5143 Montgomery Road
Not to be confused with Sorrento’s Restaurant & Lounge on Reading Road, Sorrento’s Pizzeria is owned and operated by the de Luca family and has been a Norwood landmark for over half a century. The restaurant suffered a huge blow a few years ago when it was nearly destroyed by fire, followed by the deaths of patriarch Enrico and son Willie, but the family vowed to reopen, and did so in June of 2007.
The restaurant has won numerous awards for their pizzas, based no doubt on the superb, homemade crusts and distinctive pizza sauce that “Mama” de Luca makes from scratch daily. It is a recipe for success that has served the family-run restaurant well, and when friends invited us to Sorrento’s for a birthday get-together recently, we could hardly wait to try it out.
I’m sorry to say that I wish I hadn’t, and nearly didn’t write about my experience because I hate having to knock a locally owned and operated business. The family has put their heart and soul into the restaurant and are obviously doing something right or they wouldn’t have survived for over 50 years. I will say that non-vegetarians will have no problem whatsoever with Sorrento’s, and if I was a carnivore would probably agree with their fans (who include Pete Rose and former U.C. Bearcat coach Bob Huggins) that theirs is some of the best pizza in town.
The problem is, unfortunately, that the restaurant doesn’t seem to know how to handle those with dietary restrictions. In our group there was one vegetarian (me) and one lactose-intolerant individual, and unfortunately the kitchen just couldn’t deal properly with either of us. We were both very clear about our specific needs with the server, but somehow the information either didn’t get passed on to the kitchen, or the kitchen didn’t bother to actually read and heed the requests.
Most of our group ordered pizza, since that is what the restaurant is famous for, but I thought I’d give their manicotti a try. The meal comes with salad and garlic bread, and my first surprise of the evening was being served a salad laden with sliced pepperoni, which I had to send back. The server was very apologetic and swiftly brought out a new, meatless one.
Our lactose-intolerant friend specifically ordered a cheese-less pizza, which the server dutifully jotted down, but when the pizza came out it was covered with cheese and had to be sent back. Likewise, when I asked the server if the marinara sauce used in the spaghetti, manicotti and ravioli was vegetarian or meat-based she assured me that the sauce was vegetarian. So imagine my surprise when, after two-thirds of our group had gotten their meals, the server came over to me and said, “I’m afraid to bring out your manicotti because it’s ‘chunky’.” I said, “Is it chunky with tomatoes or chunky with meat?” and she said, “I think it’s chunky with meat. It looks like maybe a meatball or two got broken up into it.” At least she was honest about it, and suggested that perhaps I might like to order a pizza instead. I asked about the pizza sauce and was assured that there was no meat in it, but she couldn’t answer my question about whether or not the sauce had non-vegetarian stock in it, possibly because the recipe is a family secret.
I felt it was best to err on the side of caution and order a pizza without sauce. So while everyone else in our group enjoyed their food, my lactose-intolerant friend and I sat and waited for our cheese-less, sauce-less pizzas. When our orders finally arrived nearly half an hour later, his was cheese-less but mine had a thin layer of sauce on it. I felt like giving up.
I know I should have sent it back, but I didn’t want to wait any longer to eat. Everyone else in our group was finished with their meals by the time my pizza arrived, and I couldn't fathom waiting yet another 30 minutes, so I ate some of it. Not a lot – only a couple of pieces, but it was enough to cause me a great deal of grief when my churning gut woke me in the wee hours of the morning. I won’t go into detail – suffice to say it felt as though I had stinging nettles in my stomach, and someone was trying to wring them out like a sponge. Not fun. I was sick nearly all day, which leads me to believe that the sauce at Sorrento’s is NOT vegetarian and should be avoided.
As much as I’d like to be able to recommend something from Sorrento’s menu for vegetarians, I cannot in good faith do it after my experience. Simple requests were overlooked or went unheeded, the wait staff couldn’t answer simple questions about the sauce, and a lot of food was wasted as a result. It’s no wonder their prices are higher than similar Italian restaurants in the area; they need to mark up the difference for the kitchen’s various mistakes.