I confess, I am easily drawn to bargains. I love Costco. I buy things just because they are on sale. I am a huge fan of the free refill. But looking for dining deals in Naples can be as fruitful as walking a metal detector down the beach. In between the upscale downtown eateries and the uber-chains crammed into strip mall after strip mall, there are few reasonably priced, reasonably palatable options.
That being said, a little research goes a long way. I am browsing through restaurant menus online when I find what I’ve been looking for: a small box under the dessert list on the D’Amico and Sons menu that reads, “Vino D’Amici. Order one of our house wines, and we’ll keep it generously filled throughout your meal.” Beneath the writing in slightly larger print, the price is listed. I gasp slightly as I read it: $5.99.
When four friends and I arrive at D’Amico and Sons on Tamiami Trail North in Naples I am greeted by a softly lit and heavily air conditioned interior that feels like a cross between a classic Italian restaurant and a cafeteria. Although it is a full service restaurant, D’Amico and Sons also does a thriving take out and catering business, and along one side of the dining room a line of deli cases contrasts sharply against the white linen tablecloths and attractive table settings.
The menu offers some common ground – a full range of pastas, thin crust pizzas and hearty entrees that seem to satisfy the three picky eaters I have brought along for dinner. I ponder options like the artichoke, spinach and asiago gratin or the shrimp and asparagus risotto. Other than the five or so entrees, virtually everything on the menu falls into the under $15 category.
We begin with wine. The tempting house wine special advertised on the website is listed on our menus for $6.29, still, the free refill offer stands. I order the Montepulciano, which arrives in a highball glass printed with the word “vino” in small letters. It is a bland and unoffensive red; no more and no less than I’d expect from a bottomless glass of house wine. Nevertheless it’s a bargain.
Next, our attentive but spacey server, Larissa, delivers a basket of fresh crusty bread to the table. Despite claiming not to be very hungry we devour it with gusto. A few moments later my first course arrives, a cup of what should be the Tuscan chicken soup. Instead I am presented with the evening’s soup du jour, Italian wedding ($3.99/cup). I consider complaining, but it smells tasty, so I keep quiet and spoon the first steaming bites into my mouth.
Italian wedding soup is traditionally composed of basic chicken stock and meatballs with herbs, vegetables and seasonings thrown in according to taste. D’Amico’s is a mild and enjoyable version with two moist meatballs, carrots and pastina combining to create a small but filling cup of soup.
When I’ve finished my soup it’s time for the second course. With a newly refilled wine glass I decide on the chopped antipasto salad ($10.99), and my $15 and under companion opts for a simple chicken Ceasar salad ($10.59). The rest of our friends order more substantial entrees like Tuscan pot roast and oven roasted salmon, which they say are excellent, but these are just beyond the reach of my limited budget.
The chopped antipasto salad turns out to be an excellent accompaniment to my soup appetizer. It is a generous serving of chopped mixed greens tossed with hunks of tomato, roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, grilled chicken and lots of provolone cheese. (It usually comes with salami as well, but I decide to have mine without the salty meat.) The whole thing is dressed in a light and tangy vinaigrette that unites the separate flavors without overpowering them. My only complaint, which is echoed on the chicken Ceasar salad, is that the grilled chicken is cold and lacks any sort of grill lines or distinct flavor. Clearly it had been pre-cooked and refrigerated before making its way onto my plate.
When we’ve finished our dinners Larissa clears our plates and returns to top off our half empty glasses of wine. The house wine special has taken us over the $30 limit, but the three glasses for $6.29 more than make up for spending a little extra cash. Our food alone rings in at approximately $28.00, an affordable Italian meal that leaves me satisfied but not exactly wowed. I’ll probably come back to D’Amico and Sons, but next time I’ll allow myself to be tempted by one of the wood-oven pizzas or pasta dishes and of course, by the house wine.