If friends inform you that you're heading to a pizza joint in a strip mall next to a humongous Jewel-Osco, you probably won't be too excited. More than likely, you'll be stricken with visions of a sterile, off-white dining space resembling a dentist's office that plays bad '80s rock and serves even worse pizza.
Well, completely erase that nightmarish image from your brain. La Gondola's location proves misleading; once inside, it seems as if you've walked into the quaint dining room of an old Venetian family who conveniently store pizza ovens in their kitchen. Italian serenades fill the air of the small room, complete with just six tables, adorned with decorative Pelligrino bottles and olive oil. The olive-greens, tomato-reds and walls of a butternut squash color ease the mind and rev the appetite, readying you to dive into the expansive menu.
Just about any typical Italian dish you can dream of makes an appearance on Gondola's list of offerings, from the signature rigatoni boscaiola (pasta with cream tomato sauce, fresh mushrooms, basil and sautéed Italian sausage) to eggplant parmigiana and zuppa di pesce (black mussels, jumbo shrimp, calamari and clams with garlic and olive oil, served over linguini or cappellini). The gourmet pizza options will undoubtedly animate pie-lovers, with choices like quattro formaggi (bleu cheese crumbles, mozzarella, provolone and Romano cheeses), pesto and the house favorite, grilled chicken alfredo. Entrees run $10-20, while a large specialty pizza costs $16.
La Gondola's location has done little to prevent the masses from discovering this gem of a restaurant; multiple awards are pasted and hung throughout, and Rachael Ray even featured the eatery on her Food Network show, "Tasty Travels." You can just imagine her chirpily exclaiming "Yumm-O" as she bites into a huge piece of freshly-baked, ooey-gooey cheesy pizza goodness. It's too bad her view must have overlooked a hum-drum grocery parking lot.
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Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Paige Gray