Open Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 11:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon to 1:30 a.m.; Sunday, 4 to 11:30 p.m. MC, AE.
Food: Outstanding pizza; good supporting cast
STyle: Italian cafe
Price: Main courses average $3
IN A MIEXED-MEDIA ART EXHIBIT of mozzarella, leafy greens and cherry tomatoes, Geppetto would be a show stopper. A cold-cut submarine arrives stunningly arranged, its meats rolled and alternated with slivers of green peppers and red pimiento. Sandwiches are garnished with a flurry of curly greens, olives in two colors, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers. A sprinkle of chopped parsley here, a carefully positioned melon slice there. The food at Geppetto looks too pretty to eat and smells too good not to.
This Italian cafe has a small menu - five appetizers, six sandwiches, one or two daily specials, pizza, salads and desserts - and the kitchen is rumored to be even smaller. Yet, from bread to pie, everything but the pasta is made in the kitchen - with considerable success.
Pizza.Nearly everyone orders pizza. Since it is the thick-crusted Sicilian sort, it takes twenty to twenty-five minutes to bake, but don't begrudge the time. The product is grand, its crust crunchy from a dusting of cornmeal, yeasty and chewy. The sauce combines bits of tomato with thick puree, powerfully scented with herbs. And the cheese is laid on heavily, reluctantly separating into long strands as you cut it. Costing $3.25 to $5.95 plain, the pizza prices climb steeply with each garnish - fennel-studded sausage, fresh mushrooms and such. But even the ultimate combination, at $10.95, is not expensive, considering that four people could have difficulty finishing it.
But pizza is not all. While you wait for it, you could nibble at eggplant stuffed with anchovies, olives, tomatoes and a torrent of garlic. Or mushrooms packed with creamy cheese and crusted with chopped mushrooms. Instead of pizza, you could have a sandwich served open face to display to cook's artistry; besides cold cuts, there are hot ham or tuna sandwiches, cheese-covered or cream-sauced. Or try the cook's sculptural talent in a lightly breaded, deep-fried sandwich of bread hollowed into a boat and filled with creamy cheese filling studded with chopped prosciutto and parsley, layered with eggplant. Hot and crisp, oozing when cut, it needs only one improvement; a more generous hand with the eggplant.
Salads, as you might guess by now, are pretty. And, like the other dishes, are seasoned so robustly that, with a strong guest of wind in the right direction, they could bring the hungry in from Fairfax. You don't have to be Italian, but you do have to like mustard and garlic and olive oil.
Though the breads are said to be made in the house, the sandwich rolls grow flabby, and Sunday, relying on Saturday's bread, shows cold sandwiches to disadvantage. But any day, see fit to order Geppetto's sweet egg bread, which is slightly too sweet for dinner and not quite sweet enough for dessert, but so fragrant with yeast and egg, pleasantly rough-textured and homey, that surely you can find some use for it. And, if you are looking for a beverage other than wine (though the house wines are well chosen) or coffee (the espresso is more successful than the cappuccino), try an un-Italian but nevertheless welcome old-fashioned cooler, birch beer.
At Geppetto, desserts are hardly an afterthought.The fluffy ricotta pie is crunchy with bits of chocolate and nuts on top and a crumb crust on the bottom, just the dessert if you have always wished Italian pastries were less sweet. This one is light in texture and far from cloying. If you want something even lighter, the fruit plate is a carefully arranged geometric pattern of melon with strawberries which have been marinated in wine. It is something to remember the next time a restaurant tries to pawn off a dish of canned fruit cocktail.
So Geppetto is more than a pizza parlor, though it does very well by its pizza. No other local pizza parlor has the Alpine charm of heavily textured stucco and half timbers, fresh flowers and plants, a brick fireplace and cuckoo clocks that chirp on the quarter-hour. The Pinocchio theme is, thank goodness, understated, limited to a few puppets and to waitresses as solicitous as fairy godmothers. The soft rock music in the background manages not to intrude. The prices - sandwiches about $2 to $3, daily special platters and main dish salads about $3, appetizers and desserts between $1.50 and $2 - mean that a light meal need not cost more than $5, and if that legendary whale had gorged himself $10 worth, he wouldn't have been hungry for Geppetto.