Pizza by Elizabeths
3801 Kennett Pike (Route 52)
Wilmington (Greenville), Delaware
Tucked away in Greenville Center, just a stone’s throw from Winterthur and the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Pizza by Elizabeths’ location alone makes it a handy stopover after a strenuous afternoon of cultural osmosis. And, yes, this is not a typo; you are reading correctly. It is Pizza by Elizabeths. Proprietors Elizabeth LeRoy and Elizabeth Snyder thought it might be fun to pay homage, not only to their own given names, but also to the famous Elizabeths of the past and present.
One glance at the establishment’s website and you’re bound to be impressed – I certainly was. Words like “sophisticated,” “intriguing,” “casual elegance,” “fresh, all-natural,” and “step-above service” are freely bandied about, along with photographs of the restaurant’s tea room-looks-like-it-was-designed-by-Martha Stewart décor lovingly bathed in soft, filtered light. There’s even a short, snappy video, Go Behind the Scenes, courtesy of Delaware Today. Wow! “How did I manage to miss this one?” I kept asking myself.
But looks – and websites – can be deceiving. Things are not always what they appear to be. And, despite a plethora of kudos by the media, Pizza by Elizabeths is a bundle of contradictions – culinary and otherwise. But first, let’s talk about the food…
“Join us for a dining experience that’s unforgettable (italics mine) – just like our favorite Elizabeths.” Or so trumpets the restaurant’s website. Uhhh… Well, not quite. The cuisine here, for lack of a more exciting adjective, is generally “decent.” But it is hardly “unforgettable.” It can, like other aspects of this particular eatery, be somewhat hit or miss. Choosing wisely has its rewards; likewise, choosing poorly definitely has its punishments.
So let’s start with the pizza, Elizabeths’ claim to fame. Recently, seated at the bar, my dining companion and I shared a 7-inch pie. And it was certainly acceptable… But we had both sampled better for less at numerous other establishments. No question, given the quality of the pizzas, I definitely consider them (and a number of other menu items) overpriced. And, if you’ll pardon the automotive analogy, should you decide to take the “make your own pizza” route, you’ll also find yourself paying optional extra prices for what should be standard equipment. Three or fewer selections on your pizza and you pay one price; four or more, and the tab goes up. But this is where they’ve got you by the short hairs. The only standard equipment is the crust. Everything else – including sauce and cheese – is considered an extra selection. So if you want a pizza with two toppings – say, pepperoni and onions – you’re already at four selections and will end up paying the higher price… A bit of a con jobus maximus in my book.
Among other menu items, “variable” is the word that immediately comes to mind. You certainly can luck out and be treated to a good meal here… But the kitchen can also be wildly inconsistent; and since the specials menu changes weekly, you’re never quite sure what the cooking minions may be prone to screw up.
When it comes to entrée choices, the chicken potpie – although it lacks the characteristic creaminess of this American classic – is quite good; the lasagna – rich, rich, rich and loaded with cheese – is better; but the crab cakes (pictured), in my opinion, constitute the best main course the kitchen has yet to turn out… Although, the chef would do well to deep-six the accompanying spicy soy vinaigrette, which only succeeds in overwhelming the delicate flavor of the crab.
… But the most highly recommended presentations are undoubtedly the salads. The greenery is fresh and crisp, the accoutrements well chosen, and all may be ordered in either appetizer or entrée portions. A special summer salad was companioned by slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella; the Greek version came replete with field greens, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, sweet onions, and a zippy balsamic vinaigrette. The spinach salad (pictured), however, proved to be the table favorite. The greenery was pristine & nicely trimmed; and accompaniments included red onion, blue cheese, crumbled bacon, Mandarin oranges, hard-cooked eggs, toasted walnuts, and an engaging apple cider vinaigrette. A lovely combination of tastes and textures.
Among other miscellaneous items, the fettucine with meatballs wasn’t bad; but, on two separate occasions, the stands of pasta were stuck together and the sauce rather sparse. A side of steamed broccoli with cheese was the bland-leading-the-bland and in desperate need of seasoning. Desserts were, well, yes… “variable.” There’s that word again. The peanut butter pie drizzled with chocolate sauce and the peach pound cake were both outstanding. On the other hand, the lemon-blueberry layer cake was either still recovering from an incomplete cryogenic resuscitation or suffering the deleterious effects of an extended exile in the nether regions of the fridge. Regardless of the reason, both taste and texture (or lack thereof) were extremely suspect.
While some menu presentations might be considered rather “iffy” side, there is no question that my cheeseburger, ordered during our most recent visit, was an absolute “horror.” And this was as much a result of poor service as it was a faux pas on the part of the kitchen – perhaps more so.
The scenario went something like this… on two previous occasions at Elizabeths, while my dining companion and I were merrily munching away on our appetizers, up popped the server with the entrées; which, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, drives me right up a wall. So on our third visit my dining partner specifically requested that our entrées not be served until we had finished our starters. After dutifully processing this request, our server should have waited until we had nearly completed our apps before putting in the order for entrées. Evidently she was unaware of this or just didn’t give a damn… As a result, my cheeseburger spent an unspecified but certainly inordinate length of time languishing under a heat lamp. By the time it reached the table, it was as dry and tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. My partner’s fettucine with meatballs, as noted above, also suffered the ill-effects – but at least it was still edible. My cheeseburger was not.
So much for “step-above” service… which inevitably leads me to the hostesses. Whether you receive good or bad service here is pretty much the luck of the draw; conversely, however, the hostesses are young, immature, and totally without a clue. When our party approached the hostess desk, the two women were munching away on Twizzlers and laughing and carrying on like they were at a frat party. One was decked out in a summer knit dress that was so form fitting it left precious little to the imagination. I mean, I’m as much an admirer of the female form as any man; but this was definitely over-the-top and completely inappropriate given the establishment’s so-called “casually elegant” and “sophisticated” environs.
Then there’s the cleanliness issue. This is a touchy subject; but I can only relate what I have personally experienced. On our first visit, as we settled in at the bar, we couldn’t help but notice a profusion of crumbs beneath the chairs… plus several layers of dust on the chairs themselves, indicating that they had not been cleaned in some time. There were additional crumbs under tables in the dining room, as well as crumbs and dust on several windowsills. In the men’s room, there was what looked like grease or dirt on the baseboard molding.
I should mention that all of the above were noted at about 5:30 p.m., during the “happy hour” and start of the dinner service, when the restaurant should have been spotless. And, like most diners, if I observe these kinds of lapses in cleanliness in the restaurant’s public areas, I can’t help but wonder what issues may lurk in other parts of the establishment that are not open to public view.
There is no question in my mind that Pizza by Elizabeths has the makings of a terrific eatery. At the moment, however, it appears to be resting on its supposed laurels and bogged down in a malaise of mediocrity. The concept is first class… the execution, on the other hand, is strictly economy coach.
The Bottom Line: In my opinion, this place really needs a good kick in the… asparagus. And the very first priority would certainly be the kitchen. Right now the food is hit-or-miss at best. It clearly needs to be better focused and more carefully prepared.
My second suggestion is to immediately fire the entire hostess staff and get some people in there who can dress the part, behave properly, and live up to the restaurant’s website assertion of sophistication and casual elegance. In conjunction with this, every server should immediately be enrolled in a remedial course in how to wait tables and properly coordinate with the kitchen… as, at present, the service is as erratic as the cuisine.
Finally, someone in the management chain of command must be responsible for making certain that the restaurant is acceptably clean and ready to receive patrons. Crumbs under chairs at the very start of the dinner hour – and assorted other lapses in cleanliness – send a decidedly negative message to potential diners.
My advice to you, dear reader – should you be fresh from a visit to nearby Winterthur and contemplating a sojourn to Elizabeths – is to order with the circumspection of a minnow in a shark tank. Stick with the salads and pizzas and you probably can’t go too wrong. A snack at the bar is also a good bet; ditto several very nice wine selections available by the glass… But the gastronomic highlight…? The fabulous toffee that arrives with the check.
One final note: As I mentioned briefly at the outset with regard to the restaurant’s rather unique moniker, owners Elizabeth LeRoy and Elizabeth Snyder thought it might be fun to pay homage, not only to their own given names, but also to Elizabeths past & present and vintage & modern, as well as a nod to European nobility & old Hollywood. A superlative collection of Elizabeths to be sure, with Elizabeth Taylor’s likeness particularly prominent… So guess whose photograph adorns the entrance to the men’s room…? You got it!