Before even walking into the front door at Geraci's Restaurant in University Heights in Cleveland, Ohio, I had already heard much about the food. A long running debate occurred on the Cleveland Food and Wine Forum as to whether there was garlic in the pizza sauce or not. Oddly amused at how grown human beings could get into such a tizzy over something so seemingly minor, I made a mental note to myself at the time that I needed to check it out for myself.
Fast forward to a few months later when Food Network's on-line personality Guy Fieri stopped in for a bite to eat at the restaurant on the only show of his I can actually stomach, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. On the show, they showcased several of Geraci's menu items, but the one that stood out in my mind was the pepperoni pizza. Besides the aforementioned does-it-doesn't-it-have-garlic debate, the pepperoni apparently was cut thicker, making the pie more unique to the Cleveland area.
Having gotten off work right around rush hour and not wanting to deal with the traffic yet, I decided to head up Cedar Road. As I got close to Warrensville Center Road, Geraci's suddenly popped into my head and I decided that tonight would be the night I could once and forever resolve who exactly was correct on the Food Forum. Not knowing the parking situation for Geraci's, I ended up playing it safe and parking at the Whole Foods parking lot at the corner of Cedar and Warrensville and walking the one block to Geraci's. It turned out that there was actually a little lot outside the restaurant where I could've parked (although when the restaurant is packed, you may have to seek alternate parking).
Geraci's Restaurant was located at 2266 Warrensville Center Road, Cleveland, OH 44118 and can be reached at 216-371-5643. Here was a shot of the entrance to the restaurant:
Once inside the front door, I noticed that the pizza ovens were to my left and a small hallway on the right led to the main dining area. After waiting for someone to seat me, I began to look over the quite extensive menu. While I normally try to post the entire menu, I decided only to post the portions of the menu that I would order from tonight (otherwise you'd end up with twelve pictures of just the menu).
I decided I wanted something to start out my meal, so I looked to the appetizer portion of the menu:
And since I was here for the pizza, here was the complete panel from the pizza portion of the menu:
It should be noted that every table except mine seemed to get a basket of Italian bread when they first arrived. At first I thought it might be something for which you had to ask, but everyone around me seemed to be getting one except me. Then I thought that perhaps only tables of two or more got the free bread. This theory held up well until another single gentleman sat down at a table by himself and within moments was presented with a basket of fresh bread. It's not that I really needed the bread (after all, I was here to order pizza), but if you should decide to go, gentle reader, and you don't get your basket of bread, ask for it.
For my appetizer tonight I decided to go with a simple cup of the Italian Wedding soup:
Filled with onions, celery, acini de pepe, small meatballs and shredded white and dark meat chicken, the soup was decent. I always taste the soup stock before anything else and the predominant flavor I picked up on was a chicken-y saltiness. While crackers were provided, I worried that if I used those, the soup would definitely be oversalted. The pasta was soft, if not a little overcooked, but then again, it's hard to get a version of this soup where the pasta isn't overcooked. Surprisingly, there wasn't any escarole in the soup, but fresh spinach. Like I said before, other than being on the edge of too salty, this was a decent enough soup.
While I sat and waited for my pizza to arrive, I began watching the antics in the visible pizza kitchen which sat across from my position. There were three cooks in the kitchen, two who were apparently adept and tossing the dough into the air while spinning it and a third to catch the tossed and spinning dough onto the metal round on which the pizza would cook in the oven. While it looked like they were having a bit of fun, the "catcher" occasionally missed the flying dough and ended up catching it on only part of the metal platter. This sort of begged the question, how many do they miss and have to start over because they drop it?
After what seemed like a bit of time, my small pepperoni (regular crust) pizza arrived at my table where my server dished out the initial slice before I could get a shot of the entire pie:
Here was my first slice:
Seeing as this had just come out of the oven, I let it sit for just a minute so that the cheese could cool and solidify slightly. The last thing I wanted was to take a bite and have all of the cheese on the slice slide off into my mouth causing a Napalm-like burn to the roof of my mouth. I tried a bit of the thick cut pepperoni by itself and was surprised to learn that it was crispy and a tad bit spicy. So far so good!
After pulling a bit of the cheese off the slice, I discovered a generous layer of pizza sauce beneath:
I searched for the elusive garlic using sight, smell, taste, and texture and discovered nary a hint of the odoriferous vegetable. While there was plenty of diced onion, tomatoes, and herbs, there apparently was no garlic. When I asked my server about it later, he wasn't entirely sure, but he said that if there was garlic in the pizza sauce, it was a very tiny amount. "If you want garlic," he said, "definitely try the meat sauce." I actually liked the pizza sauce, it had a nice balance between acidity and sweetness.
Finally, I turned my slice around to examine the crust:
So many pizza joints forget that pizza in its most basic form was as much about the crust as it was about the toppings. I'm happy to report that Geraci's crust was excellent. It wasn't the best crust I had ever eaten, but it was definitely very good. It had a nice caramelized look and taste and the interior of the dough, the crumb, had a nice pull when I bit into it. The pizza was available as a regular crust or thin crust and while I chose the regular crust, I would say that it was thinner than what most Ohioans thick of as "regular" crust pizza.
Pizzas were available in two sizes, a small which was cut into four pieces and a large which was cut into eight. Had I not also had a cup of soup, I probably could've finished a small by myself. With a cup of soup or a salad, you could easily split a small between two adults and be satisfied. In the end I ended up eating three pieces of pizza and was definitely full for most of my ride home.
The damage for my cup of soup and small pie came to a little over $12 before tip. While I showed up on a Monday night at 5:30 with no problems getting a table, by the time I left an hour later, they were starting to get packed. Going early meant I got a table, but there were lots of little kids running around. Going late ... well, you can make that judgment call for yourself.
One final note, Geraci's doesn't take credit cards; cash or check only, please. Fortunately, there was an ATM machine in the lobby. I definitely recommend that you give Geraci's Restaurant a try, especially if you dig good pizza like I do. While there were many other Italian specialties on the menu, this seemed to be a popular item with the patrons visiting the restaurant tonight and I think it is definitely a must try.