Pizza, pizza, pizza! A word that conjures up slumber parties of our past, after-game high school dates and Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old high school freshman. (Is Strangers with Candy only a cultural touchstone for me?)
Pizza's also the word at Betta's Italian Oven, which specializes in the thin crust, wood-fired variety. Nestled in the working-class heart of Norwood, Will DeLuca's restaurant, cousin to Betta's Italian Cuisine in Mount Lookout, has been serving affordable Italian cuisine for over three years on Montgomery Road. This spring DeLuca's loyal patrons will find they have a little more room when DeLuca expands his dining space into the next storefront and adds an Italian-style coffee bar.
The Friday night we arrived, the dining room was packed by 6:15 -- tables were filled with families, coworkers stopping by for a bite on the way home and several regulars requesting their favorite servers, all young, efficient and trying very hard to make sure you get everything you needed.
The space in Betta's is bright and cheery but a little overly homogenized for my taste. I recognized most of the artwork from trips to Bed, Bath and Beyond, and the Italian music soundtrack actually got a little annoying as I inhaled the spicy scent of Italian meats and waited for my parents to arrive with a bottle of wine. (Betta's doesn't have a liquor license, but you can bring in your own bottle for a corkage fee of $5).
DeLuca himself operates the massive pizza oven, sliding sizzling pies out of the 630-degree oven to deftly slice with a pizza wheel. He rolls dough through a pasta press before folding it into breadsticks to bake in the heat.
Be forewarned: Leave your fear of carbohydrates behind when you pass through DeLuca's door. Along with pizza his menu offers classics like bruschetta ($5.95), bread garlic sticks ($3.95), calzones ($5.95), spaghetti and meatballs ($9.95), various stuffed pastas, steak hoagies ($5.50) ... and the list goes on.
We started with the bruschetta, big slices of toasted Italian bread slathered with olive oil and topped with tomato, fresh mozzarella and loads of good, stinky garlic. Then we got to the best part of the meal: Pizza! Pizza! Pizza! (Someone really needs to change that old saying about everyone screaming for ice cream.)
We chose the 10-inch Quattro Stagioni ($10.95), with kalamata olives, proscuitto, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Our toppings were split into quadrants separated by twists of breadsticks -- my favorite was the spicy prosciutto.
Hold on to your hat, Buddy, two of your biggest fans just switched sides: My parents, die-hard LaRosa's patrons, both agreed the crust was the best they'd ever had. As for me, I had to agree. The wood-fired pizzas from my past seem limp in comparison. DeLuca's crust was crunchy and able to withstand the weight of sauce-laden toppings.
Moving on to entrées, my stepdad's coworker had raved about the Eggplant Parmesan ($10.95), so we went with that and the Chicken Cacciatore ($9.50), which comes over rice or pasta -- we picked spaghetti. I one-upped my parent's pizza epiphany with my own eggplant revelation. Covered in a thin layer of cheese and chunky sauce, the massive mound stared back at me from the plate. At first I thought it was the Chicken Cacciatore. It looked meaty, almost like it had bones, but when I sunk my teeth in, they met no resistance -- it was creamy and smoky and all-around delicious.
The Chicken Cacciatore, served in a bowl with chunks of grilled chicken breast, tomato, red onion, mushrooms and peppers brought back memories of a dish my stepdad's grandmother had made for him. I would have liked a spoon to twirl my pasta against, but I'm sure if I had asked our server would have gone off in a flash to get one. One of my favorite things about that dish, and really about the meal altogether, was DeLuca's light hand with the dairy. I think it makes for a much more satisfying meal when you can actually taste the stuff under the cheese.
For dessert Betta's offers dessert pizzas ($7.95) and various pies and cakes as well as house-made Tiramisu and Amaretto Cream Cake ($3.95). (DeLuca plans to expand his homemade dessert repertoire when he opens the coffee bar.) We backed off from our carb feast for a moment and ordered the cream cake. While it was a little too sweet for me, my mom quickly made a move to shield it from our raised forks and delved into the airy concoction of amaretto-infused pastry cream over cake-like ladyfingers.
A lot of restaurants have a tendency to transform "peasant" food, or French and Italian country fare, into some twisted version of haute cuisine, serving tiny portions on over-sized plates and suggesting that food is entertainment. DeLuca's food is serious business. It is meant to fill the bellies of people who work hard and laugh loud and often. ©
Betta's Italian Oven
Go: 3764 Montgomery Road, Norwood
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 5-11 p.m. Saturday (Closed Monday-Friday from 3-5 p.m.)
Payment: Visa and MasterCard
Red Meat Alternatives: Pizza, vegetarian pasta options and salads
Accessibility: Accessible with off-street parking