TAKE TWO The Gian (right), with the margherita.
In today's stressful economy, it's a boost to find an eatery with 10 dinners under $10, and another two at $10.50 and $10.75. And, though these offerings are at Neo Pizza, those bargain meals are not just pizzas or calzones — they are full-fledged pasta entrées. The classic pizzas are also price-worthy, at $10.50 for a 16-inch marinara and cheese and $9 for one with white sauce (pre-toppings, of course).
Neo made its reputation on its first place win in 2006 at the Northeast Regional Pizza Challenge in Atlantic City, beating out New York pizzerias with its Gian, a thin-crust version topped with a three-cheese white sauce, spinach, pancetta, and herbs (small $12.25, large $14.50). There are 16 more specialty pizzas, including a "meatball parmigiana," veal sausage and peppers, and Buffalo chicken and blue cheese crumbles.
We stayed with the Gian, wanting to see how it had survived the years since its win. It was quite tasty, with plenty of spinach bits (not fresh chopped but frozen and still just fine) and pancetta. Other customer favorites are the Neo — with marinara, fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes, olives, and fresh basil — and the aforementioned Buffalo chicken (called "Arruda Wakening").
Using a few pizza slices as an appetizer, we ordered an entrée to split and salads on the side. On Wednesdays and Fridays, they have fresh cod, either baked or in fish and chips. On other days, they offer spaghetti or penne with: marinara, aglio olio, or meatballs; chicken and broccoli or spinach; chicken caprese (mozzarella and fresh tomatoes); veal sausage, chicken, or eggplant parmigiana; or a combo of the latter two ($10.75).
That's the one we chose, though I decided to order the chicken un-parmed (i.e., just grilled) and the eggplant still parmed. Our waitress said they could definitely accommodate that request. The dish was generous and delicious; I even got another lunch from it.
Perhaps that's because the salads were so large, and we'd already nibbled pizza. Bill got the Neo salad: romaine, red cabbage, carrots, green peppers, red onion, grape tomatoes, and black olives. He particularly liked the house-made balsamic vinaigrette.
I got the Caesar, described as "fresh romaine, parmesan, and croutons served with our homemade Caesar dressing." I liked the dressing, which was quite thick. But the greens were wilted and brown, definitely not "fresh."
When we'd asked for whole wheat crust for the pizza and then whole wheat pasta, our waitress informed us they were out of both because they'd had a big fundraiser that weekend to help out a local child, and their stocks were depleted. I'm assuming that explains the too-long-refrigerated salad as well.
But it also explains a local loyalty. While we were there, on a slow Sunday night, the phone barely stopped ringing with take-out orders. And those were not just for pizzas. The calzones, the wraps, and the paninis all have their share of fans. There are 10 calzone variations, all under $7; ditto the wraps; and there's only one panini that creeps over that (sausage and peppers).