Casa di Pizza, nestled in the Wal-Mart shopping center in North Augusta, is so visually nondescript that people might unknowingly pass it by if it weren't for that wonderful scent wafting onto the sidewalk.
The unassuming little Italian restaurant generally relies on word of mouth - and repeat business from satisfied customers - to keep its booths and tables filled. With its generous portions, reasonable prices and extra-solicitous service, Casa di Pizza can afford to dispense with the flash and fluff.
The restaurant does have a few charming touches here and there - lattice partitions, hanging baskets, red-checkered tablecloths. But for the most part, the place is strictly utilitarian. The emphasis is on the food.
Casa di Pizza serves homemade pizza (whole or by the slice), pasta, submarine sandwiches (hot or cold) and melt-in-your-mouth pies. Warning: If you opt to have something other than pizza, you just might change your mind when you smell the fresh dough baking.
We started off with a couple of appetizers: bread sticks with sauce ($2.25) and chicken wings ($4.95). Both are ample for sharing, though the chicken wings - a bit mushy and cold at the bone - went mostly untouched. A brief trip under the broiler would have done wonders for these wings; we guess they were simply thawed and warmed in a microwave. The wings didn't fly, but the warm bread sticks dipped in zesty marinara sauce sent our spirits soaring.
Entrees are served with salad (the croutons were nice and small, and the house dressing is a tangy treat) and crunchy-crusted Italian bread. We selected chicken parmigiana ($8.50) - a plump, tender, breaded chicken breast with meat sauce and mozzarella cheese, served with spaghetti - and linguine with clams ($9.75). The linguine was bursting with clams, cooked in marinara sauce with garlic, tomatoes, wine and seasonings. The sauce with both entrees was a bit on the bland side, but all in all these dishes rivaled those found in much pricier restaurants.
Our slice of peanut butter pie ($1.85), plenty big for sharing, was smooth, cool and creamy - as welcome on a hot summer day as a lemonade stand.
Our server was continually attentive and scored an A on the clutter test. Another nice touch: The whole staff cheerfully pitches in when needed, instead of stuffily sticking to assigned tables.
Casa di Pizza serves beer and wine. Everything on the menu and party trays is available to-go. Next time you're in North Augusta, let your nose lead the way to Casa di Pizza.
Mary Deriso is the retired general manager of the Pinnacle Club, a private dining club in Augusta. Christine Hurley Deriso is a writer whose children's book, Today Is the Day, will be published in 2001 by Illumination Arts.
Restaurant: Casa di Pizza, 103 Edgewood Square Shopping Center
Rating: Three stars
Specialties: Pizza, pasta, subs
Synopsis: An unassuming little pizza and pasta place that emphasizes the basics: good food, generous portions, reasonable prices
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Phone: (803) 279-4418