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One plaza, two new pizza places

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I think they’re going to have to change the name of Stateway Plaza to Pizzeria Plaza.

Two new pizza places opened at opposite ends of this iconic shopping center on Arsenal Street this past summer, CiCi’s Pizza and New Haven Pizza Company. We took the hungry WDT Reviewing Team out on a recent weeknight to check them out.

CiCi’s Pizza

Stateway Plaza

681-6061

www.cicispizza.com

CiCi’s, one of a chain of all-you-can-eat pizza restaurants, occupies the old Tractor Supply Co. location in Stateway Plaza.

The glass entrance to the completely remodeled space funnels you to a friendly young cashier, programmed to shout (along with the rest of the staff) “Hi, Welcome to CiCi’s!” We suspected her cash register had only two buttons—one to collect $5.49 for the buffet and another to ring up a bottomless soda for $1.79, which, in fact, was optional.

CiCi’s is like being in a food court minus the mall. The lights are too bright, the walls are garish green and yellow, the ambience and noise level can be likened to a high school cafeteria.

The cafeteria-style line takes you first to the salad bar, which includes a big bowl of torn iceberg lettuce with a few shards of romaine and some shaved purple cabbage, several vats of commercial dressing and little compartments of shredded carrots, chopped red onion and croutons for you to add your own personal touch.

Next was the “pasta station,” a pan of plain curly pasta that you can doctor up with your choice of sweet marinara or watery Alfredo sauce. Grab a few strips of toasted garlic bread, and, if you’re good at juggling, a cup of nothing-special chicken soup.

Once past the preliminaries, you reach the heart of the matter, a dozen or so constantly changing pizza choices. They’re medium-sized pizzas cut into small three-bite slices so you can sufficiently load up your plate without having to pile them on top of each other.

And you know what? They weren’t half bad! Traditional tomato and cheese. Pepperoni and cheese. Ham and pineapple. Buffalo chicken wing. Pizza with garlic, cheese and herbs. White pizza. White pizza with spinach. Macaroni pizza. Cheeseburger pizza. Dessert pizza. They kept coming out of the oven, one after another.

The cheeseburger pizza with ground beef, ketchup, mustard and pickles tasted uncannily like a Mickey D’s cheeseburger. The dessert pizza had an éclair-like topping that took us by surprise, because we thought it was a slice with melted mozzarella cheese. Some type of labeling would have come in handy.

Bussers were clearing and cleaning tables but neglected to mop puddles of soda on the floor. The bathroom was in serious need of attention, with pieces of food stuck to the porcelain fixtures — food that didn’t look like anything from the buffet line. Strange.

CiCi’s is a great place for young kids and families, complete with a game room in the back. The pizza exceeded our expectations, the staff was friendly, and how can you beat the deal? Five of us ate and drank for $39.22 including tax.

New Haven Pizza Company

Stateway Plaza

661-6363

www.newhavenpizzacompany.com

At the far end of Stateway Plaza’s parking lot, New Haven Pizza Company resides in the former Make and Take Gourmet location.

New Haven Pizza is a one-of-a-kind place run by two former residents of Connecticut. Their specialty is New Haven-style brick oven pizza, a knockoff of well-known Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven, Conn.

Although the oven is not visible as it is in most brick-oven pizza restaurants, a disclaimer on the table’s napkin holder warns of irregular or charred-looking crusts since the pizzas are fired in an 800-degree oven.

The space is big, or perhaps appeared big because only one other table was occupied when we arrived around 7:30 p.m. A cashier’s station on the way in didn’t make a great first impression, a piece of countertop held up by an unfinished 2-by-4 frame. Posters of food on the walls were pleasant enough, but have simply been thumbtacked into place.

Our friendly, inexperienced and untrained waitress guided us to a table just outside the kitchen. She informed us they were out of chicken wings, salads and anything that required chicken. I told her I’d be glad to run over to the Price Chopper across the street, but I think she thought I was kidding.

We’re told New Haven is in the process of getting a liquor license, but for now it’s soda or water. We got right down to business and ordered two pizzas, and since they offer several pasta dinners, we tried spaghetti and meatballs and homemade lasagna.

As we ordered the spaghetti and meatballs, our waitress zoned out on us. “That comes as a penne” she insisted, several times, as we tried to order spaghetti (the menu offered spaghetti or penne). Finally, we threw out the word “linguini,” and the mental skip stopped.

The exchange rivaled Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine. She really should have known the difference between spaghetti and penne (spelled “pene” in the menu). It wasn’t her first day.

The medium (14-inch) clams casino Neapolitan pizza ($18.95) arrived first on a large cookie sheet, a white pie with minced clams, sliced bacon, mozzarella and dried herbs.

The crust was quite good, some char around the edges but none on the bottom. The topping, once the bacon grease dripped off, was boldly flavored. The bacon came dangerously close to masking the minced clams, but who doesn’t love bacon, right?

Lasagna ($10.95) hit the table next and was noticeably charred on the bottom. We assumed it had been warmed up in that 800-degree oven. It was well seasoned, with a nice balance of meat and cheese.

The red sauce on the spaghetti and meatballs ($9.95) was pretty good. The meatballs (homemade, we were assured) tasted more like Swedish meatballs you could buy in a bag at Sam’s Club.

Sausage is an option at the same price. We asked if we could get a combination of meatballs and sausage, which we did—but didn’t expect and additional charge of $3 for the sausage.

After a considerable wait, and prompting from us, we were told that our second pizza had just gone in the oven. Something about the dough not stretching properly the first time around.

Finally it arrived, a large (18-inch) pizza with our choice of quality toppings: eggplant and black olives on one half, sausage and caramelized onions on the other. Base price of the pizza was $13.95. Factor in the toppings at $1.50 each and we had a $19.95 pizza.

It was obvious that it was a rush job. No char on the edges of this baby, and the dough in the center was limp and soggy. But with the help of a knife and fork, we could tell that this would have been a delicious pizza had the kitchen cooked it right.

There’s a decent assortment of desserts, but we went with the homemade cannolis (two for $4.95). The tubular pastry shells were nice and crisp, indicating they’d been filled to order with the sweet ricotta cheese and chocolate chip filling. Homemade? Maybe, maybe not. But a very nice product either way.

Dinner for five came to $78.34 before tip.

Plates were rarely cleared, so there was quite an assortment of dishes and gigantic cookie sheets littering the table as we exited.

Do something about the service, improve the quality control of the food, get some beer and wine in there and New Haven Pizza might just be able to take its place among some of the other popular pizza places in town.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: wsiebel@wdt.net.



CiCi’s Pizza

Stateway Plaza

Watertown

681-6061

www.cicispizza.com



An all-you-can-eat cafeteria-style pizza restaurant—like being in a food court minus the mall



HOURS: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.(11 p.m. Fridays)



Consider the salad bar, skip the pasta station and go right to the pizza buffet. At least 12 surprisingly good pizzas to choose from.

For $5.49, it’s a great value

(2½ FORKS)



New Haven Pizza Company

Stateway Plaza

Watertown

661-6363

www.newhavenpizzacompany.com



Thin-crust pizza cooked in an 800-degree brick oven, patterned after a regionally famous pizzeria in New Haven, Conn.



HOURS: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Sundays)



The clams casino pizza with bacon, clams and mozzarella is a must. Enjoyed the lasagna. Cannolis are very good.

No liquor license. Service was spotty and the kitchen still has a few kinks to work out.

(2½ FORKS)

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