Restaurant review: Pizza and beer? Yep, that 'Works'

You've got to a love a restaurant that breaks down its core culinary mission thus: pie & suds.

"Pie" meaning pizza and "suds" meaning beer. Lots and lots of pizzas and lots and lots of beers.

This land of pie and suds is Pizza Works in Old Saybrook, a longtime pizza destination at the Old Saybrook train station. Pizza Works is one of those places locals forget is still there and rejoice at the rediscovery, and it is massively popular with visiting families.

Indeed, on a lark, I suggested to my dinner companion that we attempt to count the number of children sitting in our immediate vicinity. I hit 12 before the full suggestion had left my lips. Which is only to say that you'll likely have to wait for a table (no reservations), and it gets loud in the main dining areas. Put more plainly, if you want a romantic night out, don't drop in at peak dinner hours.

However, if all you desire is beer and suds, tuck in with impunity. With a choice of more than 40 specialty pizzas (or create your own from a long list of toppings) and at least as many beers (bottled; wine available, too), the decision becomes all about what you'll have to relegate to the next visit. There are just too many intriguing options.

While you're perusing the extensive menus and noshing on the house focaccia that arrives tableside when dining in (bagged with takeout orders), start with the Field Greens salad ($5.95 for a small, which easily feeds two). Spring greens meet with a fabulous balsamic vinaigrette and aged Parmesan; the mix is expertly prepared and beyond delicious. It's the sort of dish you don't want to end, it's so good. Note: this salad comes already dressed, but it's so well done you won't mind the presumption.

Before we delve into pizza-dom, be aware that Pizza Works does offer a handful of pasta dishes - basics like lasagna, baked ziti and ravioli. We tried the Six-Cheese Ravioli ($11.95 at dinner) - stuffed with Romano, Parmesan, Fontina, Provolone, Mozzarella and Ricotta - with marinara (meat sauce available). While nicely prepared, the dish was still somehow a bit bland, despite all those cheeses. Still, the portion was generous and the marinara bright, but an infusion of garlic into that marinara might've helped.

Luckily, we had a Thai Chicken pizza ($13.95) as a secondary dish, found on the long list of Pizza Works' white pizzas. This pie pairs chopped chicken breast marinated in "sweet, spicy & hot Thai peanut chili sauce" per the menu, with garlic, scallions, basil, cheddar cheese and a splash of white wine - a very nice combination, as it turns out.

Now, I detected no spiciness or heat in that Thai sauce whatsoever, so don't let that put you off if you're heat hesitant. Otherwise, you'll miss out on a tasty creation that pairs beautifully with Pizza Works' stone-baked crust. It's a wee bit soft, a wee bit crisp and very flavorful.

But if you're more of a plain cheese kind of pizza fan, you might try the 5 Cheese Special ($12.95). Other basic tomato-and-cheese combos are available, but cheeseheads like me immediately migrate to mixes like this on a tomato pie base. You've got mozzarella, Parm, Romano, cheddar and feta mixed with tender sliced Roma tomatoes, which combine to create nice toothy heft and lovely flavor.

Among the more veggielicious options is the Eggplant Parmesan pizza ($12.50), a red pie topped with mozz, breaded eggplant and roasted red and yellow peppers. It's very colorful and quite satisfying, thanks to hearty cuts on the veggies. The roast on the peppers was perfect - not slimy, not overly crunchy - and eggplant really makes everything better, and this pizza is no exception. Think savory versus pizza's typical prevailing flavors like garlic and tomato-acidity.

We have a working list of four more pizzas to try next visit (Tex-Mex, Potato, Fresh Margarita and the bacon-decked Rosie's Special) since only two of us could only eat so much pizza in a sitting. You might get a lot more flavor mileage in one shot if you go out to Pizza Works with a crew of tasters who don't mind sharing. Heck, you could even do that with the beer menu. In the end, that sort of behavior seems par for the course at Pizza Works, a fun place to eat with a great sense of culinary adventure.

Pizza Works

455 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook (at Saybrook Junction Marketplace at the Old Saybrook railroad station)
(860) 388-2218
PizzaWorksCT.com

Cuisine: Pizza, Italian

Atmosphere: Casual family-friendly pizza joint in a huge lofty space. Outdoor seating ample and available.

Service: Decent, well-intentioned, but high volume seems to affect how quickly various requests are fulfilled. Our waitress, who was very nice, forgot to offer us dessert before dropping the check.

Prices: Affordable, but on the pricy side in a pizza context. Pizzas average $12 (one size only, 12 inches across).

Hours: Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Credit cards: All majors

Reservations: No

Handicapped access: Sturdy ramp leads up to restaurant entrance. Human traffic within could impede mobility at some points.

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