The layout of Salerno’s is excellent. The atmosphere is very relaxed, with comfortable chairs and benches. Photographs line the walls and the place feels like it’s been around since the roaring twenties (which is funny since the restaurant started in the mid forties).
A menu printed to look like a newspaper is an excellent idea. While waiting, customers can read about the history of the establishment. They make a seasonal pizza, utilizing plum tomatoes that they can only get in August.
The plethora of toppings available is great, bacon, anchovies, meatballs, fresh garlic, chicken, and more. There is nothing out of the ordinary, but seeing items like meatballs and fresh garlic, which some pizzerias neglect altogether, is a welcome change.
In addition to toppings, further pie customization is available in the form of your crust. There is a standard crust, extra thick, and extra thin. Pizza purists may be scoffing right now. “There is no way that they can offer all three and get all three right.” I thought the same thing myself, so of course, I had to order all three to find out. Surely one would fail. Right?
First there was the extra thick small topped with meatballs and fresh garlic. Even the most ardent garlic lover should beware, Salerno’s is very liberal with the application of garlic. It is fresh. It is piled on, but it only receives a little char from the cooking of the pie itself. It is not toasted beforehand and then applied to the pie. This has its pluses and minuses. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether this is good or not. The pie was properly cooked. The bottom was crisp and the center was airy and light, not gummy or bready. Despite the generous coating of cheese, meatball, and other items, the crust retained many of the holes and pockets that make it thick and light at the same time. The meatballs (or slices of meatballs) had plenty of flavor. I believe they were a combination of beef and pork that isn’t too heavily spiced, but not bland.
The regular pie was topped with sausage and fresh mushrooms. Yes, fresh mushrooms were atop this pie, not canned. NICE! Big thumbs up! Again, this pizza was properly cooked without being burned. The underside is golden. It is not an exceptionally crisp pie, but is not a soggy dumpling either. The sausage is fresh, chunk-style. It was tasty, but I would prefer one with a little more fennel and spice.
The final was the extra thin topped with bacon. This was for my girlfriend. Personally, I find bacon on pizza to be an abomination on par with eating pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise and cheese. Nevertheless, to create a proper review, I had to give it a try. The bacon is excellent. I don’t know if it was applewood smoked, maple smoked, whatever smoked, but it was lean, well cooked, and has a very distinct character. It was not standard supermarket bacon. The pizza, again, was properly cooked without being burned. The extra thin is not very different from the regular. It has a little better chance at being crisp towards the center, but didn’t quite make it there. This was definitely the most distinct pie of the night as the combination of the bacon with the pizza was a very unique flavor. I would definitely recommend it to lovers of bacon pies. It was a flavor that I could not stand, but I don’t like bacon on pizza, do I?
Sadly, when it comes time to give my final rating, I cannot give Salerno’s a thumbs-up. (This is a review that I really have to qualify.)
The pizza is very well-made. Time and thought went into the crafting. Everything is cooked perfectly. Though there are a gang of toppings to choose from, and the menu features plenty of non-pizza items, nothing seems slapdash.
Unfortunately, the pizza itself, at its core, is boring. The sauce is neither tangy nor tart. It is neither sweet nor savory. It is just “there”. The crust is the same way. I almost considered putting salt on the pie, which is something I have never done in my life. I wanted it to have a little more life. The cheese is definitely not buffalo, or if it is, it is the stringiest buffalo mozzarella I have ever seen. It too, is blah. The only pie that had any real character is the bacon pie, and I CAN’T STAND BACON ON PIZZA! Damn it! Other than that, everything else was a well-crafted bore.
I wanted to like Salerno’s. I really, really wanted to like Salerno’s. The prices were great. Each small pie with two toppings was only $11.25. The size of the small is damn near the size of most regular pies. The staff is friendly and attentive. Though there was a little wait on a Friday evening at dinner hour, the crowd wasn’t too bad. The décor of the restaurant fits perfectly with the cuisine. The menu/newspaper is an awesome idea. It wasn’t too noisy inside. The pizza is just, unfortunately, not compelling. DAMN IT!
I won’t say “Stay away from Salerno’s”. Give it a try, your mileage may vary. However, unless you are ordering the bacon pie, and unless the night I was there was a serious aberration, I don’t believe you should go out of your way for this restaurant. Likewise, I don’t think you should expect anything great. Good, well-crafted, competent… but not great.
1398 Barnum Avenue
Stratford, CT 06614-5403