Food » First Bite

Tomato Pie: If you're hungry and at the mall

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"I'm sorry, but that sounded a bit Broadway to me." "You're attractive but you're really more catalog than editorial."

Anyone who has come across one of the myriad talent shows on TV looking for the next pop star or top model has probably heard those kinds of dismissive comments uttered by a celebrity judge. It is intended as criticism, but think for a moment. Almost every Broadway vocalist has a really good voice. Most of us wish we looked as fetching as the typical catalog model. What the criticism really means is that you're good, but you're missing the spark that makes you a superstar.

Recent visits to Tomato Pie, the new restaurant located at Raleigh's Crabtree Mall, brought such thoughts to mind. It sounded intriguing: Italian fare for lunch or dinner, breakfast—including chicken and waffles—in the mornings. Could those two styles work together to make a restaurant mash-up worth repeat play?

Tomato Pie does hit some nice notes, but it isn't a destination restaurant.

The pear salad may be the first dish I've had that could qualify as a dessert salad: It's that sweet. The salad features dried dark cherries, candied walnuts, cabernet-poached pears, crumbles of blue cheese and strips of wood-fired onions in a lemon-and-parsley vinaigrette. Whether you start or finish your meal with it is up to you, but do try it.

The reasonably extensive menu comprises a variety of entrées such as sausage and shrimp carbonara, steak pizzaiola or tilapia napoleon, standard pasta dishes and several panini and sandwich options. Of course, with the name Tomato Pie, there are pizzas: a large for two people or small for one person (even with the latter you'll likely have leftovers unless you're a glutton). A solid choice among the pizzas is the meatball and ricotta, which arrives with dollops of red sauce scattered in a field of mini meatballs. The outer crust is too crispy to fold the slice lengthways but you can fold the middle toward the crust and dig in.

The breakfast menu is available 8–11 a.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday brunch lasts until 2 p.m. The No. 1 hit on that menu is the Why You Came Here Waffles. Varieties are traditional buttermilk, lemon and rum flavor and pistachio, vanilla and black pepper. Crunchy on the outside with a light, fluffy inside, the waffles are quite satisfying. They're also easily the best part of the dish. The chicken part of that equation lacked the crispness of true Southern fried chicken. I will opt for a different waffle dish, such as the Waffles and Bananas or the Waffles and B.E.C. (bacon, egg, cheese), on any future visits.

I will also time any Sunday brunch visits better. Walking in one Sunday morning, I saw a chalkboard at the entrance touting a special on mimosas. Unfortunately, I couldn't order one. Because of North Carolina's archaic alcohol rules, the restaurant can't serve mimosas until noon. Such legal backwardness isn't the restaurant's fault, but it could have changed the chalkboard to promote something that is available and change the message at noon. (The waitstaff was apologetic that morning and was unfailingly friendly and attentive on every visit.)

Owned by Payman Bazooband, the restaurateur behind Red Monkey Tavern and the Brazilian steakhouse Brasa, Tomato Pie is a decent place to eat if you find yourself at Crabtree Valley Mall. It is more catalog than editorial, but one can do all right without appearing on a magazine cover.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Beats the food court."

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