BY ANNA SPIVAK AND HELEN KLEIN
The crisp, clear flavors of southern Italy are on the menu at Campania, a slightly more than one-year-old eatery that already claims lines out the door on weekends, thanks to its food and its family-friendly atmosphere.
“It’s a beautiful place but it’s very affordable,” noted Manager Robert DeLuca. “We have a family-oriented menu,” he went on, stressing, “All pasta dishes are served family-style.”
A popular attraction on Sunday is the restaurant’s “Sunday sauce,” served with a heaping portion of rigatoni plus braciole, sausage and meatballs, that draws groups eager to dig in. It’s one reason why Campania’s staff sees Sunday as “stroller day,” so many families show up to enjoy an old tradition made new again.
But, Campania’s drawing card isn’t just its appeal to families. The food is quietly spectacular, with the Italy-trained chefs in the kitchen putting their own touches on classic dishes, from pizza to meatballs to salads and sandwiches.
Pretty much everything (some desserts are exceptions) is “made in house,” added DeLuca, who said the restaurant is “all about the freshest and highest quality of ingredients.
We started off with Campania’s version of pure ambrosia, at least for these cheese-lovers. The Homemade Mozzarella ($11), served with smoky roasted red and yellow peppers, is creamy, sweet and silky – truly the stuff that foodie dreams are made on.
Then there were the Shrimp Oreganata ($18), comprised of eight tender shrimp under a blanket of herb-flecked breadcrumbs. They were buttery and sweet – no wonder, given that one of Campania’s owners also owns a fish market.
A family staple for Campania’s owners, passed down from generations of Italian matriarchs, are the Polpette di Nonna ($12), a delicious twist on a classic meatball dish topped with soft and sweet ricotta cheese, a sharp and flavorful pecorino cheese, and an accompanying house-made tomato sauce. The recipe is such a secret that grandma actually came into the restaurant’s kitchen each day to make her meatballs, for a long time declining to share her technique even with the restaurant’s cooks, said DeLuca.
The traditionally-made Eggplant Parmigiana ($11) was sweet and savory at once, thanks to the tender eggplant slices and the tomato sauce, all topped with melted mozzarella. Served up on a cast-iron skillet, the dish is the perfect, hot ticket for eggplant lovers.
All of Campania’s pizzas are made in the restaurant’s coal-fired oven. We sampled the Margherita ($12 for a 12-inch pie) and the Lombarda ($17 for a 12-inch pie), and were wowed by both, thanks to the thin, crispy crust and the fresh, flavorful toppings.
The Margherita represents classic pizza at its best, thanks to an intensely flavored tomato sauce, fresh basil, and two cheeses – mozzarella and pecorino.
The Lombarda takes it up a notch, strewn with paper-thin slices of prosciutto, a liberal quantity of fresh and peppery baby arugula, sizable shards of parmesan cheese and the exquisite finishing touch — white truffle oil, which intensifies all the other flavors as well as adding its own unique one.
For dessert, we sampled a special treat, whipped up by DeLuca himself, who happens to be a culinary school graduate. The by-request-only Nutella Calzone ($14) is rich and gooey. Baked in the coal-fired oven, the crispy crust encases bananas sautéed in B&B and roasted candied walnuts, floating in a sweet, chocolaty sea of melted Nutella. It’s garnished with strawberries and fresh whipped cream for the perfect finishing touch.
Now that’s la dolce vita.
9824 Fourth Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209
Monday-Wednesday: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Sunday: 12 p.m.-10 p.m.
Free delivery up to 70th Street, and as far as 15th Avenue