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Keep It Simple, Silly

Alberto's On Fifth

868 Fifth Ave S, Naples, FL

Prior to moving to Naples from Los Angeles in 2020 (cue the "Don't California My Florida" chants from the cheap seats right about now...), I came to the Paradise Coast for about two weeks every year since 2010. When I first arrived, it still felt like this sleepy little gem of a high-end beach town with enough restaurants and room to breath for all those who chose to enjoy it. Even during high season/Christmas break, there was enough foot traffic to give downtown a pulse, but enough walking space to not have to take those annoying baby steps walking being a throngs of people. Fast forward to about 2016 or so and things changed...the throngs in thongs (flip flips, not butt floss) started to arrive on Fifth Avenue South like cicadas in the mid-Atlantic. Things have continued to trend to more crowded ever since, culminating in Naples now being the second hottest real estate market in the country (according to Redfin, factchecking cuz) and those annoying baby steps are now the only way to navigate the street between the hours of six and about eight-thirty pm regardless of the day.

Naples' 5th Avenue South crowds are out of control. Also, this is not Naples' 5th Avenue South.

With that as background, it's become increasingly difficult to get a reservation between six and eight pm regardless of day of the week, especially downtown. My cousin, Cuz A, was visiting me from his sister's, Cuz L's place in Delray Beach. My cousin, sharing some of the same blood as me, enjoys a taste of the deliciousness as I do, so I wanted to take him to one of the better spots downtown and let him experience Naples in full bloom. Unfortunately, all of my favorites there, Tulia, Molto, Bha Bha, 821, etc, were booked solid. The only place besides Sails (more on their new prix fixe menu another time) that had availability was Alberto's on Fifth.

Coincidentally and perhaps fortuitously, in a conversation where he was bemoaning the new Sails prix fixe menu, my friend Captain Neon mentioned that he had enjoyed a surprisingly delicious dinner at Alberto's on Fifth.

Surprisingly because it's a place none of us really considered as a go-to restaurant downtown. Perhaps it's because of the glut of Italian restaurants in town some of them get lost in the shuffle. Who knows, but regardless, Alberto's on Fifth it was. Cuz A and I ended up on a two top outside and in between catching up on the exploits of his fifteen year old flamethrower, his college freshman daughter, Boogs' latest adorableness and my extraordinarily busy life (clearly, I'm actually not that busy), we decided to split the Insalata di Spinacini Freschi e Fichi con Ricotta di Capra fresca, Mandorle e Pancetta Croccante, roughly translating to spinach, ricotta and pancetta salad (pancetta being one of those things whose presence in a dish will almost always get me to said dish) and each get the Costolette di Maiale alla Griglia con Pepperonata, e Salsiccia, translating to local meat legend Jimmy P's Berkshire pork chop with sausage and red pepper ragout. Normally this is a dining-out no-no for me but since neither Cuz A and I are not dating because we are not from _____ (insert your favorite place that you like to claim inbred people are from as a form of regional rivalry insult), we both ordered the same thing.

The wine list was the first of a meal of pleasant surprises. They had the requisite pinot and cabs that you have to have in this town to appease the name-brand crowd, but they also had a pretty deep and wonderfully reasonable selection of Italian wines.

A mid-price 2015 Barolo was selected, tasted and deemed delicious and our salads swiftly appeared soon after. We were splitting the salad but one of my favorite touches, simple but smart, was that they split the portion in half and plated one for each of us. It's those little extra touches that make me root for a place and give it a benefit of the doubt.

In addition to the flavor of a dish, anything with diverse texture gets an additional bonus point. The mixture of particularly creamy whipped ricotta, crunchy pancetta and crunchy almonds meshed in a lovely manner with the very light, but effective use of dressing.

Flavorwise it (can salads be an it? are they a they?) let the figs and the pancetta do the work mixing savory and sweet. Btw, creamy and crunchy, always a good thing, unless you find crickets in your cream (would have also accepted maggots in your milk and bugs in your butter for this poor analogy).

After quickly devouring this complexly simple salad, and our plates were removed, the pork chop was adroitly shuttled to our table. Pork chops are one of those things that I love in theory but in practice usually leave me a little wanting. I had this same experience with braised short rib until I gave up on it altogether. I think I may have been blinded by my love of Korean short rib, which is terrific, yet braised continental short rib, never as good as it sounds on the menu.

This pork chop did not disappoint, perhaps joining the pantheon of one of the best two or three I have ever had. The blend of tangy ragout with a sprinkling of a few clumps of uncased sausage with the creamy potato/polenta (I was so obsessed with the chop that I don't actually recall, but let's go with polenta, it sounds fancier) worked on so many levels. Again, like the salad, complex in its simplicity and it just worked on all levels.

That complex simplicity is probably the best way to describe the experience with Alberto's. If you're looking for really high quality ingredients that just give you a nice blend of flavors without any pretense, this is your jam. If you want to impress your friends with all sorts of odd flavors and cutting edge bites, this ain't it, but in the words of my creative writing teacher, and so many other teachers across the land (whose words I clearly have never heeded). Keep It Simple, Stupid/Silly.

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