What makes you giddy with delight?
In general, I'm not given to giddiness. But I get close when I find a restaurant that I can't wait to tell other people about. I also get that way when I find a book to fall in love with, but so far nobody is paying me to write book reviews.
My newest find is The Front. When you walk through the door, you might think you're in a typical takeout pizza joint. There are pizza ovens and a couple of people smiling behind the big white counter. When they ask if you'd like to eat in, say yes. You are led through a door marked "Private" to find a snug, stylish dining room.
It's like a scene out of a movie. And who couldn't use a little thrill in their day? The feeling of being in on a secret, of being someone in the know - it's a beautiful thing.
Better even than the hidden dining room is the fact that the restaurant rocks.
I've visited this place twice so far. The service was solicitous, friendly and well-informed about the menu. Each time, both owner/chefs (Tony and Karine Pignatiello) have stopped by for a friendly word, happy to take a moment and chat about the food and answer questions.
At lunch time, the focus is on sandwiches and pizza. They have something called a Heavenly Panini ($4.65) which is two slices of cheese pizza, toasted, topped with more cheese, sandwiched together and toasted some more. This is not, strictly speaking, a panini. But it is delicious.
They also have a frittata ($8), which normally contains a little salty prosciutto (dry-cured Italian ham), asparagus, red onions, tomato and cheese. The day we stopped in, we got an apology from the waiter and from Tony about the lack of asparagus. The spears weren't up to their standards that day, and they didn't want to serve an inferior product. No matter, the creamy oval of baked eggs was still sunny and savory, a warm treat on a cool afternoon.
I had to order the muffuletta ($7), and I should have apologized to my companion who has been forced to hear me say more than once, "That was not a muffuletta." The freshly baked foccacia bread couldn't have been better, with a chewy crust and fluffy center. But while the mortadella and soppressata (imported Italian sausages) were scrumptious, coupled with the black olives, oregano, olive oil and cheese, the portion of sliced meat was tiny. I missed the sharp and savory balances that the traditional ham and provolone cheese would have added.
The pizza is available for both lunch and dinner, and I would happily also eat it for breakfast, midnight snacks and afternoon tea. You know the scene in a cartoon where the character's eyes bug out of his head and you can see his heart pounding in his chest while bells ring? That's how I felt about this pizza.
The crust is magnificent - crispy and thin, sturdy enough not to bend under the toppings. The homemade sauce is simple, slow cooked tomatoes with a little olive oil and perfumed with garlic and fresh oregano. Slices at lunch start at $2.09 for plain cheese, and whole pies start at $8 for a 10-inch pie or $12.50 for a 14-inch pie. (Gluten-free crust is available for $3 more.)
The balance of toppings is spot-on. The Quattro Stagioni ($9.60/$15) combines whisper-thin slices of prosciutto with artichoke hearts, earthy kalamata olives and mushrooms. The toppings are plentiful enough to get an explosion of flavor in every bite, but not so overwhelming that you have to worry about them sliding out of control and ending up in your lap. They have several combinations or you can build your own. The meats are imported from Italy with the exception of the sausage, which comes from Sara's Sausage in Palmer Lake.
The house salads were larger than we expected, big plates full of extremely fresh green and purple leaves accented with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.
We also loved the chicken Parmesan ($16). The base is fettuccine tossed with their house sauce, a simple simmered red sauce with garlic and basil. A plump, moist chicken breast, secure in a simple breading, rests on top of the pasta, topped with more sauce and gooey melted mozzarella. The preparation isn't over done, allowing the freshness and quality of the ingredients to shine through.
Do yourself a favor and save room for the desserts. The Cannoli Bites ($2.50) are perfect when you want a little bit of something sweet. The Pignatiellos don't make the shells, but they make the rich ricotta-based filling, not too sweet and enlivened with just a hint of chocolate chips. The gluten-free chocolate cake ($5) is a rich two-layer cake, covered in an impressive, chocolate-forward frosting. The tiramisu ($5) is extremely pleasing, although the coffee flavor is definitely a background note.
I've gone from giddy to gushing. All I can think about is getting this article turned in so I can go back to The Front for another slice of pizza.
Restaurant character: The name is a clever play on words: What looks like a typical takeout pizza joint has a hidden dining room with great pizza and a growing menu of pastas and sandwiches.
Rating total: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Food: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Service: 5 out of 5 stars
Address: 1670 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 80906
Contact: 527-0171, thefrontcs.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Credit cards: Yes
Vegetarian options: Yes, various pizzas, pasta with marinara ($12), caprese sandwich ($8)
As of March 5:
- 100 percent of three voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
- 4 out of 5 stars based on four reviews on Yelp
- Active on Facebook; search "The Front Pizza"
- No violations were noted during a December inspection by the El Paso County Health Department