Restaurant review

Grotto Pizza brings a slice of beach dining to Columbia

For Howard Magazine
With free popcorn, a gelato counter and balloons for kids, Grotto Pizza a great dining option for a family.

Grotto Pizza has come a long way since its beach beginnings in 1960.

Over the years, the former takeout stand in Rehoboth Beach, Del., has expanded into a full-service restaurant with almost two dozen locations throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The recently opened Grotto Pizza in Columbia follows two locations in Ocean City and another in Gambrills in our state. But one thing never changes — the restaurant’s buttery crust, thick tomato sauce and fresh toppings.

Over the years, the menu has expanded to include paninis, burgers, subs, calzones, gelato and more.

The new Grotto Pizza off Broken Land Parkway isn’t just for beach babes and surfer dudes. It welcomes suburbanites with balloons for the kids, free popcorn and a bar with its own entrance. There’s a gelato counter in the front of the restaurant if you just want to stop by for a cold treat.

We were seated at a comfortable banquette in the front dining room with several TVs silently tuned to sports events. Other tables were filled with singles, couples and families.

Our waiter, as eager as a bounding pup, did an admirable job, though we suspect waiting on tables isn’t a career goal. He was quick to take our order but often forgot to clear dishes as we ate other courses.

If you feel like a drink, adult beverages include draft, craft, bottled and canned beers, including Natty Boh. House and premium wines are also available.

We were there for pizza just like everyone else. We appreciate that you can order a personal, regular or large pie with all manner of toppings — or just a slice.

We settled on a 9-inch, four-slice junior pizza with pepperoni, sausage, banana peppers and extra cheese. The crust was pleasantly chewy and the toppings flavorful.

Before our pizza arrived, we started our meal with an appetizer combo — boneless wings, onion rings, fried mozzarella sticks and broccoli bites — that was heavier on the breading than what was inside.

A better option is the antipasto salad platter. It was laden with genoa salami, pepper ham, pepperoni, Provolone cheese, tomatoes, black olives and more on a mix of crunchy salad greens. It was 220 calories for two servings, compared with the fried combo’s 490 calories for four servings.

If you’re a stickler for calorie counts, Grotto has you covered. Each item includes the number of calories.

We also enjoyed an Italian panini with capicola, Italian ham, pepperoni, tomato, extra sharp cheddar cheese and basil olive oil. The warm pressed sandwich was very good.

Our waiter recited the desserts: several flavors of gelato and a brownie sundae. He recommended the biscotti gelato, explaining that it was like a “cookie dough” version.

We liked its rich flavor. We ordered a small, not realizing it was the kids’ size, complete with a miniature upside-down cone on top, reprising a clown look. We didn’t mind.

The sundae starred a warm, thick brownie with two scoops of vanilla gelato, three clouds of whipped cream and a stemmed cherry on top. We’re glad our server didn’t give us the calorie count.

At a time when pizzerias are so prevalent in our area, Grotto Pizza meets a need by offering enough menu choices for everyone in the family. The free popcorn is a bonus.

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Grotto Pizza

7075 Minstrel Way, Columbia

The vibe: Grotto Pizza is like any other family-friendly restaurant — it can get noisy. The dining rooms are comfortable with booths and individual tables. It has booster seats and highchairs for infants and toddlers.

You’ll fit in wearing: Casual clothes.

Don’t miss: The signature pies. The restaurant, founded in 1960, only sold pizza in the beginning.

Best for kids: The kids’ offerings include a slice of cheese pizza for $3, chicken tenders for $5.99 with fries or applesauce, and spaghetti and meatballs for $4.99. On our visit, the little ones were given free balloons before being seated.

Reservations: Accepts reservations except on weekends.

Price range: Appetizers, $3.99 to $13.99; pizzas, $12.99 to $15.99 plus toppings, $2.50 to $3.20 each; specialty pizzas, $13.99 to $23.99; sandwiches and burgers, $7.99 to $11.99.