After seven years on Main Street in Grapevine, Napoli's Italian Cafe has super-sized: This quaint Italian restaurant has gone twice as big and twice as sweet, expanding with a confectionery shop next door serving espresso, desserts, pastries and house-made chocolates.
The expansion represents a happy resuscitation for Napoli's, which was nearly choked by its lack of space. Its narrow dining room was dominated by a gelato case that made traffic flow confusing for customers and difficult for staff.
Napoli's owners Brett and Lisa Kinzel took on the adjacent storefront, painting it a cheerful lime, and installing ice-cream-parlor tables and chairs and knotty-pine wood flooring. Three cases house an assortment of cakes, cookies, truffles and gelato, made in-house by pastry chef-chocolatier Anna Kolok. Napoli diners can order from the sweet shop, but those just seeking dessert can enter the confectionery via a separate door.
You could almost make a meal of the sweets: an impeccable, not-too-sweet tiramisu ($6.25) with mascarpone and cocoa; lemon bars made extra-tart with fresh lemon juice ($2.95); Italian cream cake ($6.25) with nuts sprinkled on the icing rather than marring the cake crumb itself; brownies ($2.95) spiked with marshmallows and pecans; and a quartet of cookies, including a newly introduced iced oatmeal raisin.
Chocolates ($1.25-$4) range from turtles to filled chocolates to the "candy cup" -- nut bark served in a Reese's-like paper cup so the chocolate won't melt in your hands. Kolok does them in nearly every nut -- cashew, hazelnut, pecan, almond and pistachio -- and they were a wonderful treat: firm yet creamy, with enough whole nuts to pique interest but not overwhelm the chocolate. Molded chocolates held fillings such as marzipan and passion fruit-raspberry, and there were excellent, almost-fudgy salted caramels made by a supplier; Kolok will eventually make her own.
The gelato ($3.70 for a small cup) alone was worth the trip. Chocolate was made with Callebaut chocolate, and vanilla with fresh vanilla bean. Kolok, who previously worked for the Piccomolo chain, uses whole milk and fresh fruit and chops the nuts by hand -- so that they'll "break" properly, she says. The hazelnut gelato served as proof; the bits of nut added crunch and a true-blue flavor that a nut puree would not.
Meanwhile, the cafe feels roomier, and its menu of Italian classics has been spruced up by new chef Terry Johnson, who previously worked for Vail Resorts in Colorado. The Tour de Italy ($15.95) presented a trio of items -- lasagna, rigatoni with chicken and a thin, tender breaded chicken cutlet -- so generously sized that we had leftovers for two meals. Lobster ravioli ($14.95) -- big squares of pasta filled with a chopped lobster puree -- came with a tomato cream sauce that helped muffle the slight fishy flavor.
Seek out nightly specials like the crab cakes ($6.99), which gave a better hint as to what Johnson can do. The cake, which looked to be about 6 ounces, had a crunchy browned crust; inside, the sweet crab had a rustic inconsistency -- some big chunks, some little -- a tip-off that it had been formed by hand. It came with stalks of tender-crisp asparagus and a few sections of fresh lime -- a novelty so bright and refreshing, it was almost enough to make you forget about dessert. Ha, just kidding.