Sunday night is always family dinner night at my house where three generations of people and numerous dogs attend. We eat food that is more indulgent in quantity and quality than we would on a regular night of the week. But this week, several of the key players were working or out of town, so the remaining four of us decided to join in the family dinner at Pompieri Pizza in Durham (102 City Hall Plaza, Durham, NC 27701), which happens each Sunday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
To start, I love this idea. For a set price (ranging from free for children under 2 to $19 for people over aged 12) you get a salad, a vegetable side, all of the pizza you care to eat, a drink, and a scoop of gelato for dessert. Some special requests can be accommodated (like vegetarian options) and others cannot (no gluten-free pizza at this meal). The concept is one for the open-minded or adventurous eater; you get what they give you, and that is whatever the chef feels like making that night.
I also love the ambiance. The theme, as indicated by the name, is “fire department” but there are many fun and different features in this restaurant. There are huge Koi tanks creating a sort of wall between the entry and the tables, with lush herb bushes growing above the tanks. A sign on the table explains that this is their aquaponics system and that the soiled water from the fish feeds the basil and other plants, which are used in the food. Artwork on pizza boxes decorates one wall – the winners of the annual contest to decorate a Pompieri pizza box and win free pizza for a year. Restaurant-size tomato cans form lampshades for the hanging lights. A huge pig head (“Pigmund Freud”) made of metal washers adorns another wall. Probably my favorite feature was not artistic at all, but was the metal baskets on each table holding a clean napkin and a sign saying “Disconnect to reconnect”. We did not put our cell phones in the basket, but the sign, along with the games placed on the long communal tables, reminded us that this meal was about family and being together.
After selecting our drinks from the Puck’s soda machine (natural sodas made with cane sugar, including birch beer, which I haven’t had since living in New York!), we sat down and received a platter of mixed micro greens salad and the vegetable side dish for that night, which was roasted acorn squash stuffed with kale and red pepper vinaigrette. Servers roamed the dining room with Neapolitan style (thin crust) pizzas cooked in the wood-fired oven, topped with a variety of interesting ingredients. Some examples: a garlic base with sweet potato, red onion and rosemary; a red-sauce base topped with bacon marmalade, pork belly and fried egg; and a marinara base topped with goat cheese, bacon and olive tapenade. The slices are small (12 inch pizzas cut in 8 portions), so you can try many varieties before getting full. At our table, there was a bit of a mix-up involving wristbands, which we were not issued and which the servers were looking for when offering pizza. After seeing pizzas go by without being offered to us for at least 15 minutes, we asked a server, and then the hostess, before ultimately receiving wristbands. Once we were back on the radar for the servers, all was well again. And after eating our fill of pizza, we put in our request for gelato from the menu. Three out of four of us had cookie dough, and one had cinnamon raisin. Did I mention that the gelato, as well as the pizza dough and toppings are all house-made?
Everything we ate at Pompieri was delicious, and I would definitely go back again. The family dinner is an experience that I would recommend for anyone to try. Children are most definitely welcome, but the event is not child-centric; the food is primarily geared to an adult palate. In the end, my family agreed that when we go back we will probably order from the menu, so we could choose exactly what we want. And in the end, I think that family dinner at home with the dogs is the best, but Pompieri was a nice change of pace and excellent pizza.