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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza opens in Mentor

The largest school district in Ohio - Mentor - is one of the main reasons Michael DuBois chose the Great Lakes Mall as the location for his Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza, which opens today, Dec. 12. He knows that teens love pizza, of course, but there's lots to appeal to shoppers and others, as well.

 As an invited guest for its "soft opening" we enjoyed the buzz of the new eatery and observed quite a few elements that make it stand out and bring people back again and again. Its location in the mall corner next to Dillard's is appealing and easy to reach from Plaza Boulevard. There's close-in parking for those ordering carryout and it isn't one of the busiest places in the mall's parking lot.

 We ordered things not typically found at pizza shops since there are quite a few within a 10-minute drive of the mall. All of us adored the Garlic Rotoli, little rolls embracing some Romano cheese that are baked and put in a basket then drizzled with herbed olive oil, which is great for dipping. Those babies persuaded me that the dough it makes every day is the real secret to its offering, not the coal. I grew up with a coal furnace so at first the coal wasn't very appealing in connection with a restaurant. But its clean burning anthracite coal, an employee told me, and as I tried to shoot a video of the red hot coals I was invited behind the counter so I could do the job right. That video will accompany this blog so readers can also have a preview.

 It was apparent to me that employees have been well trained to answer questions. Anthracite coal, indeed!

Pizza is thin crust style and cooked for four minutes in the very hot oven. The crust is really good as were rotoli.. all made from that wonderful dough. This place also offers a personal pizza, priced at $5.25 with the first item at 75 cents and additional items at 50 cents each. Should make a great alternative to the food court for lunch by both shoppers and employees. This place must go through a LOT of fresh basil since it's on many of its pizzas as well as in its salads. There's hardly anything better with the Italian plum tomatoes they use than basil, so someone has certainly done their homework. Italian plum tomatoes, also called Romas, are the ones used in Italy for pizza. They're not as juicy as the big tomatoes customarily grown here but they're full of flavor and in good supply year round.

 When I walked in I noted the full service bar, which will certainly be a welcome addition at the mall. Liquor licenses are in short supply there and, to my mind at least, there's nothing better with pizza than a glass of red wine. I have friends, however, who swear by beer with their pizza, and this place has both. The menu boast six reds and six whites, plus draft and bottled beers. Its house wines cost just $4.95 a glass, a real deal in this day and age. Adding to the treat is 3 to 6 p.m. happy hour with $2.50 house wines and half off appetizers, which include those yummy rotolis. Cheapskates could easily make that a meal.

 Speaking of prices, they're competitive here across the menu ranging from $9.95 for a 12 inch small pizza on the traditional menu up to $17.95 for a 16 inch specialty pizza,, of which there are nine. The Capo is the most popular so of course we ordered it. It boasts pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, roasted mushrooms and caramelized onion. I most enjoyed the Margherita, simple elegance of tomato sauce, soft mozzarella and basil.. just like those served in Naples, where pizza was born.

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