Pizza just part of the pie at adventurous Ricciuti's


Ricciuti's Brick Oven Pizza isn't just for pizza lovers anymore.

In the four years since the restaurant opened in Hickory Ridge Village Center, Ricciuti's has expanded its menu to include gazpacho, grilled salmon, spinach lasagna and other Italian dishes.

"Pizza is only one-third of our sales," said James Ricciuti, who owns the Columbia restaurant with his wife, Amy, and partner Adam Harman.

True, when you come into the cheery restaurant with its warm yellow walls and forest-green trim your eye is drawn to the fiery glow of the pizza oven behind the counter.

But open the menu and you'll find more choices than pepperoni or cheese. Ricciuti boasts of its salads and homemade dressing -- which it sells by the bottle -- its focaccia, which is made in-house, a rich tiramisu, and a beer and wine list.

Each week brings a new round of specials, such as crab cake served on grilled polenta with tomato sauce.

"We had a lot of pizza and salad in the beginning. Now we have more entrees," Ricciuti said.

The Columbia location is Ricciuti's second restaurant. The original is in Olney, where Ricciuti has been serving pizza and Italian food for eight years.

Four years ago, Ricciuti decided to expand the business. "We were looking for a second location and we had a good space in the shopping center."

The Columbia location seats 65 and draws a brisk lunch crowd from area businesses. Plastic green tablecloths impart a casual atmosphere, and the staff is happy to offer recommendations on the day's menu.

Because of the lunch business, half-orders and salad combinations are popular choices, Ricciuti said.

And many of Ricciuti's specialties, such as the salad dressing and cannoli, are based on recipes handed down in an Italian family that loved to cook, Ricciuti said. "We grew up around food."

Ricciuti's restaurant career started 19 years ago as a busboy when he was 14. He majored in criminal justice at the University of Maryland, but he opted to make an arresting cannoli rather than arresting crooks.

In 1992, he and his wife opened their first restaurant in Laytonsville. Then they moved to Olney, where they opened Ricciuti's Brick Oven Pizza.

Ricciuti said he is continuing to work on the menu, getting ideas from magazines, other restaurants and a consultant.

With Harman in charge of the Columbia restaurant, Ricciuti spends most of his time in the Olney location, helping in the kitchen. Although he is the owner, he isn't above clearing tables as he used to. "I still do a little of that, too," he said.

Ricciuti's Brick Oven Pizza

Where: 6420 Freetown Road, Hickory Ridge Village Center, Columbia; 410-531-0250.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

Prices: Appetizers, $3.25 to $7.50; entrees, $6.50 to $15.95.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover.

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