DINING: Tomato Pie offers ambitious pizza toppings

January 19, 2009

As restaurant locations go, Tomato Pie's is far from ideal, tucked away in an aging strip mall in the shadow of Interstate 465 (9611 College Ave., 815-0011). But the pizza menu at this locally owned bistro aims to be noticed, with an ambitious array of unusual toppings like boiled eggs, linguine noodles and lentil beans that almost dare diners to give them a try.

Yeah, you read that right. Eggs. Noodles. Beans.

Pizza pricing is simple: $10 for a 10-inch pie and $15 for a 14-incher.  No upcharge for the fancy ingredients. No build-your-own option. (Alcohol alert: There's no beer or wine for sale, although our waiter said you can bring your own. Not a huge deal for most of us, but good to know before you sit down.)

The bistro also has pasta and sandwiches on the menu, but we stuck with the signature dish, eschewing the namesake southern Italian pizza—ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil and chopped garlic—in search of more flavor. Results were mixed.

We all liked the cracker-thin crust, though we know some purists would quibble with the choice.

As for toppings, I was the only adventurous soul, ordering the Giardino with Beans, which promised lentil, pinto, lima and cannelloni beans in addition to goat cheese and veggies. Although beans covered the pizza, they all looked and tasted the same. Without the promised variety, my childhood aversion to lima beans remains untested. Still, the goat cheese and Italian spices made it one of the tastier choices.

The next-best choice was the Messina, featuring sausage, pepperoni and bacon. The meat packed plenty of flavor, which was welcome since we couldn't detect much, if any, of the promised chopped garlic cloves. Coming in a close third was the Prosciutto, which featured the title ingredient plus some capocollo, basil and four kinds of cheese. It was good, but the spicy ham overwhelmed the subtle prosciutto.

Our final choice was a swing and a miss—the Chicken Spinach. I haven't tasted anything this bland since my elementary school paste-eating days. Oh, it looked good, but the sauteed chicken, fresh spinach and tomatoes lacked any flavor. No hint of the advertised garlic here, either.

Still, other highlights tempered our mild disappointment.

The side salad, a bargain at just $1.95 with a pizza, offered a delightful mix of greens and berries tossed in a delicious balsamic honey. The atmosphere was pleasant despite the big-box layout, featuring fun touches like a faux brick oven and fake fireplace. The service was solicitous.

Soup ($3 a cup)-Potato Harvest on the day we visited-is made when it's ordered, rather than simmering for hours on the stove. I guess that's why they don't call it stew. 

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