Pizza is a reliable staple on college campuses, and the options for Wesleyan students just expanded. In an environment where wallets are pinched and schedules are tight, fast, cheap dining options close to home are crucial. Though preparing a pie is fairly simple, pizza perfection is difficult to attain, and unfortunately the fledgling Cardinal Pizza & Family Restaurant on Main Street does not yet offer slices that soar.
Opened in December, the family business is owned by Middletown resident Ismail Topal. The restaurant operates seven days a week, and the establishment offers dine-in, take-out, and delivery services.
Though the joint bears the name of the Wesleyan University mascot, I did not spot either students or faculty on my weekday lunch visit. Despite the absence of customers, I remained optimistic about the culinary adventure ahead.
Upon entering the establishment, I noticed that the sparsely decorated, green-and-red walls were accented only with stenciled cardinals that failed to add cheer to the austere interior.
Menu options are diverse, from pizzas and calzones to burgers and gyros. Among my selections, the highlight was the “Cardinals Salad” with tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers, mozzarella, and hard-boiled eggs.
The salad looked artful and fresh with crunchy slices of garlic bread framing the plate. The flavors worked in sync with one another, and the combination of red onions and hot cherry peppers delivered a kick I had been craving. I tore into a piece of the garlic bread, which was perfectly toasted with just the right amount of oil.
A less-inspiring dish was the appetizer of jalapeño poppers, which consisted of bite-sized balls of peppers and cheddar cheese with a fried outer coating. Even with a generous layer of salsa, the taste was rather bland. I expected spice from the jalapeño, and I was disappointed when the anticipated zing failed to register on my taste buds.
The biggest letdown was the pair of pizza slices, one plain and one meatball. Both looked aged and tired on the plate. The temperature of the pizza teetered on the border between lukewarm and chilled, and the cheese seemed to peel away from the crust like a second skin. The crust itself lacked flexibility, and the tough dough made the pizza taste as old as it looked. The addition of meatballs was an improvement and enhanced an otherwise subpar slice.
Though the service was fast and the menu inexpensive, the pizza left a lot to be desired. The name of the institution might prompt you to order a pie but you are more likely to find satisfaction with one of the restaurant’s salad options.
Cardinal Pizza & Family Restaurant has the potential to be successful, as there is certainly a niche for an informal pizza parlor on Main Street. But if the owners truly want to attract Cardinals, they need to create a cozier nest and improve the quality of their grub.