In front of the house, there's the pizza by the joint place, where you can get a slice or a sandwich and a beer or soda and sidle up to the counter. In the back, there's a lovely, tiny dining room that looks out on the back parking lot, but in spite of that, manages to be charming. There in the dining room, you can have table service and order off a menu.
Pizza by the slice has at least 4 pies ready for munching. The prices are in the $2-$3 range for slices. They also have 4 salads ($4-$7), 4 panini, 4 heros, and 4 cold sandwiches ($6.50-$8.25), and out of each of those categories, one is vegan, and most offer a lacto-ovo veg option as well. All the sandwiches come with soup (a good vegan minestrone or a soup of the day), the house salad, or a pasta salad. They have 13 different wines by the class ($5-6.50), and 6 different beers on tap ($3-$3.75).
We ordered the Italian Job, a huge cold sandwich made of sopressato, capicola, provolone, roasted peppers, pepperoncini, tomato, red onion, lettuce, oil and vinegar on ciabatta, with the minestrone. Also, the Maspeth: fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil pesto with prosciutto on como, with a side caesar, and a pepperoni slice.
The pepperoni slice was pretty good. Pizza by the slice always tastes worse than a fresh hot pie, and that can't be helped. But the crust was crunchy and crackery, the sauce was not overabundant, but prominent, the pepperoni was good, and the cheese was okay. Still, for pizza by the slice, this was mighty good.
The Italian Job was one of those sandwiches that is so tall, it ought not fit into your mouth. Everything in it tasted zingy, tasty and fresh. The ciabatta roll from Grand Central was the perfect foil: crusty but not too crusty.
The caesar was good. Slightly undressed, which I'd rather, and some restraint with the shredded parmesan and the croutons. The Maspeth was Caprese-esque in ingredients only, though the gooey, stringy mozzarella was a delight, especially with the pesto. The roma tomato was okay, it wasn't as bad as most sandwich tomatoes out of season, though I'd rather just wait til summer. The proscuitto kinda disappeared into the sandwich.
Brunch is served on Saturday and Sundays, with prices from $5.75-$12.50, and with entrees ranging from breakfast pizza, panini, a scramble, some omelets, a tofu scramble, and polenta with buffalo brisket!
The sitdown menu has a pile of yummy-sounding Italian appetizers ($3.50-$9), a handful of pastas ($7-$13.25), and some specialties ($9-$10) like lasagne and ravioli and risotto. Of course, there are also pizzas ($9-$23), including the most decent sounding vegan pizza I've ever heard of: a white bean & roasted red pepper spread topped with tempeh (I'd pass on that) and veggies. They offer red sauce, alfredo, garlic & olive oil and pesto as bases (as well as the white bean/roasted red pepper spread), and they even offer a clam pie.
So, we went back for dinner. This was not as good of an experience.
Now, before I go any further, let me say that I know folks who have had great experiences on the sitdown side of the restaurant. It just sounds like I got unlucky. But lo, this could happen to you!
Right off the bat, we order drinks, and my Fino Fizz comes back to the table with Chambord rather than limoncello. We placed our order, for a large spinach salad, a pasta carbonara, and a house lasagne (not to be confused with the special lasagne). Our salad came quickly, lightly dressed and quite good. The fresh baby spinach leaves were tossed with tiny tiny bits of candied walnuts, cubes of roma tomato, and ricotta salata. Then began our long wait.
It appears, if you order a pizza, it will come out quite quickly. We watched two tables who had ordered well after us get their pizzas and finish them before we got our pastas. I'm estimating a wait of about 40 minutes between ordering, and pasta arriving at the table.
It should be noted that the pizzas looked really good.
As noted on the menu, the carbonara was cream-based, and was fairly garlicky. That's not traditional, but I didn't mind it. The pancetta was well carmelized, and the peas were peas.
The lasagna was made with housemade sausage, which were all the size of really small hail, or smaller. It really didn't taste unlike lasagna you can get at the grocery store.
Both pastas were accompanied by several slices of really stale Grand Central bread—so stale that I could barely bite through it.
Several times during the meal, someone would haul trash or recycling through the dining room. At several points, I could smell cigarette smoke, even though the dining room is non-smoking... maybe coming from the bar?
Service was an issue the entire meal. For the majority of the meal, there were three tables and two servers, which I suppose explains why my water glass was dry for twenty minutes. At one point when the server did come into our orbit, I asked for a glass of beer and she asked if she could take the remainder of my drink (I had maybe a quarter of it left). I had asked for the beer then because it had been about 15 minutes since she had been at the table, and it wasn't unreasonable to believe they'd leave me there with both an empty water and empty drink glass.
I watched as this same server brought tasters of red wine out to a neighboring table and then couldn't remember which was pinot and which was chianti.
This was a big disappointment after our great lunch the day before. Our dinner experiment cost us $55 after tip. So my recommendation to you is, go for pizza or sandwiches. The pizzas are really tasty.
Posted at May 30, 2007 * add entry to del.icio.us