330 west main street, middletown
3001 east main road, portsmouth
open su-sat | 11 am-10 pm
major credit cards
Our post-Thanksgiving appetites have often led us to Italian-American cooking, and this year was no exception. We headed for pizza, specifically Carmella’s Middletown location, one of the newer pizzerias in the Newport area, and judging by our visit, one of the most popular. Older couples dined out on meatball grinders while families with several kids opted for one of the New York-style pizzas.
The pizzas are delivered to the copper-topped tables on pedestal trays, so that the aromas of the baked crust, the garlicky tomato sauce, and the melted cheese are even closer to your nose, which processes these amazing smells and guides your hand toward the first wedge. A phone call before our visit, to inquire about the special attributes of Carmella’s pizza, produced the following amusing response from a young worker: "Well, it’s round, and we cut it into eight pieces."
And so they do. They offer a whole-wheat crust as dark as gingerbread that could convert any anti-whole-grain eater, and they also have a super-thin crust (only in the large size). For the latter, the menu warns munchers to stick with only two toppings so as not to overburden the crust. The eponymous pizza Carmella’s — inspired by the name of Tony Soprano’s wife — has fresh basil along with four cheeses: mascarpone, goat, mozzarella, and Parmesan (small $8.59, large $13.79). It has a juicy under-layer of house-made marinara and the requisite bread-like outer crust tapering to a thin middle, said to be characteristic of the "New York-style."
"It’s hand-opened," explains owner Ken Martin, who once ran the successful Martino’s in North Kingstown. "It’s a dough ball that only gets opened as you order it. It forms a crust where the pizza comes out almost like Art Deco, with its own character. It’s your pie."
Martin is justly proud of his pizzas, which have won many awards. Among Carmella’s specialty pizzas are: the "Meateater," with pepperoni, sausage, chourico, bacon, ham and meatballs; the "house special," with the aforementioned first four meats, plus onions, peppers, black olives, and mushrooms. There’s also a pesto shrimp; a sweet sausage with pesto and carmelized onions; and a BBQ chicken. Among the white pizzas (same prices as the Carmella’s), there are a rosemary chicken; a "steak bomb" with blue cheese and shaved steak; and a spanikopita with spinach, feta, mozzarella, and Parmesan. We liked the taste of the latter pizza, with plenty of feta. Though the spinach was frozen, not fresh, it was heaped high, with leaves only.
Carmella’s has an array of appetizers and salads (including the intriguing baked chicken glazed with apricot marmalade, and another billed as oven-dried steak and Gorgonzola). They also serve pastas after 4 pm, with their own meatballs, which Bill and our friend Baiba both pronounced as "light and delicious." They wondered about the slightly sweet herb in the meatballs, and though Martin wouldn’t disclose his trade secret, he did mention the presence of carmelized onions and roasted garlic. And, "No oregano — it makes them bitter."
From the salads, Bill chose a chicken Caesar ($7.59), a portion laden with white-meat chicken chunks over romaine lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cukes, and olives. The dressing was good and plentiful, if not quite authentic. I missed the croutons, and the romaine leaves needed to be torn into bite-sized pieces.
Carmella’s walls are a soft Tuscan coral with stencil paintings of olive branches here and there. There’s a large print of a coastal view in Italy, and for pizza picker-uppers, a long bench near the door. Martin mentions that the made-to-order quality of Carmella’s pizzas could mean a 40-minute wait on a Friday night, but he does offer free delivery.
And he does have an extensive menu. Fifteen different grinders (small $5.39, large $6.29) come with lettuce, tomato, and melted provolone, and can be made up as wraps. Specialty wraps ($7.29) include buffalo ranch, balsamic, Caesar or East/West teriyaki variations on chicken; boneless ribs; and Greek with provolone and spinach. Calzones ($5.99) contain ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, marinara, and any pizza topping of your choice.
Martin really knows his way around a pizza, so we can assume that the grinders and calzones are equally good. Let’s hope the standards are held just as high for the other items. We’ll just have to come back to find out.
Johnette Rodriguez can be reached at email@example.com