King Dome

Deconstructing Wallingford Pizza House's trademark pie.

Performance anxiety is a fact of life in the service industry, but the smiling waitress at Wallingford Pizza House betrays not an instant of apprehension, even though all eyes are on her. Just steps from our table, she flips over a heavy ceramic bowl covered by an equally heavy ceramic plate. Though you probably wouldn't know it if you didn't order it, somewhere betwixt the two is a Greek pizza. Tableside, she sets the plate down and gingerly pushes a metal spatula between the inverted bowl and a thick doughy shell that's been baked onto it. It's a bit of a tricky procedureone wrong move and she could cut through the crust; too much force and the bowl could end up floating in its former contents or tumbling loudly to the floor. But clearly, she's done this many times before. Very soon, the ceramic bowl is emancipated from the bread shell and a sea of cheesy, bubbly goo pours out and settles into the crusty sink. My salivary glands activate, and the waitress just sails away. The Wallingford Pizza House's trademark pie, the dome, is best visualized as a topless calzone, or perhaps a bread bowlone of those newfangled menu items you'd order for a hearty lunch if patronizing some soup spot in the food court of a suburban mall. The WPH's dome pizza ($7.95 for most varieties) is also a lot like Chicago's famous deep-dish pizzasit's just that the dish is extra deep and upside down while baking. See, when you order a dome, the ingredients of your pizza are thrown into a sturdy, ovenproof bowl so that your pie starts off as an uncooked jumble of grated cheese, olives, tomatoes, feta, spinach, garlic, red onionwhatever you ordered. Then, a big ole slab of buttery dough is slapped on top of the bowl, and the edges are shaped over the lip and down around the sides, creating a bread roof. The whole thing bakes like that; the pizza "toppings" inside the ceramic bowl, with what will become the crust covering it like a protracted lid. And, like I said, once it's finished baking, the dome is flipped at your table with style and grace. Copied from something called a "pizza pot pie," which was patented in Chicago over 25 years ago, the dome pizza is a mess of gelatinous, cheesy ooze. It's rich and heavy and totally ridiculous, and yes, it's delicious, too. Although billed as an individual-sized pie, a dome can easily be shared if ordered along with one of the WPH's tasty, no-frills salads ($5 for a large). Either way, I strongly suggest you order plenty of fillingser, toppings. Order one of these suckers with cheese only, and you're essentially asking for a bowl of melted mozzarellain other words, trouble. Have the cooks fill your bowl with pineapple pieces, sausage hunks, garlic cloveswhatever; just make sure you've got plenty of "stuff" in there to balance out the gut-busting cheese. And believe me, even when you load up on fillingser, toppingsyou will not want for more cheese. The pizza housea funny maze of stairways, short walls, and rooms that definitely was, at one time, a regular houseserves a variety of pizzas, all of which are deeper and more generously filled than most of the pies you'd find this side of the Windy City. The delicious Garlic Van Goat (mozzarella, goat cheese, roasted garlic, red peppers, and artichoke hearts) and the aforementioned Greek (both $7.95 for the dome, $10.95 for a small, and $18.95 for a large) are served sans sauce, but don't worry, you won't miss it. Joe's Stuffed Special ($10.95 for a small with two stuffings of your choice) is like a humongous calzone; it's a regular crusted pie with a crust cover, too. And clearly, judging from the Famous Spinach ($9.95 for a small), the folks here have some sort of fixation with doing just about everything upside downor at least differently. Their spinach pie is layered, almost like lasagna, with spinach, mozzarella, and garlicbut the sauce is smothered on top. Regardless of which pie you decide on, it's more than likely you'll get something very, very good. WPH's sauce is wonderful and chunky, as if some little Italian lady stewed tomatoes all day and then ran them very briefly through a blender set on chop instead of puree. Although not particularly spicy, it's thick with herbs and garlicthe antithesis of your boring jar of Rag. And the crust is great, too. Whether domed or rolled out as a deep pie shell, it's buttery and vaguely biscuitlike in texture, and always thick and hearty enough to support its mini-oceans of goo.

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