Shoppes at Lakewood
2000 Chapel Hill Rd
Review Date: (prior to 1997)
Reviewers: Linda & John Meckley, Joy Anandi, Jeremey Horne, Gary Klaus, Lauren Bednarcyk, Dave Crescenzo, Dilip Barman, Elizabeth Nulton
We chose Ricci's Restaurant because we heard the pizza was good (award-winning, even) and we were ready for a return to the familiar (after Turkish and Indian outings). Well, the pizza was good (though it gets no awards from us), and the scene Ricci's provides was perhaps too familiar: "college bar", "sports bar atmosphere", even "drab." For some, this detracted from the dining experience.
Nine of us gathered at Ricci's, a big sports bar offering pizza and Italian fare. Let me address the setting right off, since many of the reviewers complained of the "tavernish" atmosphere. Dilip, always the earnest critic, suggested, among other things, that the place would be improved with "less sports bar atmosphere." Lauren compared it to "Cheers", and labeled it "kitschy." I disagree. Ricci's is a pizza place, and complements its main attraction with appetizers, munchies, salads, pasta, and sandwiches. The Regulator Cafe is not, nor does it pretend to be. I was perfectly comfortable with the setting. I asked Dilip later what it was about "sports bars" that generated so much comment. He frowned and mentioned that they are often smoky. But on our night at Ricci's it was neither crowded nor smoky. There were a few folks at the bar, and a few others dining, and that was it. I probably wouldn't stop in (for food) during the NCAA basketball tournament, or on a fall Sunday afternoon. But the fact that it was a "sports bar" really wasn't remarkable to me. Jeremy also noted that "the sports bar ambience did not add positively to my dining experience... [nor] did its 'tom-tom' single noise music." I didn't notice the music, but I did notice (couldn't miss) the big-screen TV hovering over us. Consider the foregoing as fair warning.
We did what you're supposed to do at a pizza place, and ordered several different pies: a White Pizza with artichokes, mushrooms, and onions, Ricci's special Chicago-Style Stuffed Pizza (spinach), and their vegetarian pizza, which comes with green peppers, black olives, onions, and mushrooms. The White Pizza ($11.50), with a variety of cheeses and a thin crust, was very good, and clearly our favorite. The menu describes their thin crust as "light, crisp crust yet with a hearty texture." It was.
The stuffed pizza -- basically, regular pizza dough stuffed with whatever (our "Spinach Supreme" had spinach, a blend of cheeses, and mushrooms) -- was good, but quite heavy. Lauren liked it a lot: "the sauce was very tasty -- well-spiced and savory. [It had] lots of filling and you get a huge pizza for the money." (The three sizes are $11.75, $14.75, & $17.75) Elizabeth thought it "too thick" and "a bit mushy." It was loaded with cheese and spinach, and I found it very filling.
The Vegetarian Special was also available stuffed, but we got it in the regular style, with the thin crust. And wouldn't you know, but our gang of vegetarians were ultimately indifferent to what one might guess would have been our favorite. "Good", "Very good", "OK, nothing special", and "[it] did nothing for me" were the comments. The other reviewers offered no comment, which means (1) they were unmotivated to sample it, or (2) their impression, whether negative or positive, was unremarkable. I thought it needed something: cheese, if you are so inclined, or more sauce or spice to liven it up.
Although not everything excited us, and some items were only ordinary, nothing was bad, and the quality and care in preparation was evident. We sampled their Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce ($5.95, served with bread and soup or salad) and I found it fresh and tasty. They have eggless pasta -- fetuccine, spaghetti and angel hair -- regularly available. The garden salad and Italian bread were great. Unfortunately, they couldn't serve an appetizer they called Crudities -- fresh broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots, and cucumbers with low-fat dip -- because a delivery had not been made. And with all the pizzas, we did not try their Bruschetta ($3.75) (Italian bread with tomatoes and onions marinated in olive oil and basil). Both these items, and their Minestrone Soup ($1.95), would certainly be worth trying. And they had a large selection of beers, certainly worth trying. (What else would you expect from a sports bar?)
As for dessert, well, here the sports bar struck out. I asked the proprietor (Mrs. Ricci) why they didn't serve cannoli (super-rich Ialian pastry tube stuffed with ricotta cheese and other goodies), a staple at traditional Italian restaurants. She said they tried once but it wasn't popular and now all they served was something that was very popular: Fried Dough. (Yes, the stuff covered with powdered sugar you see folks with weight problems gobbling at the County Fair.) We passed on the fried dough, and the other dessert, Klondkie bars, as well.
And so our conclusion is this: Ricci's does offer some good 'za in some unusual styles. Their other Italian fare is well-prepared, fresh, and can easily accommodate even the discriminating vegan (if that vegan does not mind dining amidst multiple TV screens blazing with sporting events). If you're up for pizza and a few beers and the Duke-Wake Forest hoops match-up, Ricci's will do nicely.