Photo by Doug Trattner
New York-style sausage and rapini pie
Hearing nothing but great things about Chatty’s Pizzeria in Bay Village, the restaurant was added to my dinner dance card along with a handful of other exciting new arrivals. But I also was cognizant of the fact that the restaurant is tiny, perpetually mobbed and first-come, first-served, factors that make a food writer who lives on the opposite side of town tremble with anxiety. How does a seasoned diner counter those impediments? By waiting two and a half months to visit, doing so on a weeknight, and arriving after the suburban early birds have returned to their nests.
If you expect a 20-year alum of Michael Symon Restaurants to go the fine-dining route when finally striking out on his own, you haven’t been paying attention. The smart money these days is on small, lean, nimble and affordable places, preferably ones with plenty of outdoor seating. That describes Chatty’s Pizzeria to a T.
After playing a part in every major food revolution and evolution of the past 20-plus years, Matt “Chatty” Harlan knows what the majority of current diners demand. While there will always be a market for lavish fine-dining places, the bulk of the action is taking place at family-friendly eateries where meals progress with speedy efficiency and interactions with staff are kept to a minimum.
Since opening in early March, Harlan estimates his pizza-making pace to be around 700 pies per week, a staggering volume given the Lilliputian size of the kitchen and dining room. To keep up with the relentless demand from dine-in and take-out customers, the chef recently added a third deck oven. To alleviate kitchen back-ups or all-out disasters, he limits take-out orders during peak dining hours, a practice that annoys generations of customers who grew up demanding “30 minutes or less.”
At Chatty’s, the name of the game is streamlined and uncomplicated. Diners have a choice of two main pizza styles, a handful of salads, a few choice apps and a trio of hoagies. Astute observers will notice plenty of cross-utilization of ingredients, which keeps food inventory and costs in check. For example, guests can enjoy an appetizer portion of meatballs, a hearty meatball hoagie and a build-your-own pizza topped with meatballs. The appetizer version ($9) features five large oven-roasted meatballs that are tender, well seasoned, sauced with marinara and dusted with Parmesan and fresh basil.
When a place is this far and this busy, my typical move is to place an order for an appetizer pizza almost as soon as we sit down. It’s best to go with something on the lighter side and that meant clam pie ($15). This thin, crisp white pizza comes topped with a ton of briny-sweet chopped clams, which are paired with mozzarella, plenty of garlic, fresh arugula and pops of lemon. Other starters include a simple meat and cheese board and ricotta pesto-topped bruschetta with fresh tomatoes.
For the main course we tacked on a few more pies. The delicious New York-style sausage and rapini ($14) featured the pitch-perfect pairing of slightly bitter broccoli rabe with sweet ground sausage. To that the kitchen adds garlic, mozzarella and red pepper flakes. In contrast to the round, flat pies, Harlan’s Grandma-style pizza is appropriately tall, airy and satisfying. We ordered ours with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil and burrata, but they can be customized from a list of toppings. Each is available in just one size: 13-inch, 8-slice round for the New York and 13-inch, 6-slice rectangle on the Grandma.
The table enjoyed an excellent Caesar salad ($9) that was large enough for all four of us to share. Other salads on the menu include an antipasto with Italian meats, cheeses, veggies and vinaigrette and a burrata-topped arugula and tomato.
For a neighborhood pizzeria, Chatty’s has a surprisingly well-stocked cellar. The user-friendly wine list has white, pink, sparkling and red wines by the glass and bottle. Those are joined by a selection of craft beers and even a handful of cocktails. On warm nights, diners enjoy those beverages – along with their meals – on the front patio and beyond. True to his nickname, the owner pops by to chat with each and every table, his enthusiasm impossible to contain.
Harlan was lucky to snag one of the best locations in Bay Village. The space, long home to Vento la Trattoria, sits across the street from Huntington Beach. While the restaurant has been dinner-only, the owner recently added weekend days and will soon extend the hours to include weekday lunches, which will be great news for hungry beachgoers.
28611 Lake Rd., Bay Village