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Pizzetta’s Pizzeria
4107-F Oleander Dr
(910) 799-4300
Pricing: $$

IMPRESSIVE EATS: The garlic knots and Casa Mia at Pizzetta’s are not to miss at this hotspot-of-a-new eatery off Oleander. Photo by Bethany Turner

The family pizzeria is a time-honored tradition. Conjuring images of red-and-white-checked table cloths and wicker-covered Chianti bottles repurposed as candle holders, family-style Italian food remains at least a little piece of any good childhood. While Pizzetta’s eschews the sillier stereotypes of the cheesy Italian joints we see in the movies, its raucous atmosphere and affordable fare make it no less welcoming.

The single dining room was clean and bustling, and noise permeated the space as I joined a friend for Saturday lunch a few weeks ago. Tucked away in Anderson Square, a few doors down from The Wine Sampler off Oleander Drive, the narrow space keeps a pretty loyal crowd in its almost-year infancy. Even though we dined late by any reasonable standard, we got the very last table available.

Pizzetta’s is a perfect example of why a reviewer must judge a restaurant based on how well it achieves its own goals rather than his or her own preferences. Under most circumstances, the yelping toddler behind me would send me screaming from the room.  However, Pizzetta’s makes no pretense about its “family-friendly” atmosphere. I’d be remiss to criticize any establishment for doing something I don’t like and doing it well. Make no mistake: Had I endured a similar dining experience at Port Land Grille, nothing but vitriol would fill the page. But Pizzetta’s isn’t fine dining; it’s casual and inviting.

The specialty pizza slices are worth a look. Many pizza parlors offer exotic or outlandish options, but few of them offer slices only. I couldn’t resist a taste of the grilled chicken Caesar salad pizza, more out of curiosity than hunger. In the end, it amounted to little more than a slice of cheese pizza warmed, and covered with chopped Romaine and finely cubed chicken, served with a side of Caesar dressing. I admit, as novelty pizza goes, this slice is better than one would think it should be. Normally I avoid chicken on pizza because I find that few—if any—restaurants can prepare it without drying out the meat. In this case, the lettuce and chicken are added after the pizza is cooked. The juxtaposition of cool lettuce and cold chicken over a warm slice of pizza makes for a wildly different experience. While I won’t be returning for it again and again, I do applaud a restaurant willing to take risks with its menu (folks can also find chicken marsala and Buffalo chicken among its offerings, as well as extremely thick Sicilian slices).

My lobster ravioli made an even greater impression. Its thick, rich sauce (no doubt prepared with more heavy cream than any doctor would recommend) complemented the pasta beautifully. Hints of garlic and oregano make the sauce classic and delightful.  The ravioli itself was far closer to al dente than I expected of a small restaurant, which requires speed of service and rotation of tables to make money. I expected noodles cooked hours earlier to be served with unpleasant haste. I was happily surprised.

Even more delicious was the Casa Mia, a Pizzetta’s specialty, filled with ground meat and in a pink cream sauce, enhanced by mushrooms, peas and diced ham. A flavorful offering served over a choice of pasta, I recommend it fully. The salty rich flavor of the ham blends seamlessly with the hearty beef and tomato base. Still, the more delicate tastes of the peas and mushrooms are never overpowered. The balance struck is quite impressive. I have only the silliest complaint: It was far too big. I’m no stranger to over-indulging, but I took half of this plate home. Lovers of small-plate fare might consider splitting a course.

In each case, the pasta, while delicious in its own right, took a backseat to the bread. Pizzetta’s garlic knots are reason enough to make the drive over there. Doughy and buttery, they make diners unashamed to sop up pasta sauce and eat with abandon. I can’t write enough good words here; every restaurant should, at some level, be judged on the quality of its bread. Pizzetta’s may be a noisy little pizza joint, but on the bread question, it gets an enthusiastic endorsement.

On a somewhat sour note, I suggest dessert elsewhere. Of the two crème brûlées sent to our table, each came undercooked, one more moderately than the other. In the best of circumstances, having a poorly prepared crème brulee is like eating sugary scrambled eggs. Under the worst circumstances, raw eggs could be far more threatening to a customer’s health.

Service at Pizzetta’s can best be described as efficient. Again, I can find no stylistic fault. My friend and I got out of there with a bill around $30. Servers would starve if they wasted time at the table with unnecessary chit chat. They need to turn the tables, but what’s most impressive is that they do so without ever seeming rude or unpleasant. If anything, I was amazed at the speed of service in a restaurant so busy.  The kitchen and the service staff work in pretty remarkable harmony.

I loved Pizzetta’s for what it is: a noisy, innovative, fun, local pizza joint. Though maybe not the best spot to choose for a first date—you’ll never hear what your companion has to say—it’s perfect for the 10th date (when you already know everything your companion has to say). Enjoy the place for what it has to offer.  And get two orders of the garlic knots.

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