A funeral parlor turned Italian eatery.
Talk about things that make you go "hmmmm."
Or, in this case, "mmmmm."
News that the long-closed Reilly Funeral Home on East Pennington Street was being transformed into a restaurant specializing in artisan pizza and pasta generated quite a buzz earlier this year. And quite frankly, such an endeavor could be creepy or inappropriately kitschy. Well, neither is the case.
Chef-owner Tyler Fenton and his brother/partner, Zach, have an amazing space - it respects the historic building's architecture while creating a cool, urban-yet-rustic aura. Much of the original building was repurposed into its latest incarnation, giving Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink a unique vibe.
Reilly may have been a funeral home, but it sure doesn't feel like one.
Exposed metal ductwork, rough-hewn wood and brick lend an industrial feel while curving arches and a sparkling chandelier (hanging above a glass-topped table made from salvaged elevator gear) add a touch of glam. But, Reilly keeps from feeling too-cool-for-you with charmingly homey touches - pizza is served atop wax paper right on the wooden peel and tiramisu comes in a Mason jar.
If the food weren't so distractingly delicious, you could easily spend an entire afternoon just staring at the surroundings. But, the food can stand up to its eyecatching setting, particularly the pizza.
Tyler Fenton - who worked at Vivace as a teen and considers owner Daniel Scordato his mentor - is self-taught. His culinary background consists of soaking up Food Network TV shows and growing up in a large Italian family where everyone loved to cook and eat. He spent five years tinkering with pizza dough before settling on what's served at Reilly.
"I probably tested at least 50 different dough recipes," Fenton says. "The thing about dough is it's the same basic ingredients. It's how you use them that makes the difference."
Fenton's variation uses very little yeast and has a long proof before it's topped with housemade fennel sausage or roasted crimini mushrooms and then cooked in the gas-fired pizza oven. The resulting blistered crust has a wonderful texture - airy, almost like focaccia, but still with some chew and a gentle crunch. The crust is a standout whether it's topped with crisp Calabrian salami (think pepperoni on spice steroids) and a melted blanket of mozzarella and creamy fontina ($13) or thin-cut, buttery Yukon gold potato slices, accented with woodsy rosemary and quality olive oil and buried beneath fluffy drifts of unmelted Pecorino ($12).
The same dough is used in Reilly's lunch-only sandwiches, too. It's just not stretched as thin, but it still retains that same great texture. The PLT ($10) featured crisp strips of pancetta, Italian bacon that's not smoked, along with crunchy Romaine lettuce and juicy wheels of Roma tomato. We would have liked a little more smoky oomph to the aioli, but it was still plenty rich and creamy. The accompanying homemade featherlight potato chips snapped as soon as you popped 'em in your mouth. Very addictive.
A standout pasta at Reilly is the papardelle ($15), fat, al dente ribbons bathed in a thick, earthy mushroom sauce studded with meltingly tender short ribs. This is a beef lover's paradise.
Non meat-eaters will appreciate the inventive salads that bring together ingredients like sweet, juicy watermelon cubes and tangy goat cheese ($7). A heavy hand with the lemony vinaigrette left the arugula and frisee in the salad a little droopy, but it was still a lovely salad, especially with toasted pine nuts adding crunch.
Reilly has a small dessert menu ($6) - four dishes but they, ahem, hit all the sweet spots: butterscotch budino (an Italian custard), fried cinnamon-sugar coated squares of dough to dunk in warmed Nutella, a not-too-sweet chocolate polenta souffle topped with creamy salted caramel gelato and garnished with caramel corn and that tiramisu in a jar. We felt a little hobolike passing around the jar and long-handled spoon, but everybody wanted a crack at the tiramisu, which featured an extremely creamy mascarpone mousse. It was a great end to a great meal.
Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink
101 E. Pennington St., 882-5550, reillypizza.com or facebook.com/reillypizza
• Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday.
• Noise level: It gets loud in the dining room during peak times and can be hard to carry on a conversation.
• Alcohol: Well, the "drink" part was important enough to include in the name, so as you might imagine, Reilly covers a wide range with its beer and wine offerings. It also has an intriguing variety of mixed drinks.
• Family call: No specific kids' menu, but we saw youngsters happily munching away on a Saturday night.
• Vegetarian options: Yes.
• Gluten free: It does offer gluten-free pasta.
• Price range: $7-$15.