Stonington Pizza Palace is so much more than pizza
For 30 years, I’ve been getting take-out at Stonington Pizza Palace, so when we dined there last week, it was only the second time I’d ever eaten in the restaurant.
There were three of us who went for dinner, all locals and regular takeout customers, but I’d decided if I was going to review the place, we really needed the full experience.
We liked it.
We went early on a rainy Tuesday night, and the restaurant was warm, welcoming, and moderately busy. We had all agreed that rather than getting our usual take-out salads, chicken wings, and grinders, we would try new things. And while we generally don’t eat in, we know there are plenty of others who do, as evidenced by the crowds jamming in the door and waiting outside when we go on weekends to pick up our orders to go.
As soon as walked in, we were greeted by owner Aggie Koukoularis, who has run the place with her husband, Angelo, since 1986. Located in the small strip mall at Stonington Landing, just outside the borough, the pizza place is a local favorite.
Our waitress was terrific, and when we asked what other customers liked most, she told us, “People think we’re just a pizza place, but we do really, really good fish here, too.”
Right then, two of us decided we’d try fish dishes, but we agreed to start with a couple of appetizers first.
The Philly Steak Egg Rolls ($10.95) were a big hit. Three rolls, generously stuffed with steak, sautéed onions and American cheese, and served with a chipotle aioli dip, were the ultimate comfort food. Probably more calories than we needed, but perfectly seasoned, not too much onion, and the sauce was just the right finish. The rolls were sliced on a diagonal and, even sharing, they were plenty ample.
We also opted for a bowl of the Pork Chili ($6.95), which was a special on the menu. It was served piping hot and was loaded with pork, beans, and vegetables. A dollop of sour cream served on the side would have enhanced the dish, but just the same, it was good.
For entrees, we had been sold on the fish. There was a panko-encrusted cod on the daily special’s menu, served with fries and coleslaw, and one of us asked if it could be served on the eatery’s popular sautéed vegetable platter, rather the other proteins that dish is usually served with.
The waitress checked with the kitchen, and no problem, they served the cod on the vegetables — a big mound of sautéed spinach, peppers, onions, broccoli, olives, and tomatoes — all melded together and delicious. If you like, they will toss in some cheese, and then top the dish with chicken, scallops or salmon. It’s a regular item on the menu, and with the cod, it was $24.95. If you substitute chicken, the price is $14.95, salmon is $18.95, and scallops, $22.95. The cod was lightly dusted with the panko crumbs and perfectly cooked. It was a terrific combination with the vegetables.
We also got the Stonington Scallops ($24.95), served over linguini with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, basil, sliced olives, and roasted red peppers. The dish had eight — yes, eight — big, seared scallops on top, as well as grated parmesan. We would definitely order this again. The pasta was perfectly cooked and flavorful, and the scallops, although perhaps a tad overdone, were moist inside and lightly browned on the exterior.
Like so many of our pizza restaurants in southeastern Connecticut, Stonington Pizza is owned by a Greek couple, and naturally, some of the food there is inspired by that cuisine. The Greek salad ($12.25) is one of our favorite take-out items, and it's so big, it is easily shared. At our dinner, we ordered the Gyro ($12.95), this one prepared with chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and a cucumber garlic sauce, and served in a warm pita with a big pile of French fries. The cucumber sauce marinated with the chicken and greens, and it was mighty tasty.
Everything we ordered — and it was a mish-mash of things — was very good. We even got a serving of house-made rice pudding for dessert, and our only regret was that there was no cream on top. We joked about running next door to the mini market at the gas station to see if they sold cans of Reddi-wip.
Stonington Pizza has been a local favorite for almost 34 years, and that is a testament to their food and service. The Koukoularises are hard workers — always behind the counter but always taking the time to greet customers. If you’re in town for a visit, you might as well eat where the locals do.
Stonington Pizza Palace
530 Stonington Road (Route 1), Stonington
Cuisine: All the usual pizza-house fare like grinders, salads and pasta, as well as sandwiches and platters, and locally caught, fresh fish dinners such as shrimp scampi and scallop linguini.
Atmosphere: This longtime favorite Stonington eatery remodeled and expanded into a former bank building four years ago, explaining all the mahogany-like wood and Route 1 view from the space that was once the drive-up window.
Service: Can't be beat.
Prices: A wide range. The small cheeseburger bacon pizza is $13.75, the antipasto salad $12.25, stuffed shells $11.95, and the linguini alfredo with chicken and broccoli, $22.95.
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Credit cards: Yes
Handicapped access: No steps or stairs, all one level.