Downtown Renton seems to have been blown a breath of fresh air, like when a pizzaiola tosses his dough to the sky. And while many Rentonians are still mourning the loss of Armondo's, . Renton attracted Italian-immigrants in the early 1900's, who worked in the coal industry in nearby Newcastle and eventually could afford land downtown.
This is pizza with an 'e'... With six choices from the Regional Italian Pizze's, and five from the Favorite Pizze list. It's enough of a list that I can imagine going back frequently to satisfy my curiosity about their full list of pies and appetizers, as well as the immergence of their wine list once their license is approved.
Am I surprised that Renton Renaissance restaurateur, Gene Sens has something to do with this new food-topia? Maybe not surprised, but reassured. I must give credit where credit is due to co-owner, David Graves for taking a great trip to Sicily and returning the favor to us all.
David and his wife have joined the selfless vocation of the food industry, open Monday through Saturday, with Sunday as a day of rest. Their commendably creamy house-made ricotta takes "45 hours" to make, said our server when asked. Other things to love are the locavore use of vegetables grown by Whistling Train Farms in Kent, and flour grown and milled by Shepherd's Grain in Eastern Washington.
A must-have off SM's menu is Crispy Cauliflower, which is far more addictive than it sounds. Think of a basket of cauliflower beignet's with a well of caper aioli ($9). If the Monkey had a happy hour with this and Cocchi Americano, you couldn't get me off its back.
The Speck primi has lovely parts, and a major foil. Honeycrisp apples, hazelnuts, splashed honey, fontina cubes play well together. Delicious Tyrolian ham has the juniper flavor I love, but came attached with a string of rind that should have been trimmed rather than served as an inedible ribbon.
Smoking Monkey is already adapting to the sticker-shock of $20 pizzas by offering one-quarter-pizze-slice servings of their Margherita and The Norton (San Marzanos, mozz + pepperoni). This means two sizeable floppy slices are yours for under $5. These two pies rotate in a pizza warmer oven and are generally ready to be boxed for you to go, or for instant in-house gratification. So we started off with the litmus test of pizzas, a quarter Margherita ($4.57) and were pleased with the salt-licked tomato sauce, lily-white ponds of mozzarella, and burnished crust.
Adventurous eaters better man up to a Sficiuono: a shot of anchovy, briny caper buds, slender artichoke petals, melted caciaovallo and bread crumbs top one of the Northwest's most originally authentic pizzas ($20). Normally this many toppings would have me worried, but it's artfully put together and not overdone in the least. Smoking Monkey has managed to capture the true essence of this ancient dish, which calls for sparing use of all the ingredients in a way where the flavors become harmonious.
Their special, a Bellagusto calzone ($14), was filled with their house-made ricotta, roasted pork, spinach, and bits of preserved lemons, served with thicker marinara-type sauce on the side. This dish is hearty, and easily shared between four diners. But what caught my eye was the Stromboli ($12) fanned in a circle at a neighboring table. I'm coming back to try that and the Kale Salad ($7) with pecorino, red pepper flakes, and bread crumbs. The Pear Salad ($9) was generous, but less memorable.
Kids can twirl their forks around Spaghetti with Meatballs ($12), and adults can whet their whistle with a spunkily tart Hand-Squeezed Lemonade ($3) until their liquor license is approved for beers on tap, and Southern Italian wine selections. Speaking of lemon, we snagged the last piece of their Seasonal Tart ($6), which was sprinkled with confectioners sugar and sided with pomegranate molasses. Scoops of locally made Gelatiamo Chocolate and Ginger Gelato ($3) sent us out the door on a sweet and spicy note. I can only hope that they'll serve frosty sips of limoncello to really transport us to Sicily...