Behind the counter at the modest Spiedo d’Oro, owner Vincenzo Monzo and his wife Cinzia have something welcoming to say to every customer who walks in.
“The eggplant parmigiana will be ready in 10 minutes.”
“The pasta and beans have just come out.”
“Salvatore! You alone? No wife? We’ll make you a plate of Genovese, and the gattò is on its way.”
With a few spartan tables and a glass-lined counter where you can see everything that is available for lunch, Spiedo d’Oro is the definition of a no-frills joint. Like everyone around us, we’ve come here not just for the warm welcome but also for the simple but excellent Neapolitan dishes. This is one of those places where the cooking is dependably good every day, a home away from home.
Vincenzo, or Enzo as he is known, makes sure of that. He prepares for every guest a tray with bread and cutlery and then loads it up with portions of their desired dishes. Tray in hand, folks head to their favorite seat, at either one of the dozen indoor tables, or, if the weather is nice (which is often the case in Naples) at one of the outdoor ones.
While Enzo, 61, and Cinzia, 59, engage with customers out front, the chef, Lello Esposito, is a force of his own in the kitchen, producing quality in quantity as he takes orders on the fly from across the counter. “Lello, the plates of spaghetti just went from five to six,” comes the request from Enzo.
Everything served here represents what we like to think of as the “holy trifecta of the Backstreets” –made from good quality ingredients, extremely fresh and, above all, when it comes to a spot like this, very affordable. On today’s outing, appetizers cost €3.50, mains are €5 and even adding a drink keeps the bill to under €10. It’s not surprising, then, that Spiedo d’Oro can get very busy. In fact, on this day, Lello’s wife, Susanna, is pitching in to help deal with the crowd and keep things moving quickly.
It all began in 1973 when Aldo, Vincenzo’s father, opened this Neapolitan-style diner on a quiet alley off of Spaccanapoli, a long street that is one of the most famous thoroughfares in the city (the name means “Naples splitter,” since from above it seems to divide the city in half). Although Spiedo d’Oro is located near the Pignasecca market, one of the city’s liveliest, it’s a bit further up from the city’s historic center, giving it an off-the-beaten-path feel.
When he opened, Aldo made his mark by buying the area’s first large rotisserie so he could offer chicken on a spit alongside his cooked dishes. Thus, the name “Spiedo d’Oro” or golden spit. Four years ago, after taking over from his father a dozen years earlier, Enzo retired the rotisserie machine, deciding to spin his restaurant’s gold from its quality dishes at an unbeatable price. But even though he took rotisserie chicken off the menu, everything else remains as is. Enzo knows that the formula works, and he has sworn that it would never change.
With a few spartan tables and a glass-lined counter where you can see everything that is available for lunch, Spiedo d’Oro is the definition of a no-frills joint. Like everyone around us, we’ve come here not just for the warm welcome but also for the simple but excellent Neapolitan dishes.
His regulars are likely to make sure of that. They love the way of eating found here; they love the individual, personal relationship they have in Enzo and Cinzia. On any given day, the dining rooms will be filled with teachers and students from the nearby university and office workers who prefer not to cook at home. Some order delivery or pick-up, others come to sit and eat. No matter, they are all part of the truly extraordinary community of people.
And Vincenzo treats everyone with great familiarity, calling out to each: “Professor…,” “Treasure…,” “Doll …” Everyone invariably responds: “Hi Enzo, what do you got today?”
The customers often stand side-by-side with neighbors and strangers, deciding which lovingly-made dish to order. “Many loves were born here,” Enzo says, telling us about the couples he has seen first meet at his restaurant.
Every day, Enzo writes the menu on a blackboard outside and updates its Facebook page, which area-students know to check so they can decide what they want to eat before coming. Along with its daily lunch, Spiedo d’Oro is open for dinner on Friday evenings, when Enzo puts together a special menu that draws quite the crowd. Riffing on the typical aperitivo menu of small bites, Enzo’s Friday night menu pays homage to Neapolitan tradition while also giving a nod to Portugal and Spain, places he visits regularly.
And so, on Fridays after 8p.m., everybody is invited to Enzo’s to taste Neapolitan fried pizza and other types of fritti, Portuguese cod fritters and custards tarts, and Spanish tapas and sweets, bringing a little piece and taste of the Iberian Peninsula to Naples. But only on Friday evenings. Which is fine by us – we’re happy to come here every other day for lunch.