They have become a dying breed giving way to quick drive-thrus that cater to today's busy lifestyles, so maybe I am part of the minority that still likes going out to a pizza parlor with tableside service.
Though Raimondo's pizza is not 100% old school – you have to order at the counter fast-casual style before finding your seat – there is still plenty of service at the tables to make it a rare and dying breed.
The food arrived promptly and my appetizers were served ahead of the pies so I had time to nosh away before the main event. And I was checked on regularly in case I needed more napkins or the like. When the meal wound down, there was an employee clearing away the empty plates, pitching the dessert options and asking if I needed a box or two.
It is what makes the place a staple of West State Boulevard where folks from the surrounding TV stations, schools and industries can go to relax during lunch breaks. And it is what has always made it a favorite of mine because grabbing a $5 pizza on the run brings nowhere near the rewards that the food Raimondo's cranks out does.
During my recent visits, I found a new must-have treat. A friend has told me for years how good the jalapeņo poppers are, so I had to try them. I usually opt for breadsticks, garlic cheese bread or one of Raimondo's phenomenal salads as a starter. But the guy working the counter had to make sure they had some when I ordered because the restaurant runs out of the super popular snacks quickly.
These peppers take two turns through the oven I was told, and the result is magical. Each is stuffed with cheese, bits of banana and red peppers and a single smoky link. They are wrapped with bacon that crisps wonderfully during the extra oven trips, and the ends of the peppers char just a bit to add another level of smoky goodness. Now I know why they run out of them.
The toasted ravioli was also a surprise. The Parmesan and meat filling was loaded with fresh, bright-green basil, the seasoned breadcrumb exterior of the pasta was crisp and clean, and I loved that you could get cheese sauce as well as marinara for dipping.
As good as those starters were, the salads were still the real stars.
Cindy's Salad is one of the best salads anywhere and splitting a half is the way to go as even the half is big enough for a meal. The key to it is the heavy application of its special dressing – a delicious creamy concoction that is similar to homemade buttermilk ranch with maybe some Parmesan mixed in it – that the iceberg and romaine lettuce, yellow and red peppers, green onions, diced tomatoes, croutons, fresh Parmesan and a pizza cheese is evenly coated with.
The house salad comes in only a small size, but that small size was also meal-sized. It was made with lettuce, red onions, mushrooms, green olives, green peppers, tomatoes, bacon bits and croutons with dressing on the side. It makes me happy when a pizza place doesn't skimp on veggies in its salads because there are always plenty of them on hand for pizzas anyway.
I should have gotten the smaller version of the Italian meatball sandwich at Raimondo's. This huge baked sandwich only had three meatballs cut in half to spread out on it, but they were huge so it wasn't a knock. The meatballs also had a nice flavor and texture. Baked and served open-faced, the cheese smothering it was well browned with crispy edges, and it also had a thick sauce with chunks of onion that clung to the meat and hoagie roll so it wasn't too messy.
The sausage roll was the only item I didn't really like. It could have used an extra run through the oven like the jalapeņo poppers because its dough wrapping was way too soft. It was pliable and chewy, and I needed a serrated knife to cut each bite from it. The fillings were OK, but the lack of a crispy brown crust encasing it ruined it.
I did have some pizzas at this pizza parlor and they were top notch.
The Cheeseburger Deluxe was my favorite pie. It had ground beef and bacon, cheddar cheese in addition to mozzarella and was topped with fresh shredded lettuce and tomatoes. Its thick hand-tossed crust was crispy on the bottom and so dense the edges basically formed a bread stick. I loved this pie's contrast between the cool toppings and warm pizza underneath.
The dough of these heavy pies can wear on you a bit after the first couple of slices so adding a side of marinara is a good idea, especially with the Raimondo's Specialty, which I had pan-style.
It had everything but the kitchen sink – pepperoni, American and Italian sausage, ham, ground beef, bacon, green peppers, banana peppers, green olives, black olives and mushrooms – and I think having it pan-style was the way to go to hold it all. This crust lacked the texture on the bottom of the other ones, but it was still a great pizza overall.
Raimondo's is a great choice overall, too. With over 20 side/appetizer choices and eight salads, there is way more than pizza to choose from. And that doesn't even count the fried chicken dishes or the nine pasta choices.
So I guess in addition to the old-school service, it is a good thing the place has plenty of tables for customers because you might have to sit down for a while just to decide what you want to try.
Restaurant: Raimondo's Pizza
Address: 2608 W. State Blvd.
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Poppers ($4.75), ravioli ($4.99), Cindy's Salad ($6.79 full; $4.29 half), house salad ($3.79). meatball sandwich ($5.69 whole; $3.49 half), sausage roll ($6.95 whole; $3.95 half), Specialty pan ($6.25 for 7-inch; $18.49 14-inch; $20.99 16-inch), Cheeseburger hand-tossed ($9.59 10-inch; $10.79 12-inch; $13.99 14-inch; 15.99 16-inch)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★ 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: ★ (1 maximum)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. Follow on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five