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Private Pies

Just off the beaten track, Palermo Pizza offers great food in a quiet haven

By Andrew Pham

EVERYONE NEEDS AN INTIMATE LITTLE PLACE, affordable and just a step off the beaten track--one of those quaint restaurants where they still stick candles in old-fashioned Chianti bottles. A place where a person can pretend it's his little secret. Palermo Pizza isn't exactly anonymous. Its pizzas won KEZR's South Bay Award three years running (1992, 1993 and 1994), and plenty of folks have enjoyed Palermo pizzas since. Still, after the hubbub passed, the restaurant settled down into a comfortable groove and tends to attract only moderate crowds even on weekend evenings. The owner, Nikos Kamenis, is a down-to-earth guy, easygoing and modest, who could have taken his prize pizzas national, but preferred to just keep making good pies at bargain prices.

Five things recommend Palermo. First, there are the aforementioned candles. Second, the pizzas are primo. Third, you can feel comfortable stopping by merely to chomp on a $3 appetizer. Fourth, Nikos and his band of merry folks are good hosts. Fifth but certainly not last, dinner for two, grog and tips included, shouldn't run more than $25--mostly because the portions are Superman-sized, especially appetizers, salads and pastas. (Hint: share.)

Basically, this restaurant is a no-frills neighborhood eatery replete with worn linoleum, Formica tables, red upholstered booths, beer posters, overhead TVs tuned to sports channels, plastic plants. Place your orders and pay at the counter, and then seat yourself at any available table. One word describes the menu: colossal. In fact, first-time patrons may suffer minor migraines trying to choose from the 22 sandwiches ($4.50 to $5.95), 15 appetizers ($1.80 to $4.95), eight salads ($2.50 to $6.50), 15 pasta dishes ($6.35 to $8.25) six burgers ($4.75 to $6.50) and two deserts ($3.50 to $3.95).

For example, the lasagna ($7.25) and the manicotti ($6.95) bring back memories of what American-style Italian food was before gourmet chefs did their homework. These baked pasta pies of sweet tomato sauce, Parmesan, mozzarella, ricotta and parsley are well-crafted, perfectly al dente, crusty with melted cheeses and regally robed in ample red sauce--about as good as can be found anywhere at these prices.

But, really, when visiting Palermo, one must eat the pizzas. They can be ordered with three different crusts--thin, original and extra thick--and a choice of 40 toppings. And unlike some big chains, this pizzeria doesn't make much ado about how generous they are with the goodies; they simply pile it on thick like an inside-out meat pie.

The Combo ($5.98, mini) unites a crunchy crust with a small mountain of salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, black olives and feta. The crust--neither oily nor sweet, but heavy--tastes faintly like mild sourdough. Every bite of this pie renders a wild mouthful of flavors, laden with oregano, black pepper and tomato. Two other winners are Prima Bacio ($5.98, fresh tomato, shrimp, garlic, mushroom and onions) and Capone Special ($6.75, garlic, fresh basil, sun-dried tomato and prociutto). And with Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams or Heineken going for $2.95 a pint, it's easy to chase down a lot of pizza. Harp, Bass and Guinness go for $3.50 a pint. Drink up--this is one steal of a deal!

Palermo Pizza is located at 915 South San Tomas Aquino Road in Campbell. 408/374-1800. Open everyday, 11am-10:30pm.

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From the July 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro.

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