine gnocchi (baked with tomato and mozzarella).”
“I come here specifically for fried baccalà cod,” said Lino Bonsignore, who frequents the trattoria with his wife, Ariela. “When we can’t be bothered to cook, we come here. We live very close, and it has been our local spot for over 30 years. It’s like eating at home.” Ariela instead adores the braciola, a meat roulade cooked in tomato sauce and stuffed with cheese, garlic, parsley and pine nuts.
“Everything is very genuine here,” said Vittorio. “In the morning we buy fresh food at the market and clean it ourselves.”
On this visit, we ordered spaghetti with clams – the perfect dish, and a Neapolitan classic. But when we asked for a side of eggplant Parmigiana – always the most requested among Vittorio’s side dishes – Antonio informed us that it was already sold out. Fortunately, there are always good options here. Instead we decided on eggplant a funghetti (in which the eggplant is diced and fried with sauce) and zucchini alla scapece (slices of zucchini fried with vinegar). Although we did spy a plate of French fries at another table, and they had a very inviting aspect. “It is because I cut them by hand and fry them on the spot, nothing frozen,” said Vittorio later.
After a filling meal, we bid goodbye to Vittorio and Antonio, promising to return for the baccalà cod in cassuola (a tomato-y stew). And we will be back, for Vittorio’s kitchen is one of our regular spots, a restaurant where time seems to have stopped.
In fact, we’ve been wary of writing about him, worried about shining too bright of a spotlight on the trattoria and ruining the simplicity of a place that we pray always remains the same, so that even our children and grandchildren can one day enjoy the cuisine of a real Neapolitan trattoria – a place where the food is cooked well and has fed generations of Neapolitans.
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