The light briny-sweet baked clams I'm eating would be impressive enough at a costly Italian restaurant; hard to believe they came out of the kitchen of a pizzeria.
But La Casa Pizza manages to be more than it appears. In fact, the offshoot of the long-standing La Casa Cafe at Northport's Crab Meadow Beach outdoes the mother ship when it comes to culinary legerdemain.
Here, you order at the counter and your food will be brought to you - sometimes, in no particular order. It may be plated on paper or regular dinnerware. I see it as an adventure in good eating rather than gracious dining.
While the older La Casa on the beach won't serve you its fine Neapolitan pizza in its dining room (pizza can only be bought at an outdoor counter, to be eaten in the shade of a portico), here, you can enjoy the drippy, cheesy goodness in air-conditioned comfort.
I'm a fan of the crunchy-crusted focaccia pie, the square slices topped with a sprightly combo of tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. A real surprise is how successful a slice of chicken ranch pizza (poultry pieces, bacon and ranch dressing) turns out to be.
Clams seem to be a forte of chef Darrin Alvino; he sends forth an exemplary linguine with white clam sauce, made with whole and chopped little necks. I'm truly taken aback by the spicy and savory jambalaya pasta (al dente linguine with lots of sauteed shrimp, chicken, onions, peppers). Sauteed chicken in a fragrant rosemary sauce (a tad too much sauce, perhaps) combines with sausage, potatoes and mushrooms in the flavor-intense chicken Contadina.
A real standout is the juicy chargrilled half-pound burger, served on ciabatta from the pizza oven.
Finish with house-made zeppole and you're at a street festival in Little Italy.
Rice balls are lukewarm, unexciting. And the "Northport" chicken panino (fried chicken, broccoli rabe, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, red onion and mayo) is undermined by leaden cutlets. Fries are the humdrum pre-frozen variety.
Satisfying and sometimes surprising.