Piemonte: More Than Just Pizza 

pie1When I walked into Piemonte Pizza & Grill late one Tuesday night, I didn’t walk into an ordinary pizzeria; I was welcomed into someone’s home on the other side the world.

Three of my friends and I were coming from the gym, sweaty and starving, just as the clock approached 9:30pm. Since Piemonte closes at 10, I asked John Oner, the owner, if it was too late for us to sit down and eat. “No, of course not!” he replied. “We have plenty of time.”

The four of us looked at the menu board, jaws unhinged. It wasn’t just because we were starving — everything on the menu simply sounded delicious. Did we want wraps, salads, sandwiches or pizza? Classic Italian or Mediterranean? The Margherita pizza and “The Fenway,” with sweet Italian sausage, peppers and onions, were contenders, as well as the falafel wrap and grape leaves, which are handmade by Oner’s wife, Faye, every day.

“Everything is made fresh,” he told me. “Nothing is frozen — we make dough for the pizza every morning, sometimes twice a day. And all the ingredients: fresh,” he emphasized, though it wasn’t hard to believe with all of the potted tomato and herb plants decorating the periphery of the restaurant. “Those are my wife’s,” Oner said with a smile.

My friends and I decided on an apple and walnut salad, adding chicken and avocado, and a large pizza: half-buffalo chicken (with a homemade buffalo sauce) and half-Mediterranean (tomato, spinach, mozzarella, and feta). “You can do half-and-half pizzas … with these two?” I asked, skeptical because of the odd combination.

“Yes, anything!” Oner said, rolling out the dough.

We sat at one of the long bench tables. The inside is small, but can fit a good amount of people. Bar stools line the front windowsill so diners can eat and people-watch, and a handful of small tables are on the patio. The interior is orange and brown, and there is an attention-grabbing ocean landscape on the right wall, a painting for which someone offered Oner $4,000. “It wasn’t for sale,” Oner said with a laugh.

Oner and his wife are originally from the Kurdish region of Turkey, but they raised their seven children in Boston. The oldest is in the US Air Force, and the others have all had their hand in the culinary pot: two of his sons are restaurant chefs, two of his sons work at Piemonte, and one of his daughters, a medical student in NYC, makes guest appearances in the kitchen whenever she comes to PVD. Oner is no stranger to the pizza business, having successfully opened three restaurants in Boston, beginning in 1987. In fact, he tells me, they were the first pizza delivery service in the state of Massachusetts — “even before Domino’s!”

pie2Then the pizza came: vibrant colors, gooey cheeses, a perfectly bubbly crust. The buffalo sauce had an ideal level of spiciness, and the blue cheese layered within the mozzarella, instead of drizzled on top, added a new dimension to each bite. The spinach and tomato on the Mediterranean pizza tasted fresh, and aside from our groans of approval, we were silent for several minutes as we ate.

“Would you like to try a Kurdish pizza?” Oner asked when we were halfway through our meal. “It’s a traditional dish where I’m from.” After verifying that none of us were vegetarians (though there is a vegetarian version), Oner prepared a Kurdish “pizza” — finely ground beef, onions, sundried tomatoes and spices on a thin, firm crust. My friend with a dairy allergy was even able to eat this, and she loved it. We all loved it. We squeezed lemon wedges over the dish, and it made it the most refreshing pizza I’ve ever tried.

Oner insisted on offering us dessert on the house, and because we couldn’t decide between tiramisu and Belgian chocolate mousse cake, he brought us one of everything (including, also, a cheesecake and cannoli). “We have coffee, but dessert really should be had with tea,” he said, and out he came with a tray of delicate, flower-painted saucers and an Earl Gray tea that was like no other I’ve ever tasted. As we fought over the tiramisu, Oner showed us videos from his most recent visit home, the farm where he grows grapes, olives, figs and pistachios. His cousin’s 2-year-old spoke to the camera while Oner translated for us. Suddenly, we were guests in Oner’s Kurdish home and not customers in a restaurant on Doyle Ave in the middle of RI.

pie3Oner prides himself in being part of this neighborhood — relying on word of mouth rather than paid advertisement — and he knows his neighbors’ names and treats them with kindness. “This is our community now, and we are happy to be a part of it.”

114 Doyle Ave, PVD, piemontepizzagrill.com, Gluten Free, delivery, and catering are available

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