I visited an old friend the other day: Pomodori's Pizza. Still snugly tucked between Shirley's Laundromat and the Stop and Go, this little spot brings back fond memories of my early college days when they would deliver piping hot pies and a belly-buster of a sandwich called the Grinder (to people who were much too inebriated to go fetch it) or we'd spend a cold winter night warming up over a bowl of pasta and glass of wine in their dining room.
Pomi's looked just the same the other night. The wood-fired oven still stands majestically in the open kitchen, and the arched brick doorways made you feel just a tad exotic. We visited on a Sunday night, greeted by the alluring aroma of garlic before the hostess made her way to us.
The place was packed, which seemed unusual for an early Sunday dinner, but it was the day of the Flying Pig Marathon, so people might have been re-loading the carbs they ran through during the race. According to one of the servers, marathoners ate them out of house and home the night before the race, leaving us Sunday diners with a few less choices. Luckily, everything we were interested in was still available.
The appetizer menu offers a lot of bread options such as Crostini ($5.75) and Bruschetta Caprese ($6.95), which was topped with grape tomatoes, Greek olives, basil, olive oil and mozzarella, but I thought we should pick one of Pomi's fabulous wood-fired pizzas.
Pomi's offers both these and regular pizzas and, as my step-dad noted, the layout of these choices on the menu can be confusing for the uninitiated since they're listed as two separate categories -- a detail I hadn't picked up on despite being a longtime fan.
I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure Pomi's was the first area pizzeria to offer a wood-fired pie, and they are still one of the best. There are lots of interesting choices like the Figs and Prosciutto ($9.95) with Turkish figs, the Gorgonzola Walnut ($10.45) with tomatoes and pesto and the Bianco ($9.95) with sautéed artichoke hearts, red onions, mushrooms, garlic, mozzarella and provolone. And if these don't make you salivate, an Apple Dessert Pizza ($9.45) might.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I think I did work for the first local pizza joint -- The Pizza Parlour -- that offered dessert pizzas as well as rattlesnake meat as a topping!)
My step-dad and I decided on the Shrimp & Asparagus pie ($10. 95) with roasted red pepper, mozzarella, provolone and garlic. The garlic tasted as good as it smelled, and the shrimp were delightful little plumb packages.
After splitting a Baby Greens salad ($4.75), we moved on to the entrée course. And I have to say that I've been doing Pomi's an injustice all these years by focusing on their pies. Our pasta dishes were some of the best I've had recently.
Pomi's makes all their noodles on-site and offers spaghetti, linguini and fettuccini. I went with the Eggplant Parmesan ($11.95) after our server assured me it wasn't fried -- she was certain because they didn't have a fryer on the premises. My step-dad ordered the Carbonara ($11.95), a dish with spaghettini and a sauce of pancetta, mushrooms, eggs, garlic and olive oil.
Carbonara sauces traditionally use cream as well, but the substitution of olive oil made Pomi's version creamy but not overpowering, letting the flavors of the pancetta and garlic come out much more clearly.
I was a bit flummoxed by my dish at first. The eggplant rounds were thicker than I expected, but it took only a couple of bites to be won over. The slices were meaty, and the fact that they hadn't soaked up six pounds of oil in the fryer let the vegetable stand on its own much-maligned two feet. (I know eggplants don't have feet, but you know what I mean.)
Still, my favorite thing of the night was my spinach spaghettini topped with garlic-spiked tomato sauce. While I promised myself the leftovers for lunch the next day, they never made it through the night.
We had no complaints the evening we re-visited Pomi's. The serving staff was helpful, friendly and sincere. The food was just as good as always, and as the fading sunlight shimmered on our copper table top I felt the way I did when I talked to my best friend from high school for the first time in 10 years: We just picked right up were we left off.
Sometimes old friends are the best.
POMODORI'S PIZZA Critics Pick
Go: 121 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Entree Prices: $9.50-$13.95
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, vegetarian, seafood and chicken pizza and pastas
Accessibility: A few steps at the entrance