Salute to pizza

The Majestic empire is expanding. This Cultural Center institution that includes the Majestic Theater, Majestic Café, Garden Bowl and Magic Stick now features a pizza restaurant and bar, opened June 15; already it has a following among the young denizens of the area, a crowd mixed every which way but up.

You walk past the Sergeant's order counter to get to the bowling in back. It's a cheaper place to get something to eat than the eclectic café next door.

Little statues of the Blues Brothers welcome you, along with '50s artifacts so beloved of people born in the '40s, '50s and '80s. I'm talking about aqua Formica tables and retro orange vinyl chairs, a sofa with a sparkly, red-flower print and framed ads urging you to drive a swept-wing '57 Dodge or "discover the swinging world of Yamaha."

The Sarge’s managers are attempting to do a two-steps-up version of pizza, though not at the high-falutin' levels you find at, say, Flat Planet or Pizza Paesano, or Terra Cotta or Sam's Pizzeria in Windsor. (Never thought I'd be guilty of pizza name-dropping...)

Thus you can order flavored crusts or a specialty sauce like basil pesto or tapenade (pureed olives, anchovies, garlic and oil), and the specialty toppings include roasted chicken, spinach, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, calamata olives, eggplant and squash. But it's all served atop a pretty normal fresh red pizza sauce and mozzarella. Neither is the "thin crust" really thin.

At least that's what I found when I ordered a basil pesto sauce with roasted red peppers and garlic cloves. It was very cheesy and very tasty, but without any flavor of pesto or garlic. When my date ordered spinach and roasted chicken, the spinach seemed quite fresh; another night, the sausage was rich and hot.

The chef also attempts to go the extra mile in other departments. I pointed at the boxed mushroom salad, and he came out of the kitchen to offer to make me a portobello version for a buck more. It was excellent, with red peppers, black olives, red and yellow onions and a tart vinaigrette.

Pastas are also offered; one night they were out of lasagna, but the chef suggested ravioli: "It's the same stuff, just put together different." It's not shabby, and comes with some good garlic bread.

Deli sandwiches sound appetizing, but the ones that can be premade and plastic-wrapped are. Ask instead for the vegetarian melt with every good veggie plus basil pesto, sun-dried tomato tapenade and chevre, or the fresh-ground meatball marinara.

I don't know if the Sergeant's slow service is because it's early and bugs need to be worked out, or because the scene is for those who intend to hang and are not concerned with time. I tried to imagine myself coming there not hungry and planning to spend an evening trifling with the boys.

If you are hungry, be prepared for a wait, and for a recalcitrant cash register with a mind of its own. At one point three staffers hovered over the machine; "it's alive," swore one.

Service is decidedly casual, with everything disposable — try cutting pizza with a plastic knife — and your pop just handed to you in a bottle, no ice, no straw. But the Sergeant is not aimed at those who might object.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].