Paoli’s Pizzeria and Piano Bar delivers distinct food and good time

Chairon’s World Famous Paoli’s Pizzeria, Pasta House and Piano Bar’s distinctive pub look of deep maroon and matte black exterior paint, bold white sign lettering and fresh flower pots makes the place easy to spot while driving Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, Calif., where it has been since 1984.

The frontage has an enclosed patio with a dozen tables, three ceiling mounted heat lamps and electrified plastic grapes dangling from the cross beams of the canvas cover.

Free and limited parking is offered via a back alley entrance off of Paralta Avenue. It’s a small, but clean lot for about 10 cars.

The dining area feels warm and intimate, even at lunch time. Small round café tables draped in crimson tablecloths and black rattan chairs with ruby seats occupy the center floor while black bench seating runs the length of one wall.  Hundreds of torn and yellowed, new and bright customer photographs paper the walls as a show of affection for a favorite place.

The Menu

The menu sticks close to its Italian/Mediterranean heritage: baked clams, meatballs, fried calamari appetizers, minestrone and pasta fagioli soups, many types of pastas, lasagna, meat and fish varieties and pizza of course. There is wine and bottled beer as well as a full bar.

What sets Paoli’s apart is its brand of pizza – a deep dish gooey mess with names including “The Stuffed,” “The Climax” and “The Shrimp,” which replaces marinara with a white cream sauce.

The restaurant opens for lunch 11:30 a.m. Tuesday to Friday and that’s the perfect time to enjoy their menu as many items are at half the price of the dinner menu.

The Pizza

A medium Alfredo pizza with homemade sausage, bell peppers and jalapeños cost about $20 with tax and took about 15 minutes to prepare.

When it arrived, the buttery crust provided a visual transition between the black pan and white sauce as its golden peaks rose above the bubbly cheese, chunks of meat and pools of amber grease. The server set a hefty slice on the plate and a seep of cheese immediately erased the clean cut of the spatula.

The crust is brittle to the bite and gives way with little pressure delivering a mixture of heavy cream and mozzarella tempered by the toasted caramel spice of fresh sausage – the bell peppers may have just been in the way as their crisp and tang is overpowered by the thick sauce.

To be sure, this pizza is best eaten at pace with a knife and fork.  One will notice with each press of a utensil that white fingers pierce the surface and slowly smother the toppings.

Nighttime dining

Dinner is served from 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday and until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The menu items remain the same but prices double and portions are said to be larger.

The vegetable lasagna comes with a house salad and dinner rolls compris, both of which were served fast.

The fresh and young bits of bright green iceberg lettuce were perfect fork size but not piled high. Rather there was an even layer on which rested a center display of tiny garbanzo beans, chopped tomatoes, half rings of red onion and an occasional kidney bean. It was served with a rose vinaigrette dressing.

Along with the salad came two petite browned dinner rolls served which turned out to be just the right number and the residual vinaigrette served as an impromptu bread dip.

Fifteen minutes after ordering the food arrived in a small oval bowl, once white, with about a handful of lasagna. A corner of the pasta layer peeked out from the marinara and cheeses and a thick layer of burnt cheese ringed the bowl for a snack after the meal.

The sauce was sweet and thin and was overrun by thick ribbons of mozzarella, which seem to snap more than squish. Meat eaters looking for that chewy protein texture would be better served ordering it, but vegetarians might find the consistency of this dish hearty.

Karaoke Time

The party starts every night at 9 p.m. and this night the crowd grew to about two-dozen regulars and another dozen for a birthday party by 10:30 p.m. Patrons ranged in from about nine to greater than 70 years old, the mean age being late 40s.

The DJ manages slips of song choices at the baby grand piano under a four-foot-tall icicle chandelier lit up like a rainbow between playing vintage music videos and calling names of would be singers who muse while laser lights undulate on the popcorn ceiling above.

Spontaneous duets, hugs among locals and encouragement of newcomers seem common where the pizza isn’t.

The Details

Location: 21020 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, Calif.

Telephone: (818) 883-4136

Hours: Saturday to Monday: 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Tuesday to Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Karaoke every night staring at 9 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers range from $4 – $11.50

Pizzas range $12 – $20 (toppings extra)

Entrées range from $15 – $20

Wines by the glass range from $6 – $8.50

Bottled beers range from $5 – $6

*Cash bar and prices vary during entertainment