La Scarpetta Pizzeria Italiana offers traditional fare, some surprises
This region is so populated with pizza places, that pizza places replace former pizza places that have replaced initial pizza places, all in the same location.
And so La Scarpetta Pizzeria Italiana, the most recent incarnation of the former Old Lyme Illiano’s (which begat Stella’s) opened this spring, offering much of the same fare as its predecessors, with a few surprises.
We’ll start there. When I hear a name like “La Scarpetta Pizzeria Italiana,” I don’t expect to see Cheesy Fries on the menu ($7). Though we chided ourselves for choosing such a non-Italian item, we were rewarded with a very yummy starter. Think of potato skins without that pesky skin getting in the way of the interior potato-y goodness. Here, though, your potato base consists of very good French fries — crisp and nobbly on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside — that are topped with fresh scallions, cheddar, and chopped bacon. The menu says the dish should come with a side of Ranch dressing. Ours did not, and while we thought the Ranch would provide a good accent to the mix, this comfort food to end all comfort foods was just fine without it.
To class things up a bit, we ordered the Berry Spritz, a refreshing mix of Prosecco, berry puree, and soda (a weekly special; $7) and an Aperol Spritz for the mister ($8), a menu regular made with some sort of orange flavoring, Prosecco, Aperol, and soda. Since I can’t stand the bitterness of Aperol and its cousin Campari, you’ll have to trust the mister’s assessment that it was very good indeed.
Another menu item that one doesn’t see too often was the Buffalo Salad ($10) — that is, a green salad with five or so tenderloins of crispy chicken dressed Buffalo-style atop the veggies. The generous portions of veggies and toppings — olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, pepperoncini, and roasted red peppers — and chicken make this dish a great value. One small complaint: I located approximately two slices of cucumber in the salad. As a big fan, I hoped for more. Luckily, the crispy chicken and its good and tangy sauce made it easy for me to move on from my cucumber-regret. We only used a wee bit of the Balsamic dressing that came with, but even a dash or two added a very good herbal punch.
Things get fairly traditional from here, starting with the takeout Margherita pizza we ordered on a lazy, warm evening ($17 for a medium; $19 for a large). I like to get a baseline idea of the pizzas a restaurant offers, and a Margherita is a delicious place to start. The simple ingredients of mozzarella, basil, parmesan, red sauce and extra-virgin olive oil allow the taster to get a great sense of the quality of the ingredients. We can report bright and flavorful sauce and a very good crust — a bit chewy, a bit crispy — which supported the thick, creamy cheese and pops of basil very well. Approved.
Despite the heat, when I saw fresh tortellini soup (listed as Tortellini Brodo, or “broth,” on the menu; $4 for a cup; $5 for a bowl), I had to indulge a craving. I’m glad I did because, unlike most tortellini, the little rings of cheese-filled pasta in La Scarpetta’s broth tasted like someone took some time to make a filling with actual flavor! Soft and tender and swimming in a well-seasoned broth, these tortellini are the ones to beat.
When we visited La Scarpetta for dinner, we were quite hungry, and so went big on our main entrée choices. I selected Lasagna Bolognese ($15; comes with a very small side salad), which, according to menu, is “three layers of pasta with seasoned ricotta, in house bechamel sauce, topped with pomodoro and mozzarella.” Sounds delicious, right? Somehow, it underwhelmed both of us, starting with the presentation. I’ll have to take the menu’s word for it that all the ingredients promised were in my generous bowl of pasta, but since it was covered in a lake of (very tasty) red sauce, I couldn’t quite see where the pasta started and how it interacted with layers of ricotta, meat sauce, and everything else. One strike of a fork demolished any structure that might’ve been painstakingly assembled. I did see random pockets of ricotta and some not at all noteworthy meat sauce that I tried to re-layer with the noodles. It satisfied enough — because how wrong can you go with pasta, cheese, and sauce? — but it did not make the order-again list.
We won’t say the same for the mister’s Chicken Parmigiana grinder, although it too has some room for improvement. First, for $8, you will get a very big sandwich (half came home with us) and a heap of those delicious fries, so, good value there. The problem for us was in the treatment of the toasted grinder roll, a beautiful specimen decked with sesame seeds that lost some flavor and texture in the toasting. Fewer minutes in the oven and a more generous dollop of sauce would’ve suited us better, as both would have allowed that wonderful fusion of sauce, cheese, bread and chicken characteristic of better versions of this grinder we’ve tasted. Still, good sauce and tender, properly prepped chicken go a long way, and we most certainly finished the leftovers the next day.
Now, we did sample the cannoli ($3 each and a very good size), a regular item on the dessert menu, and I’ll just say this: when the shell — crisp and fresh with cinnamon notes — is better than the filling, some folks are going to be disappointed. We appreciated the wee chocolate chips throughout the filling, but we did not encounter the sweetness, ricotta notes, or cohesion we’ve encountered within cannoli elsewhere. Maybe it was an off night.
Quibbles aside, La Scarpetta has drawn fans and great reviews in its short turn on Route 1. With great weekday deals — kids eat free on Mondays; free cannoli or tiramisu with two entrees on Thursdays, among others — it’s clear management wants to engender a real sense of community through this enterprise. That’s something we can all get behind.
La Scarpetta Pizzeria Italiana
163 Boston Post Road, Old Lyme
Atmosphere: Casual, family-friendly pizza place with some attention to finer details, including attractive lighting and artwork
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Service: Very nice servers, from the takeout cashier to the servers we encountered on a recent visit
Prices: Most lunch and dinner dishes moderately priced. The most expensive dinner item is the Zuppa di Pesci (fish soup made with Littleneck clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari); gourmet pizzas average around $18; cold grinders start at $7 and hot ones at $8
Credit cards: Yes
Reservations: Yes, for large parties
Handicapped access: No steps to enter, ample parking, and spacious within.
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