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CONWAY -- The latest addition to downtown Conway’s growing restaurant scene is Pia’s, a small Italian place in an unassuming storefront at 915 Front St.
Unlike the grander Mike’s Place down the street or the more established Oak Street Bistro nearby, Pia’s hasn’t so far decided to get into the private-club alcohol permit battle. So it’s all up to the food to draw people in.
Judging from our visit, it should do OK.
We started with orders of bruschetta ($5.25) and ravioli fritti ($4.95). The bruschetta theoretically could change every day, but our waiter told us it’s usually prepared the way we got ours — with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and mozzarella. We couldn’t find a reason to quarrel with it, but our group definitely preferred the fried ravioli. It’s never been a favorite of ours — there always seems to be too much “fried” and not enough ravioli — but Pia’s version won us over, with a light batter that didn’t overwhelm the cheese and pasta inside.
Entrees come with soup or salad, and two of us chose the soup — that day, asiago cheese. It was rich and smooth, with bits of ham for flavor.
Pia’s has a wide range of entree choices for a restaurant of its size — more than a dozen, plus another six sandwich options.
The four in our group went with fettuccini Alfredo with chicken ($7.45, plus $2.50 for the added chicken); ravioli Florentine, a three-cheese-and-spinach concoction in Alfredo sauce ($8.25); Pia’s Special Ravioli, large squares striped like the Italian flag and filled with mascarpone and ricotta, topped with marinara ($12.95), and the pasta primavera ($8.75).
We’ll start with the bad news. The fettuccini part of the fettuccini Alfredo was fine, our diner reported, but the chicken breast — served whole on top of the pasta — was so overcooked on one side it was difficult to cut through, and dry.
But things looked up from there. The ravioli Florentine is a fantastic combination, full of flavor. We liked that pasta better than the Pia’s Special, which, don’t get us wrong, we were perfectly happy with until we tried the Florentine. However, Pia’s marinara sauce was such a hit that the member of our party who ordered the Florentine asked for a side of marinara to take home with her leftovers. It’s a light, chunky red sauce, distinctly sweet, and we’d recommend ordering anything that comes with it.
The primavera — penne with sauteed veggies — also drew praise for its light basil pesto sauce.
Other entree choices include lobster ravioli, lasagna, manicotti, cannelloni and Portobello mushroom steaks. But if we ever make it back, we’ll be tempted to order the Speciale de Pia sandwich: prosciutto, roasted red peppers, provolone and veggies with pesto mayo.
Pia’s is a family-friendly place, too. There’s a separate kids’ menu, but you can also order the Family Pasta — $23.95 for enough pasta, bread and salad to feed four people.
Desserts change daily, and on our visit were limited to three cheesecakes: mocha, Irish cream and chocolate. We got one of each, and all were creamy and delicious — especially, in our opinion, the mocha. Worth every calorie.
915 Front St.
You can’t go wrong with anything that comes with marinara sauce. Pia’s version is light, sweet and chunky.
11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
Moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.