1222 Hillcrest Road, Suite D
Mobile, AL 36695
Geez, there is a lot of downtown construction going on at the moment. I was looking to head west for lunch and I did, but first I had to pick up my old eating buddy Samual Squanch on Dauphin Street. Sam is a taller-than-average man who can put away the groceries (and beer) when the time is right. It had been over a year since our last true lunch meeting, so I didn’t mind braving the Broad Street debacle, which had me doubling back on Dauphin only to sneak through neighborhoods, snaking my way into the LoDa area.
I grabbed Sam in a parking lot, and with his head barely sticking out of my open sunroof, we took off for Airport Boulevard, dodging more construction and a fender bender before we finally reached Hillcrest. We stopped at a small Thai restaurant. With every other table roped off for social distancing, there was no room for us. We found another restaurant down the road, but it had more of a fast-food vibe. There, across the street in — if I remember correctly — the former Zorba the Greek restaurant was Nino’s Pizza.
Let’s give it a try.
Walking in, Sam and I took in the ambiance of a few small tables on the left and a counter/kitchen on the right, both bathed in some fairly harsh light. This isn’t some Shangri-La, by any stretch. We had landed in a straightforward, blue-collar pizza biz. Our server was happy to take our order at the counter or meet us at the table. We chose the latter.
Moments later, our friendly fellow had us set up with plasticware and 20-ounce Diet Cokes ($1.99 each). The appetizer menu had me wanting wings, but Sammy gets his fill on the regular. I figured I would have the wings some other time and opted for the Pizza Fries ($6.95) instead. Our faithful server explained they come with a side of marinara sauce, but he prefers them with ranch.
“How about both?” Sam asked.
Happy to oblige, we enjoyed a basket of lightly battered, seasoned fries with very lean bacon, perfectly cooked, and melted mozzarella holding it all together. I love things like this. Alternating between ranch and marinara, I have to say, the ranch was maybe better. I thought it would cheapen the dish, but hey, let’s face it: French fries with cheese and bacon go with ranch like chocolate goes with peanut butter.
It was a bit of a race to see who would get the lion’s share of potatoes, but it was too close to call. Maybe I won that round because Sam ordered more fries with his Cheese Steak: Call 911 ($8.25). With spicy, hot grilled bell peppers, jalapenos, hot sauce and crushed red pepper flakes over the usual steak and cheese, we were warned many a grown man has left the restaurant with tears in his eyes after a bite of this one. Sammy, a lover of the heat, wisely decided to nix the jalapenos in favor of enjoying his afternoon on a slightly milder note.
Before I could say, “Brother, can you spare a bite?” the whole thing was gone. For someone who claims to not eat a lot of sandwiches, this one disappeared by his doing in a hurry.
I wasn’t enthused about eating a lot of bread after all the fries I’d consumed minutes before, but the stromboli kept catching my eye. Of the half-dozen on the menu (not including the calzones), I was partial to the New York Stromboli ($9.99). Stuffed with just the right amount of beef, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and cheese, the balance of filling to bread was perfect. Speaking of the bread, this possibly egg-washed, perforated roll was buttery and salty, seasoned with some Italian herbs. It was my favorite thing of the day, although the carb load made this one uneasy to finish.
The leftover stromboli was going home, but so was a pizza. I thought it only fair to try the namesake Nino’s Pizza ($14.95 for a medium). With ingredients similar to my stromboli, this 14-inch pie had black olives along with pepperoni, sausage, thin-sliced beef, mushrooms, green peppers and onions. The crust was a little on the thin side, a bit toothy in a good way, free from any doughy bubbles. The same Italian seasonings topped the crust, which was slit with a knife all the way around. Maybe it helps the air to escape. Just a guess.
I didn’t get much pizza, but Baby Henry and Elder Katie ate on it for three days. She was really impressed with it (as was the little fella), but neither of them were allowed any of my stromboli. It was odd how essentially the same ingredients yielded such a different flavor from one preparation to the other.
Based on our experience, this is a solid base hit for West Mobile. I get what they’re doing and imagine they, like others around there, do more takeout business than dine-in. I would love to see a non-chain come into that part of town with a real sit-down restaurant complete with beer and wine. I’d love to try their pasta, but I would rather have my eggplant parmigiana on something other than paper plates with plastic knives. These aren’t complaints, just wishes for better “date night” Italian in the area.
I say go for it. Sammy didn’t complain one bit on our less eventful ride home. Plus, the fast, friendly service was quick enough for us to both make our next appointments on time, despite all of the rerouting. If you live in the neighborhood, this could be a regular stop.
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