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Clara’s Pizza King
***
Out of a possible five
$

Retro style, tasty pizza piled high

It is hard to convey how refreshingly unique and beautiful the restaurant is, especially considering it is part of a large regional chain.

But stepping inside Clara’s Pizza King at State Boulevard and Wells Street is like taking a step back in time to when pizza parlors were meant to be fun. Aside from its gorgeous stained-glass window, knotty pine walls, Tiffany-style lights and two-tiered seating design, the restaurant also has quirky little additions like porch swing seats on both levels, some retro video games and, of course, phones for ordering on each table.

And the food is familiar and comforting – like something you had as a kid – if not spectacular.

Take the signature item, the pizza. The Royal Feast is the way to go with tons of finely crumbled sausage and pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and red and green peppers on a thin crispy crust that is nicely browned at certain parts on top and around the edges.

The pan pizza also didn’t disappoint. The crust was obviously thicker, but it still had the crispness the thin crust had. It also had more of the crunchy little burnt bits of cheese, so that was a bonus.

Another must-have at Clara’s is an order of breadsticks. These long, thin beauties are brushed with butter then sprinkled with dill, which I have never seen elsewhere. It may sound odd, but the dill gives the chewy breadsticks a little flair and doesn’t clash with the zesty nacho cheese or marinara dips.

I decided to try something new this time and found a jewel in the rather plain-sounding Clara’s chips. The menu described them as just “10 pieces of potato, crunchy.” What I received were thick slices of potato that were, indeed, fried until crunchy on the outside but still tender and fluffy inside. They were lightly salted and addictive, but even better when dipped into some of my leftover cheese from the breadsticks, so I would ask for an extra side of it next time.

As great as the Royal Feast pizza was, the Royal Feast baked spaghetti paled by comparison. The same toppings plus garlic topped a big plate of spaghetti, but there were too few of those toppings – especially the peppers – to make it worthwhile.

The sub wrap-up was sizable and looked the part with spiced ham, salami, baked ham, onions, tomato sauce and provolone and mozzarella cheese in two cornucopia-shaped wraps. The wraps were made with pizza dough, which was softer but too thick and dry, masking the flavor of the fillings. Had it been brushed with a little butter like the breadsticks or if I had asked for banana peppers – which a flier on my table said could be added to anything – it would have been more enjoyable.

The bread was the best part of my Texas tenderloin. The loin was a little tough and pretty mediocre, about the best you can expect from a pizza place. The beautifully toasted bun was great, however, and piqued my interest in trying another sandwich sometime, especially after I noticed several come with those wonderful Clara’s chips.

But that probably won’t happen because I will have a hard time not ordering the staple pizza and breadsticks when I return.

Restaurant: Clara’s Pizza King

Address: 321 W. State Blvd.

Phone: 483-2163

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, noon to 11 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Pizza

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Breadsticks ($3.19), Clara’s chips ($2.49), sub wrap-up ($7.49), Royal Feast pizza ($6.59 for 8-inch; $10.09 for 10-inch; $14.49 for 12-inch; $18.59 for 14-inch; $ 22.99 for 16-inch), Royal Feast spaghetti ($5.49), tenderloin ($7.19)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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