To purchase photos visit http://photos.newtownbee.com×

Papa Al’s A Family Business Is A Family Favorite

Published: January 8, 2016

NANCY CREVIER

    Papa Al’s

    A Family Business Is A Family Favorite

    Twenty years ago, “Papa Al†Selmani opened his San Remo Pizza & Restaurant in Woodbury and began delighting customers in the area with his pizza, sub, and pasta creations. He has since left that business behind him, but luckily for Newtown diners, Papa Al shared his secrets for great food with his two sons, Bekim and Ferzi Selmani, and his nephew Fiat Coma, who have transported the recipes to their own establishment in Hawleyville Plaza.

    Opened in March 2010, Papa Al’s Pizza, Pasta, and Subs “is not just another pizzeria,†said Bekim Selmani of the 24-seat restaurant that occupies the corner unit at 23 Barnabas Road, in the same plaza as the new Hawleyville Post Office. The three cousins, who worked together for many years at San Remo for Papa Al, take great pride in the dozens of New York-style, thin-crusted gourmet pizzas, specialty sub sandwiches, calzones, pasta, and chicken dishes turned out in the open kitchen that is dominated by a large brick oven. “Everything is hands-on for us,†said Bekim, and care is taken that every order, whether for those dining in or for those taken away, is prepared just right.

    Diners can opt for full-service, sit-down dining, or call ahead for takeout orders. Drop-ins will welcome the large selection of cold drinks in the three-door cooler, and the choice of purchasing just one piece of pizza at a time. Desserts, including a tiramisu and an ultracreamy rice pudding fragrant with vanilla bean, both made on premises, provide great temptation, displayed in a tall cooler adjacent to the pickup window.

    The pickup window offers a view into the busy kitchen, where the three men and their staff — made up of many local teenagers — skillfully put together orders, and pull pizzas, calzones, loaves of homemade Italian bread, and herb and olive oil-drenched garlic knots from the oven. Over the pickup window, a mural by Waterbury artist Annette Dostaler depicts a serene Italian village of hills rambling down to a deep blue lake. Walls rag-painted a soft, squash color above a cherrywood wainscoting that frames three sides of the room create the feel of a trattoria, and a warm and inviting atmosphere “like home.†In the evening, the glow of simple pendant lighting in the window beckons to those passing by.

    At Papa Al’s, said Bekim, they provide high quality and interesting menu items that appeal to business people, travelers (who find the location to be convenient to Exit 9 off of I-84), and especially to families. “We have prices that work for families, especially in this economy,†said Bekim, “and lots of choices for everyone.†Look for discount coupons for Papa Al’s on the back of Newtown Big Y receipts, as well, for further savings.

    Seated at one of nine wooden tables in comfortable leather-cushioned chairs, customers will want to take their time perusing the extensive menu. Light eaters may enjoy the pasta fagioli or soup du jour, made on site each day, accompanied by one of eight salads. The Caesar salad can be topped with grilled chicken, and the house salad offers the option of grilled chicken, gorgonzola cheese, or a scoop of tuna salad. Mozzarella Caprese is a classic combination of fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, fresh basil, and an olive oil/balsamic vinegar glaze.

    Satisfy a bigger appetite with a sandwich on foccacia bread baked on site and grilled on a panini press, served with fries or a cup of soup. The Roma foccacia echoes the mozzarella Caprese salad, and is one of the most popular, said Bekim, although close behind it is the grilled chicken bella with grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, and roasted red peppers. The Philly steak sandwich made with sliced rib eye steak and mozzarella is Papa Al’s version of the Pennsylvania standby. Order it in a choice of a whole wheat or sundried tomato wrap or in panini, a house-made grilled pita, or fill the breads with any of six other options.

    It is the specialty subs and pizzas that reign at Papa Al’s, though, said Bekim. Sixteen different specialty subs and another half-dozen hot Parmigiana subs give customers plenty from which to choose. The chicken Marsala and the Buffalo chicken finger subs have found a big fan base, said the owners.

    Also with a large following is the Pink Panther pizza, one of 20 gourmet pizzas. “People laugh at its name,†said Bekim, of the pizza topped with penne ala vodka and mozzarella, “but when they taste it, they say it is the best pizza they’ve ever had.â€

    The trio is proud to offer seven white pizzas that stand out from other white pizzas in the area. Most are coated with a layer of creamy ricotta cheese before the specialty topping is added. The Florentine white pizza is ricotta topped with garlic, spinach and spices, while the Primavera is ricotta topped with garlic and broccoli.

    Not on the menu, but available upon request, is a gluten-free pizza with a choice of toppings.

    The hungriest of diners will revel in the selection of main dishes that include chicken and eggplant parmigiana, jumbo stuffed shells, baked ziti Siciliana, or any of 18 other pasta dishes. Chicken Francaise and chicken Marsala have been well received by Papa Al’s diners. Calamari and shrimp marinara or fra diavolo, shrimp and broccoli Alfredo, and baby clam sauce (red or white) are also favorites. All of the entrees come with house-baked bread, and salad or cup of soup. The portions are generous, so smaller lunchtime portions are available for $3 less than menu prices, between 11 am and 3 pm.

    Children 10 years and younger can choose from the kids’ menu. A simple topping of butter or tomato sauce on a choice of pasta or ravioli is perfect for the picky eater.

    Whether a fortunate traveler exiting the highway, or a neighborhood regular, the Selmani/Coma family is there to provide a great dining experience, said Bekim. “We’re a step above a joint on the corner,†he said.

    Papa Al’s Pizza, Pasta, and Subs is at 23 Barnabas Road in Hawleyville Plaza, just off Exit 9 of I-84 and Route 25. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 9:30 pm; Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 10 pm; and Sunday from noon to 9 pm. The full menu is available at all times. Papa Al’s offers off-site catering. For takeout call 203-426-2323. For more information or to view the entire menu, visit papaalspizza.com.