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Eyes on the pies

It would be easy for passersby to miss Park Ave. Pizza & Italian Restaurant, as its facade is a simple storefront amid all the pomp of Winter Park. Donít expect much better on the inside of this modest and very casual eatery. There are about five tables covered in plastic tablecloths, and the dining space is small, with a takeout counter and soda dispenser on one end. The delivery guy did double duty as our server, and the departure from the typical aloofness of the Winter Park waiters was refreshing.

I began my meal with fried calamari ($6.50). They were served in a basket with marinara sauce and were curiously all the same size, indicating their swim had taken them only from the freezer to the fryer. Chewy and overcooked, they resembled fried rubberbands. The Greek salad ($5.95) was large and had fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, black olives and feta cheese. The only problem was that there was no Greek dressing to be had, so my choices were of the salad-bar variety and thus a little disappointing.

But people donít come here for the salad or the appetizers; they come for the pizza. Itís sold by the slice ($2-$3.75) or by the pie ($7-$27.50), and there is something on the menu for every pizza craving. We had the small, 12-inch cheese pizza with pepperoni, olives and mushrooms. The dough was hand-tossed by the owner/chef right before our eyes, so we knew it was fresh and authentic. The taste only verified this. The pizza had been baked perfectly, and the crust was a golden brown. Judging by the general inhaling of pizza going on around us, every pizza prepared is of equal quality and possesses the same great flavor.

The baked ziti ($7) was truly delicious. The large portion came smothered in mozzarella. The sauce was tangy, full of tomatoes and mixed with ricotta cheese. This dish would have been perfect had the ziti noodles been prepared al dente, as opposed to overcooked.

Some Winter Parkians might be horrified at not having 10 choices of waters and at the thought of having to get their own refills. But the no-frills Park Ave. Pizza is first and foremost a pizza joint, and a good one. You can eat in, take it out or have them deliver. If you dine in, youíll get to absorb the family atmosphere and possibly catch a rerun of Friends or Seinfeld on one of the large TVs. The husband and wife who recently opened this restaurant are not concerned with decor or with the patrons overhearing them call for the delivery guy in two languages; they are concerned with making a wonderful pizza. The down-to-earth, low-key style is a nice addition to Park Avenueís predictability.

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