January 24, 1997 in Seven

For A Big Taste Of Pizza Heaven, Try Little Italy

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Pizza might have been born in Italy, but it long ago was adopted into Americans’ diet.

Thin crust or thick, delivered at home or eaten off those cliched red and white checkered tablecloths, we’re passionate about our pizza pies.

In recent years, pizza has jumped through all sorts of international hoops. Diners now have options like Thai pizza, Mexican pizza, or dough discs piled high with Southwest ingredients. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck (the Spago guy) turned the humble pies into designer pizzas, topping them with Peking duck and radicchio.

All that’s dandy, but to pizza purists, the quintessential ‘za remains the simple cheese pie.

And Little Italy, a small storefront operation in a North Side strip mall, makes an absolutely stellar cheese pizza, the best in Spokane.

This place is a real find.

OK, so there’s zip in the way of atmosphere and the service can be a bit slow. But don’t let that deter you.

Actually, the restaurant does have a certain charm, if you overlook the florescent lights, the humming pop cooler and the linoleum floors.

Take a seat on the banquette facing the mural of the Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia where owner Jim Schilling grew up. If it’s not busy, he’s likely to take you on a tour of his old haunts in the painting.

As restaurateurs go, Schilling is outgoing and extremely eager to please. During my visits, I watched as he greeted many customers by name, asking after their families like a seasoned politician.

After I inquired about the sauce and, then, what was the difference between anise and fennel seed, he brought containers of both to my table to demonstrate the contrast. (Anise is a bit sweeter, and fennel, which is traditionally used in Italian sausage, has a savory aroma. Both are used in the from-scratch marinara prepared at Little Italy.)

On another occasion, Schilling came out from behind the counter to show my nephew how to use a spoon to help twirl his spaghetti.

Pastas are served here, but the pizza is definitely the main attraction. There are some 20 specialty pies offered, ranging from a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, salami and meatballs (the Sicilana) to the now-classic Hawaiian, Canadian bacon and pineapple.

Some of the more unusual toppings include barbecued brisket, garlicky chicken on pesto and a pie with creamy alfredo sauce.

What makes the pizza a real standout, though, is the crispy golden mantle on which the toppings are placed. There’s nothing worse than soggy crust and this deep-dish dough holds together no matter how much is piled on.

I started with the cheese pizza. Again, the crust was top-drawer - thick, but light, not doughy. It’s made fresh daily.

The sauce could have been a bit zestier, but it still had a distinct flavor. The addition of Italian herbs such as basil, anise and fennel seeds gave it intensity. (Next time, I’ll request extra garlic.) And there was just the right amount of mozzarella on top. A perfect pie.

The veggie pizza - with red and green peppers, zucchini, olives and mushrooms - was impressive, too.

At Little Italy, a number of pies skip the traditional red sauce. The best example of these white pies was one topped with the fragrant garlic chicken. The crust (did I mention, I love this crust?) is slathered with a rich pesto sauce, topped with chunks of white chicken and mozzarella. The only improvements I would make to this garlic-charged pizza is to add some sun-dried tomatoes for a touch of chewy sweetness.

Unlike many pizza joints, the salads at Little Italy aren’t just an afterthought. Try the Caesar ($3.47), with a creamy dressing and freshly grated parmesan. It can become an entree with the addition of chicken or salmon. Even the garden salad comes loaded with tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, peppers and carrots.

The pasta lineup at Little Italy should be applauded for its ambitious number of shapes and sauces, which diners are invited to mix and match. You want bow tie pasta (farfalle) with your marinara? Or rotelle with your pesto? No problem.

Other menu options include meatball and sausage sandwiches, buffalo wings and calzones.

Prices are middle of the road, with the specialty pies started at $11.25 for a medium and topping out at $16.65 for a large version of the garlic chicken pesto. Build a custom pie starting at $8, with toppings for $1 and premium goodies such as artichokes, seafood and sun-dried tomatoes at $2 per topping.

After discovering Little Italy, I’ve shared my secret with friends who share my penchant for pizza. Nobody who I’ve sent there has been disappointed. I even dragged a selfconfessed pizza snob along to check it out and he said it was “pretty good.” That’s high praise coming from his persnickety palate.

One caution: If you’re in a hurry, call ahead to order. There’s also free delivery offered in a limited area.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Little Italy Pizza and Pasta 7442 N. Division, 487-7777 Days/hours: Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Meals: pizza and pasta Prices: $6 to $16 Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: no Credit cards: MC, V Personal checks: yes

This sidebar appeared with the story: Little Italy Pizza and Pasta 7442 N. Division, 487-7777 Days/hours: Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Meals: pizza and pasta Prices: $6 to $16 Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: no Credit cards: MC, V Personal checks: yes


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