Naples 15’s chef brings Neapolitan food to Madison with love

Salvatore Di Scala's passion is laced throughout

The backstory: You learn a lot about Naples, Italy, when you visit Naples 15. Especially if you meet owner and chef Salvatore Di Scala, who wants you to experience every bit of his hometown’s dining culture. Di Scala’s passion for Naples is evident everywhere you look, and after you taste his traditional Neapolitan food with French influences and enjoy his Italian hospitality, you’ll feel like you’ve actually taken a trip to Italy.

The vibe: Di Scala is proud of his Neapolitan roots. Ask and he’ll tell you the meaning of the Italian phrases on the wall and how he and a friend rebuilt part of the wood-fired pizza oven that reads “Napoli” among glittering mosaic tiles. He’ll point to the Neapolitan playing-card tiles on the floor and explain who’s in all the pictures and plaques hanging in the front entrance — including a photo of Di Scala clinking wine glasses with his friend Tony Bennett. Yes, the internationally known singer who once said Naples 15 is the best Italian restaurant he’s ever eaten at — that Tony Bennett.Naples 15’s chef brings Neapolitan food to Madison with love

The menu: San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pasta from one of the oldest pasta makers in Naples — and the list of authentic staples offered by Di Scala goes on and on. The fresh ingredients-driven menu includes 15 pizzas, pasta dishes with a slow-cooked ragu sauce and seafood and vegetarian options served on beds of linguine, Gerardo Di Nola paccheri, spaghetti or risotto, to name a few.

The must-try: The “must-try” at Naples 15 is more of a “must-experience.” Order a pizza — maybe the classic margherita or marinara — and watch Di Scala perform the art of Neapolitan pizza making, which gained world heritage status in 2017 from UNESCO, a designation that recognizes intangible culinary traditions. Di Scala starts with the dough on a flour-covered marble countertop. Pinch, pull, toss, stretch, press. Then the sauce. Then the toppings, including cheese and fresh basil. With flour-covered hands, Di Scala unhooks his pizza peel from its stand and transfers the pie with the ease of a seasoned monzu, which is an honorific title given to chefs who have mastered the elegant techniques of French cooking with Neapolitan ingredients. He slides the pie into the wood-burning oven under the words “Napoli” and knows exactly when to pull it from the flames. A circular drizzle of olive oil finishes the stunning pizza. When you lift the first and certainly not last piece to your mouth, know that you’re enjoying a cultural delicacy that has endured the test of time.Naples 15’s chef brings Neapolitan food to Madison with love

The bottom line: Di Scala is as concerned with creating a joyful experience for his guests as he is with filling your belly with great food (although that is more than taken care of in the process, thanks in part to generous portion sizes). “This is a celebration,” Di Scala says. “When you come in and see people eat the pizza, you see people’s joy right on their face. I think that’s beautiful. It’s nice sharing this beautiful gift.”

15 N. Butler St., 250-6330

Andrea Behling is editor of Madison Magazine.