There’s more than one way to make a pie at Nana’s

You know you live in a pizza hotspot when a pizza place replaces a pizza place at the same address.

Nestled in the plaza where Palmieri’s NY-style Pizza once peddled pies is Nana’s Byrek, offering a similar menu with a few surprises.

Tops among them is the titular byrek, a “handcrafted traditional pie from the Balkans,” according to the menu, crafted with crisp and thin layers of phyllo dough and a choice of meat, cheese, or spinach filling. My slice of cheese byrek ($4 a slice; $18 for a whole pie) reminded me of the tiropita usually offered at the St. Sophia’s Greek Festival in New London; read: it was tasty, filling, and hereby recommended. Even hours later, the half of the slice that survived the car ride had retained its soft-crunch texture and the subtle, slightly salty cheese flavor still delivered on the delicious.

Another happy surprise is the house-baked bread on which house paninis are served. I admit that, when my prosciutto and mozzarella panini arrived ($9; comes with a handful of fries), it didn’t look terribly impressive. One bite adjusted my attitude immediately. I can confirm that the thick slices of house-made bread made for a wonderful, flavorful toasty base, but the salty-with-a-touch-of-sweetness ham and excellent fresh mozzarella were a well-balanced counterpart and just as noteworthy.

I was pretty pleased to see that a loaf of the house bread comes with Nana’s generously portioned pasta dishes. This time, the bread was done up with a little oil and garlic, warmed up to just the right crispness outside. It was a perfect companion to my pasta sampler — a welcome choice, as I dithered over which of Nana’s many intriguing pasta dishes to choose for dinner. Nana’s Taste ($16; includes bread and side salad) is just that: a taste of Chicken Parmesan, a taste of tortellini, and a taste lasagna, each approximately a serving. (All three are available as solo entrees, too.) Side note: The pasta is by Rebekah’s in East Lyme. Fresh, local pasta will always play well with me, and the marinara sauce atop all three samples was a bright and zesty rendition, with just the slightest kick. We liked the chicken parm well enough, but it didn’t necessarily knock our socks off. As for the tortellini, the little pockets of pasta and cheese were hefty, toothy treats that I’d file under good not great. I enjoyed the lasagna quite a bit, and its layers of tender, well-seasoned beef added a nice flavor note to my big bowl of carbs.

But let’s get back to business and talk about the pizza. I tend to go with a baseline tasting of just-cheese pie when I’m in research mode, and the lovely staff at Nana’s checked that right off the list immediately. As guests get seated or wander into the restaurant, a staffer will offer a sample-sized slice of cheese and tomato pizza ($2 a slice; $13 for a pie), a nice touch indeed. With its thin crust and more of that zesty red sauce, the hot slice I sampled landed on the order-again list. Simple pleasures like these are just what this gal needed on a rainy afternoon. Spurred on by that tasting, I decided to go a little nontraditional and try the Taco Pizza ($18; one size only), a cheese pie with ground beef, chopped tomatoes, and shredded lettuce that’s added toward the end of the pizza’s time in the oven. (Note: The Philly Cheesesteak pizza, one size only at $18, is hereby the return-visit short list now too.)

So, the thing to remember when ordering an out-of-the-box (south of the border?) pizza is to evaluate it as such. This isn’t a boutique, ingredients-from-select-cellars-in-Naples-only kind of pizza experience. It’s pure fun and truly delivers a taco-like experience — kind of like eating taco dip on a really big chip, if chips were made of out pizza dough. I was amazed that the lettuce retained its crispness and some flavor after sweating in an oven for a few minutes, and yet, here it was, offering texture interest along with the very good tomatoes and mildly seasoned and tender beef. All three blended seamlessly with the mozzarella, and the chef even threw in sour cream on the side to top off this Italian fiesta. The crust on this pie was a little thicker than the plain cheese slice, and it might’ve benefitted from one or two less minutes in the oven. Still, when we ate cold pizza for breakfast the next day, we were grateful for the heartier crust and were surprised again by the vibrancy of the veggies.

That meal turned out to be quite veggie-licious with the Nana’s Salad we ordered with the pizza. This salad is a deal at $8. It’s huge and loaded with good stuff, including mixed greens, cucumbers, shredded carrots, tomatoes, red peppers and tasty accents like feta, olives and onions. (I ditched the latter two items, but olive/onion fans take note!) With or without the house dressing (a very good, herb-y balsamic mixture), you are guaranteed a flavor-fest that will easily feed three people. The sheer size of the salad saved me from finishing my impulse-order of fries ($3 and middling to me; had I chosen the option to have the fries with cheese and bacon for $1.50 more, I suspect there would be more good news to report).

Even better, the salad made it much more feasible to order two house-made cannolis for dessert ($6). The two little treats, topped with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce (optional), were just the right size for less-guilty desserting. Plus, the filling and crunchy shell were less sweet than some we’ve encountered, so we decided these were healthy cannoli. A digestif, even.

Quibbles aside, the bottom line about Nana’s is that creative and caring people have taken over a popular food spot. If its online fan base is any indicator, Nana’s is well positioned to become a local favorite for years to come.

Nana’s Byrek

316 Boston Post Road, Waterford

(860) 437-3030 

https://nanasbyrek.com

Cuisine: Per Nana’s website, “American Style Food with an Albanian Twist!” in which “American-style food” is pizza, pasta, grinders, and more. The eatery’s titular byrek is among the Albanian twists. Delivery and catering available.

Atmosphere: Cozy, clean, casual setting, with a handful of booths and tables; family-friendly, judging by the ”Kids Make Their Own Pizzas Free” special on Wednesdays from 1 to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.

Service: Quite friendly and welcoming

Prices: A wee bit pricey for some items. Pizzas start at $12 for a plain cheese; specialty pies start at $16; pasta dishes start at $13; grinders are $8 and $9.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, noon-8:30 p.m.

Credit cards: Accepted

Reservations: N/A

Handicapped access: Nana’s is located in a small plaza; you’ll find a wheelchair accessible sidewalk dip on the left end of the plaza, just a few steps from Nana’s stair-free entryway. Interior is relatively roomy, but note the restaurant is on the smaller side.

 

 

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