Pizza With Promise

Thanks to an urban vibe and some great food, Reilly has the potential for greatness, despite staffing issues

It's been fun watching downtown fill itself in with various restaurant types over the years. Burgers? Check! Thai food? Check! Pizza? French? You got it!

Well, now we've moved on to the stage of downtown redevelopment where restaurants are starting to overlap a bit more. For example, even though there's already a good pizza joint downtown in the form of Empire Pizza and Pub, we now also have Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink.

Whereas Empire goes for a more New York-style vibe and pie, Reilly is a comfy, chic place serving artisan, individual-sized pizzas as well as intriguing cocktails, appetizers, salads, meat-and-cheese boards, and either sandwiches (for lunch) or pasta entrées (for dinner).

Reilly sits in one of the most charming spaces downtown: the old Reilly Funeral Home, across the street from Café Poca Cosa on Pennington Street. Featuring brick walls, arches, a chalkboard above the open pizza oven and a cute bar with TVs, it's all urban, hip and fun. (I would like to tell you more about the décor, but I can't, because I had the misfortune of being seated at arguably the worst table in the place during both visits—a two-top along the eastern wall, stuck between the bar and another wall. I didn't get to sit in the big, open main area either time. Karma was kicking my ass for some minor wrongdoing, perhaps?)

Along with that charm, Reilly offers some fine, if at times flawed, food. The pizzas are the star here, as they should be, since they're given top billing in the restaurant's name.

A well-made margherita pizza, in my humble opinion, is the perfect food: When good dough, excellent sauce, great mozzarella and fresh basil come together in the right proportions, it's nirvana. Reilly's version ($11) was close, but oh-so-far away from nirvana: The crust, while a bit too chewy, was fine; the sauce was adequate; and the mozzarella was nice and fresh. But the basil ... it was poorly distributed, with large pieces here and there, making it so that I got a LOT of basil in one out of every three bites, and none in the other two. I asked our server to bring more basil, and I added it to the pizza myself. If the folks in Reilly's kitchen can fix the self-made Great Basil Shortage of 2012, they'll be on to something.

However, I had no complaints about the speck-and-egg pizza with mozzarella and fontina cheeses ($12). Some folks may balk at the thought of egg—especially a runny, yolky egg—on a pizza, but trust me: It's amazing. The server recommended breaking the yolk and spreading it over the rest of the pizza. The richness of that yolk, mixed with the saltiness of the speck (ham) and the savory flavors of the cheese, was stunningly good. As my lunch companion, Michael Luria, noted: While the other items we had will not prompt a trip back to Reilly to have them again, this pizza will.

As for those other lunch items, they were OK, if not spectacular. The meatball sandwich ($9) featured a nice blend of meatballs, cheese and sauce, but the chewy toughness of the bread—it was pizza dough sliced open like pita bread—contrasted strangely with the softness of the ingredients inside. The risotto ($7) is billed as featuring sweet corn and pancetta, but I did not detect a lot of sweetness in the reddish concoction; instead, I detected salt, and lots of it.

On our dinner visit, Garrett decided to try the cavatelli ($14), one of the five pastas available in the evening hours. The mixture of pasta, braised kale and fennel sausage was tasty, but it was missing something; thankfully, the subtle sweetness of Parmesan cheese brightened it up. Overall, he enjoyed the dish.

We also enjoyed the two appetizers. The fried squash blossoms ($9) were surprisingly light, thanks to the tempura-like batter and the lovely herbed-ricotta filling. The perfectly crispy crostini ($6) were topped with lemon-scented goat cheese and dozens of tiny pieces of roasted asparagus, and we approved.

For dessert, we tried the chocolate polenta soufflé with salted-caramel gelato ($6) and the butterscotch budino ($6). The soufflé was a rich, delicious bit of heaven—the pieces of caramel popcorn were a nice touch—while the budino was basically slightly gritty pudding, and nothing more.

One area in which Reilly needs some work involves staffing. During both visits, we overheard servers telling customers that the restaurant was understaffed. At our dinner visit—on the night of the All Souls Procession—the restaurant was clearly not prepared for the onslaught of dressed-up customers. As a result, we suffered through delays, empty water glasses and other issues. During our lunch visit, the hostess was telling people they'd have to wait for a table, even though there were tables open. In the end, our lunch almost took an hour—which won't cut it in the business world. Don't get me wrong; our servers were working their butts off on both visits. They just didn't have enough help.

With the fun vibe and delicious items like the speck-and-egg pizza, Reilly is on the road to becoming a truly special restaurant. A slight staffing boost and some refinement in the kitchen would help them get further down that figurative road.

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