Hamra's The Pizzeria Is Pure Delight

Last night, we were invited to the opening of "The Pizzeria," a casual family-style restaurant in Hamra across from Lina's and just before Zaatar w Zeit. The Pizzeria is the latest in Al Ghunaim Trading Co.'s ventures to hit Lebanon, after the swanky Indian restaurant Moti Mahal Delux and the beverage giant Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, next-door neighbors in Zaitunay Bay. Contrary to its name, The Pizzeria doesn't focus solely on pizzas (it features four and one do-it-yourself): its menu spans everything, from nachos and fried seafood to soups and salads, steaks, burgers, sandwiches, pastas, Italian soul food, desserts, and specialty drinks. Think of it as an Italian take on Chili's, outfitted with comfy booths you can sink into as well as long wooden tables suited for family gatherings.

We were received with the grace and hospitality becoming of a five-star restaurant: a warm greeting at the door before being ushered in swiftly and up a narrow staircase to the main dining room. Once seated inside a booth, we were brought soft Italian bread straight out of the oven alongside olive oil and roasted garlic bits for dipping. The marriage of olive oil to roasted garlic is indescribably delicious: the garlic gives the subtle olive oil a real kick and crunch. We quickly lapped it up.

For appetizers, our waitress and restaurant manager heartily recommended the combo platter--host to fried calamari, breaded mozzarella bars (far thicker and ampler than your garden-variety cheese sticks), and The Pizzeria's signature nachos, which come slathered in alfredo-esque sauce, jalapenos, black olives, tomatoes, and slices of tender chicken breast. We also tucked into an ethereal spinach-and-artichoke dip, adorned with small bits of pepperoni and accompanied by grill-kissed squares of pain de mie. The dip has a consistency similar to a creamy mushroom soup and is very conveniently spread on toast. Delicious.

Our mains consisted of the filet mignon with shrimp, as well as a NY strip steak. Both come with a selection of two sides--choose between mashed or baked potato, Italian rice, pasta, fries, or sauteed veggies. After our rich appetizer fiesta, we opted for the veggies. Neither steak required the peppercorn or mushroom sauce that came on the side. The meat was cooked medium: plump, juicy, and pink and wonderfully seasoned. The veggies, a medley of carrots, zucchini, broccoli, and bell peppers, were crisp and succulent.

We could have easily ended here, owing to the lavish sizes of each dish, but we were rather tempted by the desserts on offer: smothered chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream and The Pizzeria's tiramisu. The cake (literally) goes to the chocolate number, which came in two sky-high triangular pieces of a decadent sponge with a generously thick and dense layer of warm chocolate fondant interspersed with bits of walnut throughout. It was beyond dreamy. The tiramisu alternated between lady fingers and a soft baking cream, but it lacked the rum and coffee archetypal of the classic dessert. Kids will surely adore it.

Our dining soirée at The Pizzeria was indeed splendid. The restaurant more than delivers in family-friendly ambiance, a menu suited to every palate, tasty and fresh food done right, and exceptional service by exceptional staff.


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