ioli's, a tiny mom-and-pop pizzeria brings continents of flavor to Carmel Valley.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Happiness is a pizza nearly five feet in diameter. Think about it: Pepperoni the size of small hubcaps, mushrooms as fat as footballs, cheese expanses reminiscent of prairie plains. More food for thought: If the people of Parma, Italy, can borrow against their massive wheels of parmesan as they would a piece of property, think of the leverage that a monster pie like this could provide.
Alas, this massive pizza is made of indigestible plastic and fastened to the wall at ioli’s (yes, lowercase “i”) in the old Shnarley’s in the Mid-Valley Shopping Center. It covers almost half of the pizzeria’s widest wall, but fortunately, while the family-owned-and-operated joint would be hard to describe without a qualifier like “little,” the rather-thin-but-not-too-thin-crust pizza here is big on flavor. (And the flatscreen TV is more on scale with the wall pizza than the place itself.)
A small but steady stream of locals cruised through the restaurant while a pair of friends and I occupied one of the handful of tables (which include a single booth and a few sidewalk seats that shout, “Springtime”). Some were there for a salad and a draft beer at the perfect little five-seat bar while their laundry dried, some to pick up a pizza or a toasted sandwich. The specialty pies slide out at 12, 16 and 24 inches across, typically run $11.99, $19.99 and $28.99, respectively, and draw their inspiration from the East Coast (the Bronx Comb, Manhattan Veggie, or Queens Deluxe among them), the West Coast (Barbecue Chicken, Chicken Club, Feta Cheese), the Pacific Rim (Thai and Hawaiian) or Italy (Margherita, Sicilian, Naples).
Each visitor enjoyed familiarity with warm and welcoming owners Janice and Bill Robertson, who have been on the premises virutally relentlessly since opening the store in August. Their menu espouses their philosophy toward pizza by way of explaining their name: “ioli’s,” according to the menu, “honors the first pizza chefs in old-world Italy who were known as ‘pizzaiolis’ ” while still paying tribute to East Coast pies and the creativity of the West.
The three of us tabbed two very different 12-inchers and an Italian salad. The salad ($7.95) and its pepperoni, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, black olives, red onion, green peppers and fresh parmesan was basic but enough for three.
While we waited for the pizzas to emerge, I got after a glass of light and spicy Chianti from Rémole, Tuscany ($7.50/glass; $30/bottle) and one friend tried the house Cabernet Sauvignon from Cycles Gladiator. Both came from an interesting 15-bottle wine menu, which lays out a few local Cabs, Chardonnays and Merlots, a pair of Pinots from Napa and Italy and some Chianti and Pinot Grigio options from Tuscany and other parts Italian. All are available by the glass at prices ranging from $6 to $9, and, if ours were any indication, generously poured.
On the pizza front, our crew is not typically too into the fusion feeling, but ioli’s signature Original Kung Pao demanded a dance – and surprised me by outperforming the Palmero, a solid offering from the Italian segment of the menu that proffers sweet Italian sausage, spicy Italian sausage, mushrooms and black olives. The soothingly creamy and rich golden Kung Pao sauce played wonderfully with the garlic and baked chicken, while red pepper and green onions provided the pop. Good stuff.
Both pizzas palled up nicely with an ioli’s draft beer (an English Ales Big Sur Golden Ale with ioli’s tag, $4/pint or $12/pitcher, one of three English Ales on tap). My only beefs with the evening: 1) The crust stiffened quickly as the pizza cooled and 2) the tab for three, thanks to three glasses of wine, ultimately cleared $60. Fear not, however: Those with traditional pizza budgets do have some specials to turn to: there are $7.50 lunch deals for a slice-salad-soda and rotating specials on a chalkboard.
Before we left I requested a plate of spaghetti for lunch the following day on a recommendation from Janice and mention of her experience in the homemade meatball arena. (To that end, Janice provided candid insight and attentive service throughout the night.) Snuggled beneath a layer of homemade sauce, the meatballs were mild, soft and superb, with shreds of fresh basil delivering a nice edge. Of course, anything that arrives with an entire to-go container of fabulous flat garlic bread made from pizza dough and grilled with fresh garlic and cheese will be well-remembered by me. The load made for two modest meals, again illustrating that at little mom and pop, bigness is most relevant in terms of taste and serving size.
IOLI’S 307 W Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley • 11AM-9pm Mon-Fri; 3-9pm Sat-Sun. • 622-9463.