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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Giuseppi's Pizza & Pasta

Vast menu goes for it all

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Giuseppi's Pizza & Pasta
Italian

Entrées: $5-$10
1440 Ben Sawyer Blvd.
Mt. Pleasant
856-2525

Walking in the door of Giuseppi's in Mt. Pleasant, you see the unmistakable signs. Stacks of T-shirts and bins of hats for sale at the cashier's stand let you know in no uncertain terms that, yes, Giuseppi's is a chain. After more than 20 years in Hilton Head, Giuseppi's makes the move to Mount Pleasant (among other places).

It's an agreeable-looking chain, too. The place strikes a pleasant ambience, with large booths, a Pittsburgh Steelers sports theme, and a half-dozen plasma screens showing sports, of course. While the 15-stool bar is staffed by older-looking guys, the floor is run by a team of attractive young women. No news in Charleston restaurants, that. There's a bunch of good beer on tap, a short, serviceable wine list of mainstream standards, and a bunch of bottles of beer, too. Everything looks thumbs up as one settles in to look at the menu.

Get comfortable while you look at that menu, because it's going to take you a while to get through it. The document is divided into no fewer than 10 sections, including Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Wings, 'Boli's (calzone), Weggies, Subs, Philly Cheesesteaks, Wraps, Hoagies, Pizza, Pasta and Oven Baked Pasta, and, finally, Partridges in Pear Trees. (Kidding. I kid.) The effort to provide something for everyone here is a heroic one. The problem is that it seems like they've succeeded in providing nothing for everyone.

Many of the dishes we sampled were in one way or another deficient. The "Haranchenero" chicken wings (10 for $5.95) were described by our server as a mixture of habañero and ranch, but proved to be sauceless wings with a faint trace of spiciness and a cup of ranch dressing on the side. Sigh. The "Doughydillia" ($6.50) was indeed a quesadilla-like item, the disk of dough folded in half and filled with barbecue sauce, chicken, bacon, and onions -- basically, a BBQ pizza calzone. Garlic tomato cheese toasts ($4.50) were placed on the table sans tomatoes. Our server muttered something about how someone in the back was cutting tomatoes, so that's why they didn't put them on the toasts, but that if we wanted them, she could get them for us. We handed her the plate and told her to go get the toms, which she did. The result was a fairly pedestrian batch of cheese toasts topped with raw tomatoes.

With the cheese toasts, we started noticing an annoyance: charges for "extras." Lots of things cost extra at Giuseppi's. Marinara sauce with your cheese toasts? Fifty cents. Fries instead of chips? Dollar fifty. Onion rings instead of fries? Add a quarter (which is adding a dollar and a half and then adding the quarter from the chips). Extra veggie on salad? Fifty cents. Add Cheese Whiz to your Philly? A quarter. (Note: regular cheeses like Swiss are included -- the only cheese upcharge is for Cheese Whiz.) Add a salad? $1.99. Substitute a salad? $1.50. Ad infinitum.

Rounding out appetizers was a very pedestrian house side salad ($2.75), consisting of iceberg, a ring or two of onion, a wintry cherry tomato, shredded pizza cheese, and a plastic cup of the ordered Italian dressing. Nothing to write home about, but no bad surprises, either

We ordered a ludicrous amount of dinner, the better to order from each section of the menu, and covered a lot of ground. Results were mixed at best. The pizza received a universal thumbs down from all four of us at the table. Our thin-crust "Special" (a 12-inch Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and olives for $14.95) arrived with the meat browned and sizzling, and the large chunks of veggies all virtually raw. These veggies also seemed to be added after the cheese, meaning the crunchy, crispy things tumbled off the pie the instant one picked up a slice.

Spaghetti and meatballs (Large, $7.95, plus $0.50 per meatball) was OK. The meatballs were, well, fine. Not really big, not especially tender, not very heavily seasoned or distinctively textured -- just regular old meatballs. The sauce brought comments of "Hunt's," and "reminds me of my middle school lunchroom." Take from that what you will. The unfortunately-named "Weggie" was the hit of the table -- a strange hybrid of a calzone and sandwich, the sandwich is a thin pizza crust, stuffed with cheese and meats (in this example, ham and pepperoni, the "Original," $7.25). This crust is folded in half, baked, then removed from the oven and stuffed further with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and ranch dressing. It is a tasty, messy, drippy delight. The spinach ravioli in alfredo sauce ($5.95, small, $8.95 large) was so bland, gluey, and flavorless that it hardly bears mentioning.

As insane as it sounds, we ordered dessert. Our server confided that no, they don't make all the desserts in house, but that they are made to their specifications by others. Ahh, honesty. We passed on cheesecake, the vanilla sundae ("add ice cream, $1!"), and Key Lime pie and ordered up one "chocolate cobbler," mostly because we just had to know, and four spoons. It seems chocolate cobbler resembles nothing so much as partially cooked brownie batter, grainy sugar and all intact. Of the four of us, two stopped at two bites, one stopped after four, and one basically finished the thing, to the derision of the other three.

It seems when a restaurant tries to be all things to all people, it loses its way, and I feel that's what's happening here. Giuseppi's is a franchise, though, so that means that more than a few people have decided that the place is fine by them. You're going to have to decide foryourself.

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