Pizza Excellence and More at Mondo in Middletown

Hope Simmons

Growing up, we had no shortage of good pizza in Middletown. Not surprising, given the number of Italians who call this city home. But over time, many of the old favorites I loved as a kid—Marino's, Giovanni's, D&S (for scacciata)—were no more.

Then Mondo came to town in 2010. “Great, another Italian place,” I thought. And apparently, I wasn’t alone. I recently met with Keith Vibert, owner of Mondo. “Before we were even open, a woman stuck her head in and asked, What kind of restaurant is this going to be? When we told her it was going to be an Italian/pizza place, she threw her hands in the air and walked out.”

But once we had a taste, we were sold. From creative salads and appetizers to panini and pizza, Mondo offers something for everyone. There are no bad choices here. And though it just happens to be my pizza home away from home, people come from everywhere to enjoy a meal with friends and family—or on a date. That’s pretty much what Mondo is all about.

You might find yourself conversing and sharing food with folks at the table next to you. That’s how we first tried the eggplant fries. More like giant eggplant “fingers” or “tenders,” they’re delightfully crispy outside, sprinkled with grated cheese, tender inside and served with a sweet (but not too sweet) tomato sauce. Oh, and not to mention, quite suitable for sharing.

The risotto fritters, served with a swirl of whipped ricotta, are another excellent starter: creamy, triple-cheese risotto inside a crispy exterior coat.

Or how about a beautiful bowl of summer?

Heirloom tomatoes tossed with house-made bread in a light red wine and shallot vinaigrette, topped with burrata.

The “big salad” of Seinfeld fame has nothing on this place. We usually split one between two of us, but have been known to share them three ways with plenty for all.

The Sherry salad: field greens, blue cheese, bacon, grape tomato and roasted pecans tossed in a Sherry vinaigrette.

Waldorf salad: arugula, red and green apple, candied walnuts, red onion, dried cranberries, celery and blue cheese tossed in a red wine vinaigrette.

We’re also quite fond of the Toscano salad with warm polenta croutons. And you can add grilled chicken or shrimp to any of the salads. There’s even a salad pizza!

Art credit, Molly Shanahan, The Grounds Collective

You can certainly come to Mondo for other things, but as a proud member of the Pizza Party (see illustration), you’re party-bound to try a pie. From the Margherita to the Mondo special, a.k.a. the “kitchen sink,” you’ll find options for the classic pizza lover and for those like me, who dare to be different.

The Mondo special just wants to be your EVERYTHING pizza: pepperoni, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, peppers, onions and olives.

The truffle white pizza—which we tried on our very first visit—remains a favorite. It combines fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, ricotta, red onion, toasted pine nuts and truffle honey and it’s simply OUTSTANDING. If you enjoy the contrast of sweet and salty, this pie is a must-try. The crust is thin, but not too thin, with a slight bit of char—just the right amount in my book.

The oozy egg pizza with house-made fresh mozzarella, Romano, Prosciutto di Parma, egg and truffle oil is another out of this world creation.

Spicy sausage and pistachio pizza with garlic cream and caramelized onions.

It didn’t taste hot initially, but the heat of the sausage definitely catches up and contrasts beautifully with the creamy fresh mozzarella and the sweetness of the caramelized onions.

Speaking of heat, there’s just one sausage here, and it’s not sweet. But they did adjust the sausage they use in their meatballs over time. “Remember that old commercial—that’s a spicy meatball?! I like it like that, but we toned it down a little bit to make it more palatable for kids,” Keith explains. “That’s what I mean by the difference between us and some of these other restaurants. I have toys in the corner and a chalkboard because I want families to be able to come in here and have their kids relax and enjoy themselves. It also means a lot of kids get spaghetti and meatballs. And if it’s too spicy, they don’t eat it. So we toned it down just a bit. We’re still serving quality—that’s what’s important to us.”

Service is friendly right from the entrance, when you put your name in to wait, to the servers at your table or the bar. It can get a bit loud due to the high ceilings, but has never detracted from our dining pleasure.

Keeping with their original goal—to be a place for both families and date night—Keith explained, “You can feed four people with an appetizer, a pizza, and a fussy kid that only wants to eat spaghetti with butter, with four drinks and be out of here, after tip, for like $40. You can also rack up a good bill if you want to drink the best and eat the best and whatever else, too.”

And if you’d like to try on a pizzaiola’s hat in your own kitchen, you can buy dough! “I have more and more people buying our dough and making it at home. I can send you home with a piece of dough. We could even have one of our guys pound it out for you. But everyone’s starting to mess around—people are really into it. We’ve always been willing to do it—it’s not gonna be the next wave of crazy business that we have. But it’s cool that people come and do that.”

As we talked about pizza and the skill required to stretch the dough, I had to ask: do you throw? Oh, yeah, all these guys can do it. They’re all hams. You let ’em do it, they’ll throw it across the restaurant, throw it on top of each other,” Keith laughs. It’s always a good time at Mondo.

Mondo is located at 10 Main Street in Middletown, CT.
(860) 343-3300

Monday through Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.