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Small-town pizzeria Moravela’s delivers big-time dining experience

When you find a dining-out gem right in your own backyard — one that serves pizza, no less — we smugly broadcast the greatness of our local food scene to folks outside the region. We have relatives who live north of the Buffalo area who have to travel many miles to find a decent pizza. Here in southeastern Connecticut, we can throw a rock and likely hit a serviceable if not very good pizza place. Guess what’s on the menu whenever they visit?

A recently tossed hypothetical rock landed at Moravela’s in Chester and it turns out to be a two-fer thanks to its second location in Oakdale. We sampled the goods at the Chester shop, and they seem to have their menu down to a science, so I’d guess the Oakdale location is a safe bet. How different can a garlic knot be from one shop to another?

Speaking of which, Moravela’s is not messing around with its savory knots of dough (50 cents each). They’re quite soft and not as dense as, say, what you’d get at a Sbarro, but much heavier on the garlic and oil (or butter? Both?) and therefore delicious. Suggestion: Don’t eat these on a date night.

The Moravela’s menu is long and deep, but a category exclusive to “Philly cheese steaks” got me curious. Eleven options offer a spectrum of cheesy, grilled-meat-and-veg sandwiches, including a Bacon Cheesesteak (!); a Pizza Steak (cheesesteak with sauce and mozzarella); and the Chicken Cheesesteak ($6.95 for a small; $8.95 for a large), which we sampled and hereby recommend. Among many other add-ons available, I selected green peppers for my chicken cheesesteak, and what a great accompaniment to an otherwise flavorful creation. Beyond their fresh and green flavor, the peppers added a bit of crunch to the tasty combo of seasoned, chopped grilled chicken, ample cheese, and fresh crusty roll.

Green peppers also decked the baseline cheese pizza we selected to sample what Moravela’s calls its New York-style pizza ($12.75 for a small with one topping). Couple things: Yes, the pies we tried were of the thinner crust variety, but that’s where the New Yorkiness ended for us. Which was fine, because we enjoyed the properly oiled chewy-crispy crust — dusted in a bit of garlic, we think — and the base sauce, a slightly sweeter variety than what we’ve tasted in NYC. But that little burst of garlic on the crust amplifies the otherwise bright, fresh tomato flavor of the sauce. Also: Far less grease than your average giant city slice.

That said, another eyebrow-raising item on the menu has no competition from the Big Apple. That would be the French-Fry Pizza ($10.95 for a small), a white pie topped with bacon, drizzles of Ranch dressing, cheddar and mozzarella cheese and — you guessed it — French fries. File this one under don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. Think pizza meets fair food, or potato skin without the potato; then be prepared for a toothy, very flavorful experience. If you like all of the ingredients that make up this pie, you will like it. Bonus: Our fries retained their crispiness in transit, so an additional bit of crispiness complemented the bacon’s nicely.

We thought we’d be smart and get some veggies in with a fairly salty dish, but the generous cubes of feta on the Greek salad ($9.25 for a large) we ordered probably cancelled out any de-saltification efforts. (Worth it!) Not only was this bountiful salad loaded with thick cuts of feta and veggies — greens, cukes, olives, and tomatoes — the cherry on top so to speak was a dash of hearty, crunchy croutons.

Now that the weather is finally turning, baked pasta dishes sound pretty darn good, so I ordered up the Stuffed Shells dinner ($16.25; comes with a side salad) and was not disappointed. The portion size easily feeds two, and the dish itself was clearly crafted with excellent ricotta and mozzarella and more of that tomato-forward sauce.

One more Moravela’s takeaway we can offer is that they create the biggest calzones and stromboli we have ever some across. I think our calzone was bigger than one of our cats (she’s petite, but still!). We’ve tried both, and the crusts seemed to get a treatment similar to the pizza crust: garlic dusted, well oiled, and crispy-soft. Stromboli and calzones are listed on the House Specialty section, and we can see why because they likely require a structural engineer to craft. Consider the baseline house stromboli ($10.75), which is stuffed with: sausage, green pepper, mushroom, pepperoni, salami, ham, onions, mozzarella, and sauce. It’s a lot of food and incredibly tasty and somehow not overly greasy. Naturally, they’ve got a cheese steak stromboli, too ($10.75), among other varieties.

With a steadily growing “to try next” list, we will happily return to Moravela’s, if not in Chester, then over the river and through the woods to Oakdale. For the sake of science, of course.

 

Moravela’s

139 Middlesex Ave., Chester 

(860) 526-3633

https://moravelaspizzact.com/

Note: Moravela’s has a second location at 712 Route 163 in Oakdale; (860) 367-0330

Cuisine: Pizza, grinders, pasta, and other Italian fare

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (The restaurant closes at 9 p.m. during the “winter”; currently, the closing time is listed at 10 p.m.) 

Service: Welcoming and efficient.

Atmosphere: While this is a casual, family-friendly dining destination, the spacious dining area and smart decor make pizza night a little more special.

Prices: Moderate for Connecticut pizza land; small (12-inch) gourmet pizzas start at $10.95; grinders start at $6.50 for a small; and pastas dishes average about $13

Credit cards: Accepted

Handicapped access: Small, often-packed parking lot; roomy pick-up and dining areas; no steps

Reservations: If you’ve got a large group and need a table, call ahead and let the very nice staffers know. Otherwise, ample seating in a fairly large dining room should not leave anyone waiting for a table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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