Give pizza a chance

Smiling With Hope Pizza owner Walter Tore, smiling hopefully.

Smiling With Hope Pizza owner Walter Tore, smiling hopefully.

Photo/Allison Young

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Smiling With Hope Pizza is more than just a restaurant. Proclaiming a mission “to create hope and meaning in the lives of people with disabilities,” the East Coast transplants behind the counter have focused their years of experience in cooking and teaching toward serving up good food, while providing hands-on work experience to developmentally disabled individuals. Based on my recent visit, it’s a winning idea for everyone involved.

If you don’t love garlic the way I do—and I mean really love garlic—you might be surprised when you walk through the door. There was enough garlic in the air to kill a legion of vampires, thus it made sense to start things off with an order of garlic knots ($4). The ample basket of dough twists were crispy, chewy and tasty even without a dip in the housemade marinara sauce.

My wife and I split a garden salad of chopped romaine lettuce tossed with mushrooms, grape tomatoes, black olives, pepperoni slivers, onions, bell peppers and a blend of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. It was easily big enough for two to share ($6). The red wine vinaigrette was a bit on the sweet side but did the job.

The pizza menu is truly New York-style, unadulterated by the likes of sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli, or—shudder—pineapple. Options include mushroom, pepperoni, bell pepper, black olive, onion, fresh garlic, anchovies and—wait for it—housemade Italian sausage. That last item alone is worth the trip.

The open kitchen allows you to watch your hand-tossed pizza in progress. Toppings beyond sauce and cheese are $2 each for large, $1 for small. Anchovies are $3 for either size and fresh crushed garlic is 50 cents. The Classic New York ($20 for 18 inches, $10 for 12 inches) comes with a sauce of crushed tomatoes, Sicilian oregano, and fresh herbs, topped with whole milk mozzarella and imported Italian parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino-romano cheeses. The New York Ricotta ($23, 18 inches, or $13, 12 inches) is a traditional “white pizza” made with the same cheese and herb blend, plus dollops of whole milk ricotta, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh leaves of basil. Thick Sicilian-style 12-by-12 inch pies are also available at $22 for classic, $24 for ricotta.

My group ordered two large pies, one ricotta with mushroom and sausage and the other classic red sauce with veggies. The white pie was the winner. The simple olive oil dressing allowing the crust to remain crispy and chewy throughout. The added moisture of the red sauce veggie pie created the classic “floppy-gotta-fold-it” phenomenon customary with any New York slice that has more than a single topping. The only fault we found with both pies was a lack of seasoning. The ricotta’s simple nature really needed a bit more salt, and the main flavor in the red sauce was fresh tomato with hints of garlic and basil; I couldn’t detect much oregano to speak of. We asked for salt and were loaned the chef’s kitchen shaker for a moment. Salt shakers on the tables would be a good idea.

Fresh cookies and cannoli are available for dessert. We tried one of each cannoli, plain ($3) and chocolate dipped with sprinkles ($4). I was impressed that the shells are filled with a piping bag when you order, rather than being allowed to become soggy in the fridge. The shells were crisp without being too firm, and the filling was smooth with a perfect touch of lemon.

My friends and I began to feel we’d sat chatting for too long past our meal, but as we got up to leave the chef told us how nice it was to see people sitting and talking, rather than staring at electronic screens. You won’t find a restaurant more welcoming than this one.