Modern Classic

There are countless restaurants that tout culinary inspiration from beautiful coastal regions. Pele’s Wood Fire may very well be unique in that it claims heritage and flavor influences from two shores: the tropical and exotic Kauai, Hawaii; and New Jersey, most recently famous for Snooki and JWoww. The two diverse influences come together nicely in a casually chic eatery situated at the busy Riverside junction of Park and King streets.
No, don’t expect to see an interior adorned with flower leis or a tanning bed tucked in the corner. Instead, Pele’s offers a comfortably upscale vibe with lots of black tabletops and accents of burnt red and orange. The restaurant is one large room divided on two levels. A collection of high-top tables near the front lend a pub-like atmosphere, while two rows of deep and comfy booths are better suited for those desiring a little more privacy.
A large bar on the far wall grabs your attention upon entering. Shiny glasses and bottles of wine and liquor are stacked to the ceiling, which in this establishment stretches some 20 feet high. Next to the bar is the open kitchen. Seats are provided in front of a glass partition, treating diners to unobstructed views of the chefs at work. The heart of the kitchen is a pair of wood-burning pizza ovens, regularly fired at approximately 800° F by a combination of oak, hickory and cherry woods. The pasta, bread and pizza dough are made in-house. The pizza dough, in particular, is outstanding.
Thin-crust pizzas are Pele’s signature menu offerings. The Neapolitan-style pies (12 inches is a full-size, the pizzettas are half orders) are equal parts soft, chewy, crisp and crackly. Toppings include tasty usuals like fresh mozzarella, basil, roasted red peppers and black olives. Step outside the pizza box with the piggly pine, $18, topped with slow-roasted Kalua pig, pineapple, mozzarella, fresno chilis, cilantro and olive oil. The salted duck pie is layered with garlic ricotta, basil, Granny Smith apples, balsamic, fontina, goat cheese and pine nuts.
The culinary creativity extends to the appetizer and entrée menus, too. For starters, the whisky smoked shrimp, $12, comes with pickled peppers, oregano, lemon and garlic. The wood-fired limoncello wings, $9, with parmesan and chilis, are an unusual take on a pub standard.
More than a dozen main courses are prepared and range from bucatini and sweet breads, $14, to roast rack of lamb with pasta, spinach, caramelized onions and pine nuts, $38 for 12-oz. cut. The rabbit picatta, $22, is crusted, pounded and seared in brown butter with lemon, capers, artichokes, carrots, parsley and garlic.
Pele's Wood Fire
2665 Park St., Riverside, 232-8545,
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 11 AM-10 PM; Thursday, 11 AM-11 PM; Friday-Saturday, 11 AM-Midnight; Sunday, 11 AM-10 PM
Value Meal: Like many eateries, lunch is the time to get the best bang for your entree buck.
Beer-Thirty: Nearly 30 draught beers are sold, including Rogue Dead Guy, Cigar City Cracker Wit and Bold City Brown. A "beer surfboard" features four, 4-oz draught samples.
Fries With That?: Yes, please. Try the Tuscan fries with tomato sea salt, minced garlic, thyme and pesto mayo—yum! And one order is big enough to share.
Take a Seat: The booths on the upper level easily accommodate four diners, six if you are good friends with your companions. A handful of tables are offered outside, though one might wait until the fall and cooler temps to grab a chair.
Late Night Bites: Fron Thursday-Saturday, diners may order half-price pizzas and happy hour drink specials, 10 PM till closing time.