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When Pasquale Marzocchella decided to open a fried Italian food takeaway on James’ Street, he wanted it to be as distinct to the eye as the taste buds.
While Neapolitan food isn’t uncommon in Dublin, he pinned his focus on side dishes. “These are the types of food you won’t find a lot outside Napoli,” he says.
He decided, he says, to treat the store he co-owns, Captain Fry, as if it were giving the city its first impression of bites like the pepper-and-parsley potato crocchè and the frittatina, a fritter loaded with bucatini pasta and scamorza cheese.
“So I had to figure out how to create a place that is catchy,” says Marzocchella.
On the footpath outside Captain Fry on a dull-skied Tuesday at around 3pm, five people wait on a bus bound for Harristown. Between checking the bus timetables, they glance back at the store front.
Captain Fry is painted in yellow and orange-red wavy stripes. Mounted above the service window is a sculpture with giant plastic replicas of their food bulging from the wall.
Customers order on a touch-screen behind the window, so that Marzocchella and chef Mario Cipollaro can quickly fry up fritters and rice-filled arancini, the size of tennis balls. “I don’t want to be standing at a till all day,” Marzocchella says.
It is all in service of a superhero, Captain Fry, who they devised as their mascot, he says. “He’s super fast and his superpower is that he can make people feel better in one minute.”
Testing the Bomb
In the kitchen the following Friday around 2pm, the post-lunch lull gives the two men time to prep ahead of the evening’s orders.
Cipollaro stands over a large rectangular tray, mixing up the arancini, stirring tomato sauce, melted scamorza cheese and minced meat into a mound of fresh rice.
Behind him, Marzocchella is at the fryer. He is testing something new, he says.
Their menu at present is short and simple. Just three savoury items, while they get on their feet, he says. “But we’re gonna put something sweet on the menu next.”
Lifting a steel basket out of the fryer, he drops two doughnut-like pastries onto a red napkin, before coating them in sugar. As they cool off, he injects one with a vanilla custard – crema pasticcera – until it’s fit to burst.
“La Bomba” he calls it. Or “the Bomb”.
With one bite into the sweet bread, the custard gushes from the top, fragrant with vanilla and faint lemon.
Beaming with delight, he hurriedly puts away a plastic container filled with sugar. He wants to roll out a dessert along these lines in the near future, he says.
“With everything new, the rule is always that it has to be something fried. Always fried,” he says.
Born in Naples, Marzocchella moved to Dublin four years ago, he says, sitting in his apartment’s kitchen above the store. “I was working in a fish and chip shop before.”
During 2020, he started to develop the idea for Captain Fry. He was frustrated by how long it took to prepare food in the chip shop’s kitchen, he says. “I really didn’t like the type of service. People would be waiting 10 to 15 minutes for food, and for me. I couldn’t accept that.”
He was bored too, he says. “And I just woke up, wanting to create something unusual.”
Finding a chef was difficult at first, he says. There weren’t many people in Dublin who had experience cooking rustic Neapolitan fried foods.
Cipollaro was perfect, he says. “He had 15 years of experience with this type of food.”
Arancini originates in Sicily, Marzocchella points out, but Cipollaro had a specific expertise in creating the stuffed rice balls as he ran a shop in Napoli devoted to them. “It came from his father, and he learned about all of the secrets of it.”
The menu they devised was inspired by childhood foods, Marzocchella says. So far, it has arancini, frittatina, and crocchè, each is served either in their classic style, or with additions like pepperoni or bacon.
Usually, these would be served as sides to, say, pizza, he says. “But I tried to make the quantity bigger, to let this feel like a meal, a lunch or a dinner.”
Embracing the Leftovers
In the window of the store, a glass case displays a batch of the frittatina. One first inspection, they could be mistaken for scones or well-cooked char siu buns.
Their origin is uncertain. But the legend Marzocchella says that he encountered in Napoli was that they were created by the chefs who prepared a cuisine in the French-style for Ferdinand IV (1751–1825), the king of Naples.
Once the king had finished a meal, there was an enormous amount of leftovers, Marzocchella says. “The food that the king doesn’t eat would be thrown away, but the chefs just didn’t do that and started to create something from wasted food, and in the end they created the frittatina.”
The crispy exterior of the frittatina disguises the intensely moist insides, which floods the mouth with the buttery taste of besciamella sauce, and two cheeses, scamorza and Romano.
It’s chewy from the sliced bucatini pasta. In its classic incarnation the chefs use minced beef. This variation however, dabbles with a more local mix of flavours, using bacon and cheddar instead.
Although coming from a desire to emulate traditional Neapolitan cookery, Marzocchella doesn’t fixate on this. He wants to bring something new to the deep-fried landscape, and the frittatina is that experience, he says.
Arancini is nothing new to Dublin, he says. “People find that everywhere in Italy, and people from Brazil have a version of it, made with chicken. The frittatina is our something different.”