10 Main St., Middletown, (860) 343-3300, mondomiddletown.com
Any discussion of a new-ish pizza place in Middletown must first address the indisputable fact that the town already has loads of spots to get some very good pie. There's First and Last, and Illiano's, and Jerry's, and Krust. And more. So, the question is: pizza? Why more pizza? And the answer is: well, because everyone loves pizza, and what harm is there in more pizza? Competition is good, right? Mondo is yet another pizza restaurant in Middletown. It's been there for a little while, further extending the southern end of Main Street's restaurant offerings.
I ate only one thing at Mondo. I ordered just an arugula and prosciutto artisanal pie ($15.50). So I make no claims about all of the other stuff on the menu there -- and there is quite a bit, pasta, sandwiches and a whole range of pizza. But it's not hard to infer a lot from one dish. (And this was one that doesn't show up at many places.) If they can do that with style and taste, then other things are probably good. And if they blow one dish, they probably blow others. You can relate to the logic.
One idea of heaven, for me at least, is: a pizza, a nice place to sit, a beer, and nowhere else to go. I was almost there at Mondo last week, with a crisp and cold pint of Peroni and a pie, but I did eventually have to leave. The room at Mondo is comfortable, with open ductwork on the ceiling, a playful selection of doggie pictures around the room, and some nifty modified wine bottles suspended over the bar area to provide color and light.
But in the end, everything is either made or broken by the pizza. And Mondo makes it. This is good pizza. They call it New York thin-crust pizza. To my eyes and taste buds it's really more like a medium-thin crust, which could be splitting hairs, but not in pizza-centric central CT. If you sort of divide the difference between New Haven and the big city, you might arrive at something like this. New Haven pizza is known for its ultra-thin, bubbly and charred crust. New York style pizzas often have a little milk in the dough, making for a puffier, slightly breadier affair.
My arugula and prosciutto pizza was a white pie, or a white-ish pie, in that it didn't have any sauce. It was actually fairly green with the arugula. The outer crust had plenty of character with blisters and craters, but no blackened bits. You could fold a slice down the middle without having it crumble apart, but the architecture of the crust was sturdy enough to hold up under the toppings. Thin slices of salty and slightly fatty prosciutto were tossed with the nicely dressed arugula, all atop a thin bed of creamy, melted fresh mozzarella. It's something like a salad served on a partial pizza. All the flavors are there — a hint of nutty and buttery from the arugula, some tang and brightness, too, with the prosciutto providing a meaty bottom end, all of it held together and anchored by the cheese. A mellow note of garlic came through as well. (There is truffle oil in the description of the pizza, but as is often the case with me and truffle oil, I couldn't tell you if it was there. I'm sort of a truffle-oil doubting believer, or something; I've rarely experienced it or actively sought it out, but I'm comforted by the joys others seem to find in it.)
This was an excellent pie. The arugula and prosciutto are added to the pizza after it's been cooked. That's key. (If you order it to go, they'll keep the greens and prosciutto separate so you can add them at home, to maximize freshness.) It helps heighten the balance of textures and tastes, hot and cool, crisp versus stretchy, et cetera. I had thought I might have half a pizza to bring home. But with focus and a little effort, I was able to polish off all but one of the pieces of this formidable pie. I don't expect that the arugula prosciutto pizza will become a regional specialty, but if you're only going to eat one thing at Mondo, this isn't a bad place to start.
Like a salad on a pizza, sorta. (Staff photo)