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Bites Nearby: Tomato Pie Café

Delicious, Italian-themed cuisine is set near lovely North Park.

Overview:  

Tomato Pie Café is located on the border of North Park across from the batting cages. It's open from Easter until Christmas and closes in the winter. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays. Its cuisine is Italian-themed. It accepts only cash, but an ATM is on the premises. We went for lunch, so our selections were from the lunch menu.

Décor:

The charming exterior is bright tomato red with a pretty courtyard. The drawback is that it sits right on busy Ingomar Road, but the restaurant staff have really made an attempt to make the space resemble an Italian courtyard. It's very welcoming. 

Inside, there is not much décor to speak of; it feels more like a roofed concession stand than a traditional restaurant. The main indoor seating area is very small. Another enclosed seating area, which is more like a screened-in porch, overlooks the garden. The restaurant staff grows most of the herbs, and you can taste the freshness in the food.

It was very hot the day we ate there. It was tolerably cool in the indoor seating area, yet there didn't seem to be air conditioning.

The Drinks:

Canned pop from a cooler, bottled water and large coolers with tea and water.

Appetizers:

Appetizers range from $3 to $7 and include Flat Bread Garlic Toast, Sliced Roma Tomatoes, and Bruschetta. We tried the tomatoes, which were a bit hard and cold. They would have been better left to sit out and served at room temperature. They also would have been better sliced than cut into wedges, which were attractive, but made it difficult to layer with the cheese. The fresh mozzarella was good, as was the balsamic dipping sauce. The fresh basil was excellent.

Entrees: 

Even at lunch there is a good selection of entrees, including Cheese Ravioli and three kinds of Penne -- tomato basil sauce, pink leek sauce, and tomato sauce and cream for the Penne Primavera. Pastas range from $4 for a side to $10.50 for an entrée-sized portion. We did not have pasta this day, but I have had the Pink Leek Penne more than once in the past, and it's absolutely delicious. 

Sandwiches seem to be a specialty and range from vegetarian [Portobello focaccia and vegetable focaccia] to meaty [chicken Cajun and Italian and steak and sausage hoagies]. They're priced from $6 to $12 depending upon the size and type of sandwich.

Sandwiches are huge and are served with tortilla chips. After the waitress told us that the vegetable focaccia was one of the most popular items, we ordered one. It was wonderful -- big and warm and subtly flavored so as not to overwhelm the vegetables, but enough to keep them from being boring and bland. There was enough spring mix piled on to almost make a salad. But, as I pointed out to my dining companion, you can always just push it off to the side.

I had the DiPositano Pizza, which, again, the waitress said was a top seller. It, too, was excellent -- rich with sliced tomatoes, spinach and feta. The crust was particularly good. Good enough that I actually ate the wide end instead of just leaving it as I usually do. There are two other specialty pizzas as well, and the prices depend upon the size and the type. You can also build your own pizza using traditional ingredients.

Service:  

The service was prompt, almost brisk, which I don't see as a bad thing. We got our food quickly, and our waitress was very patient and very polite. She insisted I take home the rest of the pizza, even though I did not have a way to refrigerate it on a very hot day when I was running errands after lunch. She came up with the idea of wrapping it all in foil and putting it in my huge purse. It worked, and I had the leftovers later. A little smooshed, but still tasty. It was just like lunch at mom's.

Bonus:

North Park, of course. A number of diners had obviously come from tennis or swimming or walking or running or biking or any of the many fun activities North Park has to offer. Exercise, then eat -- or eat and then exercise. It's all good when the food's excellent and the park is beautiful.

Cost: $ to $$

Address: 885 East Ingomar Road, Allison Park. 412-364-6622

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