by Alice Levitt
4 Carmichael St., Essex, 288-9494
I have two older brothers. One is a chef, who, my mother loves to recount, asked for a wheel of fontina for his third birthday cake. The other is rather pickier than we are. Since birth he's refused to eat meat — and most vegetables. My mom calls him a "pizzatarian." That's why, when he declares a favorite pizzeria, I take note.
At the moment, my brother's official pizza of choice is the one at Mimmo's in Essex. I hadn't had one for years, and I needed to see if he was as right-on as usual.
At times, the pizzeria is so packed with locals that there are lines out the door. Luckily, last night was a slow one. We were seated immediately on the carpeted dining room side by the bar.
Pizza was the goal, but we just had to try some other appealing dishes. The Caesar salad menu description boasted a housemade dressing, unlike the garden salad.
I was impressed by the uncommonly juicy romaine, especially for winter. The creamy dressing could have used more garlic and acid, but the latter was repaired with a squeeze of lemon. I was also disappointed that the Parmesan on top was powdered, not grated, and therefore all but invisible to both my eyes and taste buds. I was a fan of the croutons, which tasted like they had been made from rye bread.
Mimmo's has daily pasta specials, and at more than one of my visits over the years, it's been chicken scampi. I finally tried it last night and was impressed enough to make it a staple.
First, my one complaint: Our convivial server, Tucker, with whom we discussed everything from knit animal hats to bartending underage, offered me a choice of penne or fettuccine with the dish. I got thin spaghetti.
That aside, this was exactly the kind of deceptively simple dish I'd wish for an Italian grandmother to feed me.
As far as I could tell, the nicely seasoned and seared chicken, sundried tomatoes and baby spinach were dressed in nothing but olive oil and garlic. But this wasn't your sweet, insipid garlic sauce. This was fiery, sexy garlic that burned my mouth in the most pleasant way. I just recommend that you share it with your date. I did, and we still had enough for a second meal.
Of course, we also had to complement the pasta with a pizza. My brother just does the plain cheese thing, but I felt more ambitious. Mimmo's has lots of appealing and uncommon combinations. Though I could have easily chosen chicken-tomato-basil or lasagna pizza, I settled on "Simone's special."
First of all, my brother is right. The crust is perfect — chewy throughout and crisp at the edges. The sauce (which also came with garlic bread as a side to the pasta) is almost ideally tangy, with just enough garlic and herbs.
And we loved the toppings. Garlicky meatballs were sliced thin, resembling gyro meat, and the bacon was crisp. Fresh tomatoes were juicy and added a hint of fruity sweetness. But it was the combination of mozzarella and feta that defined the pie's personality. The goat cheese had very little of its characteristic sourness, replaced with luscious creaminess. It was like eating a pizza cloud.
Thanks for the recommendation, bro.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to email@example.com.