Located in the heart of Deering Center off Stevens Avenue, Siano’s Pizzeria has been a mainstay in this community since 2007. But it’s more than just a family-friendly neighborhood haunt. Its menu of southern Italian old-school classics is very well done. And on weekends it’s chock-a-block with diners there to have a good time over gutsy food and drink.
On a recent Saturday afternoon my first visit occurred at lunch, where I thoroughly relished a superbly rendered veal cutlet Parmigiana ($9.99 at lunch; $16.99, dinner). This was quintessential veal Parm. Afterwards, the chef, upon my request, told me how it’s made. The veal is first dipped into a thick egg wash, coated in a mix of cracker crumbs, cornmeal and flour and sautéed until crisp. Bathed in a rich tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella, it’s baked in the oven until the cheese is beautifully melted and very tender slices of veal emerge perfectly done.
This fine lunch prompted me to return several days later; this time, friends joined me for dinner. As soon as our party of three walked in we were impressed by the wafting aroma of hardwoods burning in the brick pizza ovens, emitting the sweet, smoky scents of oak, maple and birch woods.
There’s nothing pretty or fancy about the décor. Instead it offers a homey setting in which to enjoy well-made Italian-American comfort food. This includes veal, chicken or eggplant Parmesan; a number of scampi preparations as well as classic lasagna; various pasta dishes including housemade ravioli, and Mediterranean style preparations of fish and chicken on the daily specials board.
The dining room is a large, narrow space with a row of comfy booths along the side. The bar flanks this area with 12 bar stools and 10 high-top tables, behind which is a private dining room reserved for large gatherings. In the middle of the dining room is the open pizza prep station. There, two cooks are throwing and twirling dough into the air to prepare any of 13 specialty pizzas on the menu or made-to-order pies with various toppings.
At the far end of the dining room is the take-out station, which on that night was doing a brisk business of patrons picking up their orders.
Commandeering the kitchen are chefs Drew Young and Daniel Carmichael, who have been there for many years. Much of what they cook includes old family recipes from the Pompeo family who owns the restaurant. According to proprietor Joe Pompeo, whom I spoke with at a later date, most everything is made from scratch. This includes the restaurant’s red sauce (his grandmother’s recipe), the pizza dough, and crusty, house-made focaccia used for all their hero-style sandwiches.
We settled into a large booth, and our very affable waitress told us about the evening’s specials and presented us with the menu and wine list. We chose a bottle of the Chianti Toscolo ($23), a pleasant Tuscan wine, which stood up well to the hearty fare we ordered.
Specials that evening, which were mostly served over pasta, included chicken ($14.99) or veal Marsala (17.99), grilled chicken fresco with marinara ($13.99) and haddock Aegean over their house risotto ($13.99).
We began with the fried calamari ($9.99) and a 10-inch pizza ($12.99) called the “Woodfids,” a cutesy wordplay on Deering’s Woodford St.
The breading on the calamari was a bit heavy, but the marinara dipping sauce was fresh and tasty. We asked for slices of fresh lemon to squeeze over the calamari, and this helped perk up the dish.
The pizza was beautifully prepared, though we were disappointed in the crust. It wasn’t the thin style so popular now – and that was OK – but it was doughy and needed to be crispier than it was. The topping, however, was very good. Set in the red sauce was buffalo mozzarella, provolone, creamy dollops of ricotta and shredded Parmesan and pecorino. On a second visit later in the week I ordered the same pie. This time it was terrific. It was more in the thin-crust style and nicely burnished from being baked in the wood oven.
Attention to detail was evident in nearly every dish we had at dinner. All the entrees come with a salad of very fresh greens; we opted for the blue cheese dressing, which was well made.
One of my guests loved her chicken Marsala ($14.99) served over linguini; the sauce was just creamy enough without being soupy and the overall dish had the sweet, earthy flavors from the Marsala wine. My other guest had a few qualms about his chicken Parman ($13.99), also served over linguini. He thought the pasta was slightly overcooked and the chicken needed more red sauce; otherwise the flavors were good. Upon request our waitress quickly brought over a bowl of sauce.
My lasagna was a good sized portion – not the usual heaping serving that so many restaurants dish out to excess and winds up in Styrofoam take-out containers. It was prepared with several cheeses, including a rich topping of mozzarella, Parmesan, pecorino and a velvety-smooth ricotta filling. It’s served with Siano’s homemade meatballs or sausage. I chose one of each. The meatballs were very moist and the sausage had just the right spice blend.
The only dessert on the menu that evening was a house-made cannoli. Our waitress pointed out that because the food is so rich most people don’t have room for dessert; only one or two choices are offered each evening. The cannoli had a rich ricotta filling, and the crisp pastry shell was laced with twirls of chocolate sauce.
Siano’s can be counted on for gutsy home-style Italian cooking. At $100 for three people with wine but before tip, it was a reasonable tab for a very satisfying meal in such a welcoming setting.
John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be reached at:email@example.com