1751 E. Main St
I know I wasn’t the only one to shed a tear when Chef Tim Kilcoyne’s Local Cafe closed its doors. Yet it wasn’t long before a new restaurant came in to fill the space: Palermo Pizzeria. The Italian eatery is the second owned by the Cascio family, who have been running the original Palermo in Simi Valley since 1972.
For those of you who frequented The Local Cafe, you’ll hardly recognize the place. Where the space used to be open and bright, dark green walls and wood accents now dominate. Seating used to be at small tables in the open dining room; now dark booths are separated by lattice dividers, creating an intimate feel. The area by the register that once served as the deli case is now a small bar.
As before, local artwork still adorns the walls. Yet, rather than a rotating series of artists, Palermo features paintings by Scott O’Connor, who also painted the whimsical and psychedelic-looking sign that hangs over the front door.
On the first night we stopped in, service was prompt but a little awkward. Our appetizers arrived, but we had to ask for plates and utensils. And when our entrees and pizza arrived and we found ourselves struggling to eat off the tiny bread plates, again we had to ask our server for larger plates.
Prices at Palermo are reasonable and the portions are large. The pizzas start at $9 and the entrees range from $7 to $17. It even offers an early week special: spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce and a salad for $4.95.
The menu at Palermo is built around what is called East Coast-style pizza (the dough is a family recipe) made in the wood-burning pizza oven left from The Local Café, and classic Italian dishes like linguine with clams, manicotti, gnocchi and shrimp scampi. There are also calzones, hot and cold subs, and a selection of soups and salads. Drink options include bottled beers from Surf Brewery, a small selection of wines and, of course, soda.
We started our meal with the ravioli fritti and a basket of garlic bread. As for the ravioli, we loved the crunch of the breading, the bite of the pasta and the warmth of the melting cheese. Though the menu says it is served with ranch dressing, we enjoyed the thick marinara that came with it instead. The garlic bread is pretty standard, but simple and classic and melt-in-your mouth good (as are most things covered in butter).
Enticed by the promise of a family recipe they’ve been making since 1972, we couldn’t resist the lasagna. The layered dish is built around an unforgettable meat sauce that is both tangy and hearty. We also enjoyed the spaghetti with meatballs: a hearty serving of al dente noodles, finished with that flavorful meat sauce and two meatballs the size of tennis balls. Comforting and rich, this dish was Italian perfection on a plate.
From the pizza options, we chose the Hawaiian pizza. The crust is thin, probably not well-suited to a pile of heavy toppings. But for ours — topped with ham and chunks of pineapple — it stood up just fine. The outer crust was crispy and blackened in a few places, and the flavors imparted from the pizza oven took me back to many a lunch at The Local Cafe. The bottom crust of the pizza is very thin, and I found myself wanting to fold the large slice in half as one might do with an oversized slice on the streets of New York City.
On another visit, I picked an eggplant parmesan sub and a cup of soup to go. When I arrived home, both items were still piping hot, and though I was disappointed to see that the eggplant wasn’t battered and fried, the sandwich proved to be irresistible. The acidity of the tomato sauce was well-balanced by the oil from the eggplant (seemingly pan fried) and the melted mozzarella, and all three infused the bread with flavor. And don’t even get me started on what the pizza oven does to the bread; some bites had a bit of char, other bites a nice toasted crunch, and others a lovely chewiness. I planned to eat only half, but the whole sandwich was gone in minutes.
In contrast to the sandwich, the soup that day fell flat. The Italian wedding soup, built around a chicken-based broth, was filled with lots of greens but there was nary a meatball in sight.
Though the name Palermo Pizzeria implies a simple menu of thin-crust pies, this neighborhood eatery is full of surprises. Sure, it’s a great place to grab a pizza, but also a great spot for a hearty Italian meal. And like The Local Cafe before it, the vibe here is relaxed and easy, which makes the food taste even better.
Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com, where you’ll find information on our walking tours, corporate teambuilding events and gift certificates.