Since they opened in March, the crew at Hot Tomatoes has been going through cases — yes, cases — of tomatoes every day. That’s because the “ORT” you see on the menu is short for oven-roasted tomatoes, and they’re everywhere: in sandwiches, on salads, on pizzas, and on grilled polenta. But don’t assume that “oven-roasted” is one of those culinary catch phrases restaurateurs use as license to charge bistro prices for elaborate comfort food. With its tin plates, pop-art tomato paraphernalia, and other modern kitchen-chic accoutrements, Hot Tomatoes is a breath of fresh air amid the neighborhood’s dimly lit, white-tableclothed trattorias. Carmen Snell-Malloy and her husband, Jeff Malloy, know how to do Italian food in a cozy environment, judging by the success of their other North End restaurant, Carmen. But at Hot Tomatoes, they’ve brought the fare — and the price — down to an any-hour-of-the-day level of acceptability. To do that with style is no small feat.
Of course, you should try the ubiquitous tomatoes, which are available on their own as a starter ($5.50/with bolognese; $4.50/with couscous). But Snell-Malloy is also a self-professed Jersey girl, and it’s written all over the menu — take, for instance, the Jersey Exit 24 ($8.50), a turkey, ham, coleslaw, and cheese affair that’s a staple at any round-the-clock diner. There are elements of surprise in all the standards. HT Sloppy Joey ($9.50) takes the house bolognese and kicks it up a few notches with caramelized onions and melty Val d’Aosta fontina on sliced ciabatta. And, with two cheeses and three meats over lots of greens, there’s nothing small about the Little Lulu ($10.75).
Or you can mix it up by designing your own pie ($13.75 and up), with more than 30 toppings from which to choose. The only problem: so many decisions are bound to make you hot under the collar.
Hot Tomatoes, located at 261 North Street, in Boston, is open Monday through Saturday, from 11:30 am to 10:30 pm, and on Sunday, from noon to 9 pm. Call 617.557.0033.