Lovin' From the Oven 

Wood-fired pizzas are a pleasure at Avon's Wood & Wine

If we're going to be completely honest with one another (and we'll take the lead in that department), it's time to confess that we weren't thrilled by the prospect of a visit to Wood & Wine. For starters, the drive to Avon for those who require a highway is about as fun as a crawl to the dentist. And the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow is a boxy highway-side restaurant with all the apparent charm of a recently shuttered Country Kitchen.

In reality, it's a recently foreclosed-upon Dianna's Deli. While improvements have been made to make the spot feel less like a breakfast-all-day kind of place, the wide-open rectangular floor plan seems to fight them at every turn. As a result, it's not long before a diner realizes that this will never be a romantic Italian ristorante.

Once inside, instead of noticing the wood-burning pizza oven that "greets you as soon as you walk in" — according to the restaurant's website — our view was blocked by a gaggle of snacking staffers. Maybe they were taste-testing the night's special pizza.

With time to kill until friends arrived, we settled at the bar for a glass of wine. The list is extensive, with more than a few gems, but our goblet was so streaked with water stains that we could hardly appreciate the color of our Qupe syrah ($9).

But some restaurants have a way of winning a person over — first impressions be damned — and Wood & Wine did that to us. By the time we left, it was clear to see why, despite its flaws, the restaurant remained at peak occupancy throughout the night. Wood & Wine has a worthy product, and while not nearly as polished and practiced as other finer establishments, the desire to please is evident.

If we had to guess, it appears Wood & Wine's breadboards are a holdover from the previous tenant — either that or they were purchased at an auction. There's just something cheesy about cutting boards with built-in knife slots. The salads, too, conjure images of low-priced eateries, with ice-cold plates and air-dried greens suggesting a fridge full of pre-assembled dishes.

Nobody was complaining, however, when a bowl of spicy, andouille-spiked steamed mussels showed up. Bivalves, broth, and bread do wonders to right a ship — or an evening.

In the great film Night Shift, Michael Keaton's character dreams up a way to speed up the tuna fish salad-making process by feeding the mayo to live tuna. Wood & Wine goes for the same type of efficiency by coating chicken wings with blue cheese and baking them in the pizza oven. The crafty process saves us the trouble of dipping them in blue cheese dressing.

Snails surely were invented to be an delicious garlic-butter delivery vehicle. That's why we wished there had been more of both in our run-of-the-mill escargot appetizer.

Why wait until the main course to evaluate the pizza, we asked ourselves. And in a flash, we were devouring a pitch-perfect Neapolitan-style margarita pie, fresh from the wood-fired oven. Thin and crisp, with charred pillows of puffed-up dough, the pizza really is the star of the show here. Fans of thicker crusts — and more heavily topped creations — can opt for one of the "pizza Americana" varieties.

Better than we expected, the chicken saltimbocca hit all the right notes: tender pounded breast, slightly salty prosciutto, fresh sage, and a judicious layer of cheese. The restaurant earns bonus points for pairing it with perfectly cooked cavatelli in a lovely sauce. Another surprise smash, the oddly named Sackatini are cheese-filled fresh pasta purses in a shrimp and scallop-studded cream sauce.

Wood-oven-roasted chicken elevates a gouda mac and cheese from a good dish to a very good one. Deftly grilled beef tenderloin and heaps of real bacon do the same for the steak salad, served as suggested by our waiter with a smoky roasted red pepper dressing.

Next time we'll skip the escargot and head straight for the pizza. Why put off the pleasure?


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