Finding Naples in New Bedford

Historic city. Esteemed seafaring heritage. Some say she has seen better days. A pretty girl with a dirty face. Very proud people.

New Bedford, MA
New Bedford, MA

The description could apply to either Naples, Italy or New Bedford, Massachusetts. Having spent time in both cities, we see the similarities even though thousands of miles separate them. Both, in our humble opinion, are worthy destinations and offer far more to the visitor than may be apparent on their often tired facades. They also have an intoxicating vibrancy, fed by well-needed renewals. That’s why we keep going back.

Recently, on a beautiful, spring Saturday, we headed down to Massachusetts’ South Coast for some research and relaxation. For those of you not familiar, South Coast is the term used to describe the non-Cape Cod coastal section of Massachusetts that extends from the canal to the border of Rhode Island. Like much of coastal New England, this region blends natural beauty, hardscrabble living, local rituals, and rich American history. It doesn’t have the crowds or the kitsch of the Cape, but offers travelers a rewarding, yet accessible experience to explore New England. On this particular day, we covered the entire length from Wareham to Westport and included our regular, requisite stop in New Bedford.

Travessia Urban Winery
Travessia Urban Winery, New Bedford, MA

Our destination in New Bedford was Travessia, an urban winery in the heart of the city. Travessia is run by Marco Montez, whose love for the vine flows as beautifully as his wine. Marco is reinstituting the ancient tradition of vinification in a city, rather than in a remote, rural setting. He chose New Bedford and frequently uses locally-harvested grapes for his array of wines. Though he does business sixty miles from the capital of Massachusetts, Marco is well-known by the Boston wine community and justifiably so: he’s a passionate New Englander who cares deeply about his product and his ties to the South Coast. But we digress. Travessia was our expected destination, but another place in New Bedford became our unexpected destination.

On the way to Travessia, we passed what appeared to be yet another, undifferentiated pizza establishment. Laura grabbed my arm, pulled me to a stop and pointed me to the name, “Brick Pizzeria Napoletana.” I tuned out immediately, which is normally uncharacteristic for me (and Laura), except when it comes to pizza. We’ve had so many lackluster pizzas over the years despite searching endlessly for great ones. For some bizarre reason, we take our pizza seriously – very, very seriously. I’m trying rather hard not to turn this into a pizza post because that one is already in the works. Nonetheless, being too often disappointed, I find that the Naples designation applied to pizza only exacerbates my angst because it’s almost always not like real Naples. Hence, we moved on to Travessia for a pleasant tasting with Marco.

After sampling some great wine and purchasing some nice bottles, we headed back to the car. Again, Laura stopped me in front of Brick. “They’ve got a real wood fired oven in there!” she exclaimed. “Wood-fired bad pizza is still bad pizza,” I responded. She was undeterred and dragged me in. I’ve been married too long and know when resistance is futile. Once inside, my nose reacted to the aromas immediately. They registered “Naples, Italy.”  Wow. Interesting. I thought it was fluke and fought what my senses were telling me.

I saw the Caputo Flour in the kitchen, so I instantly knew they took their dough seriously. Then I saw the fresh mozzarella, the San Marzano tomatoes, and the sprigs of fresh basil. I started a conversation with John Goggin, the pizzaiolo, who was kind enough to give a skeptic like me history of the restaurant, a description of the ingredients, and a review of the baking process. In fairness to John, I did tell him that I spent many years in the North End of Boston in a famed pizzeria, so we had some common ground. John informed me that his son Jeff, whom we just missed by a matter of minutes, was the owner.

I capitulated to both Laura and John and ordered a classic Margherita pizza. Though one of the simplest of pizzas, the Margherita is the true test of a pizza establishment. More ingredients only serve to mask imperfections. And that was the challenge because there would be no room for error and it would confirm my anticipated disappointment.

Then the pizza arrived.

It was visually stunning. It was cooked to perfection. It was delicious. I was wrong – dead wrong. And I admitted it to Laura. (Another reason we’ve been married for 20 years.) This pizza was Naples, Italy-caliber. No kidding. I wanted to give John a hug. This was an unexpected experience. Right away, I wished I lived nearby so I could stop in regularly, perhaps pairing a great Margherita from Brick with a nice red wine from Travessia.

Pizza Margherita from Brick Pizzeria Napoletana, New Bedford, MA
Pizza Margherita from Brick Pizzeria Napoletana, New Bedford, MA

In the meantime, Laura and I will continue our trips to the South Coast, somehow knowing there will be more visits to New Bedford, to Travessia, and to Brick Pizzeria Napoletana. And what about Naples, Italy? We’ll head back there as well. It’s a jewel like New Bedford. Fortunately, we can now experience some Neapolitan pizza without the hassle of a long flight.

Are there take-aways here? Absolutely. In fact, there are several.

  • Great things are happening in older New England cities like New Bedford.
  • Entrepreneurs like Marco Montez and Jeff Goggin infuse life into our historic cities.
  • New Englanders like John Goggin make a huge difference for customers.
  • Massachusetts’ South Coast is a rich and evolving destination with no canals to cross.
  • The key to a happy marriage is listening to your spouse and admitting when you’re wrong.
  • Life is too short to eat bad pizza and drink lousy wine.

-Rob Ciampa, Palaverer

Photos credits: City-data.com (Wikipedia Commons), Travessia Urban Winery, Rob & Laura Ciampa

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13 Replies to “Finding Naples in New Bedford”

  1. Awesome piece Rob. I’m always on the look-out for a great pizza and since I’ve never been to New Bedford to visit Travessia (although I’ve enjoyed his wines immensely) this is very useful information.

    Thanks for sharing! Cheers.

    1. Thanks Bob. Sounds like a good reason to head down. Travessia and Brick are right around the corner from one another. While you’re there, the Whaling Museum is worth a visit and is within walking distance.

      Also want to thank you again for assisting with the “wine ferreting” this week. We’ll be toasting you this weekend shortly after we pop the cork.

      Regards,
      Rob

  2. Thank you for your wonderful review of our City. Everyone is working very hard to bring the neighborhood feel of larger New England cities to New Bedford and restore it to its former glory.

    Please check out AHA nights if you really want to get a flavor of all that is offered. http://ahanewbedford.org/about.html

    The Waterfront Historic League (WHALE) has worked for 47 years restoring historic buildings and homes and would love to show you around…
    http://www.waterfrontleague.org/

    We all hope you return for another visit.
    Thank you again,
    Anne

    1. Thanks Anne. Will we be back? We’re regular visitors who find more great things with every visit. A tour? Absolutely. Would like to have more people join us for that.

      Kudos to the New Bedford people for what they’ve done and what they will do!

      Regards,
      Rob & Laura Ciampa
      The Two Palaverers

  3. Little known fact: my mother was born in New Bedford. I don’t think she’s been back since her family moved away when she was a baby. Of course, she didn’t know they have authentic Naples pizza…

    I’m curious about the famous pizzeria in the North End you refer to. I hope it wasn’t Regina’s because I lived across the street from it for years and never went because I thought their pizza was crap—and I hate to ruin our beautiful fledgling friendship.

    1. Are you up for a road trip Jill? Might be an interesting trip.

      The pizza place in the North End? No, not Regina’s, though I actually like the pizza there, but have had mixed results at “other satellite locations.”

      I spent many years at The European on Hanover St. Opened in 1917, The European became a fatality in the 1990s for a myriad of reasons. The pizza was very good, but not Neapolitan. What made it “famed” was the Extra Large Deluxe, an oval behemoth that easily fed a party of six.

      Regards,
      Rob

  4. Glad to hear that you’ll be back. Will let you know when a historic downtown tour has been confirmed maybe you can join us.

    Enjoy this beautiful NE weekend.

    Anne

  5. Just noticed this blog post. Thank you. It’s always great to see New Bedford in a positive light from a visitor’s perspective. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit. I guess I’m going to have to try Brick now. I’ve only heard rave reviews.

    1. You’re welcome! Since our post, many of our friends and colleagues have been asking us about visiting. We’re contemplating a more substantive road trip to New Bedford, possibly with quite a few of us. More people should experience your great city.

      Regards,
      Rob & Laura

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