This is the first restaurant venture for Asya Alendar, who lives in Seattle, but she grew up in a restaurant family. Her father owned and operated Italian restaurants in Bulgaria.
In keeping with the food her father served, Alendar said the food at Mona is hand crafted. The pastas, she said, are made fresh daily in the kitchen, as are the sauces.
“We have some unique recipes and we’re making everything fresh. Nothing is frozen,” said Alendar. “The dough and all the pastas, we prepare them every morning. We make all the pastas … totally from scratch.”
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And the pizza?
“Our pizza, style of pizza, It’s like a deep dish. It’s a Chicago style pizza,” she said. While Alendar may call it Chicago style, purists might disagree because the hallmarks of a Chicago style pizza – an uber deep crust with a buttery texture – may not shake out for Chicago pizza purists. But is it deep dish? Sure.
But where the pizza at Mona does resemble a Chicago style pizza is in the heavy toppings. This isn’t so much pizza as it is a casserole. Layers of cheese and veggies and meat make each slice a meal. It’s impossible to eat by holding in hand: this is pizza made for fork and knife.
It’s apparent the restaurant is fledgling, so be aware of that if you pay a visit in the opening weeks. To be fair, every restaurant has its quirks to work out in the opening weeks. A fair assessment is that the food was a little rough around the edges on my visit. Some dishes were underdone, some were overdone. “We just got a new oven. We’re just (trying) a new recipe, and we’re trying to fix all those things,” said Alendar. I’ll be back soon to give Mona another try to see how they’re doing with those changes.
Here’s a look at the menu and what I sampled on a visit last week:
The menu: It’s an expansive menu, spread across four pages. It’s pretty straightforward Italian-American fare. See the full menu here.
The menu lists more than a dozen specialty pizzas, 9 sandwiches, 7 calzones and 18 pastas. Carb avoiders and veg heads listen up, there’s a menu for both of you. On the non meat pizza list is an eggplant pizza and a few other veg-friendly pizzas that break out of the ordinary. For the low-carb crowd, a chicken, eggplant and meatball dish are amped up proteins with sauces, but stripped of the pasta.
The atmosphere: Italian-American with sports bar flair. The dining room is comfortable booths, and flat-panel televisions flank the perimeter of the dining room. On our visit, soap operas were playing.
Eggplant special pizza ($11.45, 10 inch; $16.45, 12 inch, $20.95, 15 inch): This pizza demonstrated the functionality of eggplant as a substitution for meat. Whole slices of roasted eggplant were layered beneath a thick pile of melted cheese. The mozzarella cheese and garlicky tomato sauce overpowered the delicate flavor of the eggplant, but the soft texture of the eggplant provided a smooth mouthfeel against the squeak of the cheese. The pizza toppings turned sharp with a vinegar bite from whole kalamata olives and generous pools of gooey goat cheese. Roasted red pepper slivers sweetened up that sharpness. One note on the toppings: I appreciate pizza that is more democratic in its distribution of toppings, providing multiple flavors in a single bite. With Mona’s pizza, I felt I had to chase after the flavors in alternating bites because the toppings were so spread out. And the crust was soggy and underdone in the center.
Mona’s special pizza ($11.95, 10 inch; $16.95, 12 inch; $21.25, 15 inch): Another pizza heavily weighted by cheese and toppings, this monster pizza came with pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, black olives, green peppers, tomatoes and caramel colored cloves of freshly roasted garlic. The promised prosciutto was missing in my slice.
Salmon fettuccine ($12.95): The sauce was thick, rich, velvety, but my palate was distracted by the slippery texture of the overcooked pasta. Small chunks of grilled salmon filled out this dish. Capers added puckery bite. A salad came with the dish.
Eggplant parmesan ($10.95): This mammoth portion appeared enough to feed a small family. Slices of eggplant were topped with a sweet marinara sauce and a thick crust of melted cheese.
On a next visit: I’d try the gnocchi gorgonzola pasta ($11.45) or give the chicken pesto or meatball parmesan sandwiches (both $9.25) a try.
A note about the service: While our server was friendly, we took issue with a manager who insisted when we complained about a minor detail that “nobody else had complained” about it. I heard the same manager use that line with the table next to us when they complained about the flavor of a dish. Restaurants better serve diners when they ask questions about why the customer is making a complaint, or at least make an effort to validate it if it’s a legitimate complaint. The response “nobody else has complained about that” leaves the diner thinking the complaint hasn’t been taken seriously.
Mona Pizza and PastaWhere: 6104 Sixth Ave., TacomaInfo: 253-565-0505Website: www.monapizzaandpasta.comHours: 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays