Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza

Designer pizzas and pastas entice vegetarian diners.

Well-Rounded Flavor: The pies and calzones at Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza satisfy both vegetarians and meat-eaters. Photo by Christopher Gardner

Well-Rounded Flavor: The pies and calzones at Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza satisfy both vegetarians and meat-eaters. Photo by Christopher Gardner

WITH ALL THE meat-free toppings, variety of crusts and selection of cheeses available, pizza is always a safe bet for vegetarians, easily adapatable to lunch or dinner time. So when a friend recommended sampling Willow Street’s hearty selection of wood-fired pizzas, I happily agreed. But I was even happier to discover a wealth of vegetarian entrees and pastas specifically catering to the needs of the veggie-minded, along with a tempting list of innovative pizzas.

On a recent visit we sampled, and were pleased with, the crisp bruschetta: a dice of tomatoes, garlic and basil on sourdough toast ($3.95). But it was the romaine gorgonzola salad tossed with walnuts and radicchio ($3.95 half/$7.95 full) that really impressed. Slathered in a creamy balsamic dressing, the fresh greens and blue cheese were radiant, both in soft/crisp texture contrast and in brilliance of flavors. Another appetizer of flat bread ($4.50) was equally inviting–fragrant with brie and Parmesan cheeses, roasted garlic and thyme.

For an entree, the pesto ricotta ravioli sounded tempting, but I settled on the three-mushroom angel hair pasta instead. Shiitake, oyster and button mushrooms sautéed with cream sherry, garlic, shallots and spinach ($8.95) came along with perfectly al dente pasta. Light and comforting, this was destination pasta at its finest.

Opting for the restaurant’s namesake, my dinner partner studied the list of wood-fired pizzas ($7.50­$9.95). Not an easy choice. Among others there was the four-cheese pizza (smoked gouda, mozzarella, provolone, asiago and fresh thyme), the fresh tomato and herb, the pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, or the Southwest fajita–covered with corn tortilla sauce, cheddar and mozzarella cheese, corn, cilantro, green onions and chipotle cream. We ended up with the chicken with pesto and spinach–minus the chicken, of course. The delicious combination of pesto, fresh spinach, garlic and tomatoes topped a soft, home-baked honey crust. Large enough for two, or just right for one hungry person, Willow Street’s pizzas are all made with whole-milk mozzarella, but are also available cheeseless or with soya mozzarella cheese substitute. We decided to sample the soya and were happy to notice no difference in taste.

Also worth mentioning are two of the lunch specials. A creative blend of sautéed zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, spinach and fresh red peppers with melted provolone and mozzarella cheese, the Veggie Melt Sandwich ($7.50) comes with tomato and roasted red pepper mayonnaise on a homemade white herb roll. The portobello sandwich ($7.50), also a filling lunchtime meal, is loaded with warm marinated portobello mushrooms, sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella on a homemade herb roll.

Having dined at both the Willow Glen and Los Gatos locations several times over the last week, I’m amazed at how well the wood-fired ovens and aromatic baked specialties upheld the unmistakable company signature on each occasion. This is vegetarian dining to look forward to.

20 S. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, 408.354.5566
1072 Willow St., San Jose, 408.971.7080

This article was originally published in the February 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley’s Weekly Newspaper.

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