A Night at Neena’s Pizzeria: A Review


Jake Hall, Writer, Assistant Editor

There is not a single drop of Mediterranean in my blood. Assuming 23andMe aren’t liars, I am Scots-Irish through and through. However, that hasn’t stopped me from making Italian food the brunt of my diet, for better or for worse. Thanks to an influx of Italian immigrants across the decades, Italian cuisine has found its place in every corner of the country. Nonetheless, not every eggplant parmigiana is created equal. As a connoisseur of cannoli and carbonara myself, I am constantly in search of better and better Italian restaurants, a journey which has led me to dingy backrooms off interstates and glitzy white tablecloth ristorantes. This eternal expedition has most recently led me to Neena’s Pizzeria, a dainty spot which offers more than meets the eye.

Like most Italian-American locales, Neena’s finds itself between hovel and haute. I’d parry to say Neena’s is actually nicer than the average Italian dive. The restaurant is clean, and the booths aren’t falling apart. They even have a 90 on their health inspection. So far, this place is above average. Now that doesn’t mean Neena’s is above stereotype however—the walls are painted in Red and Green pulled straight from the Italian flag. Indiscriminately aged art nouveau posters advertising wine are hung on every wall. And of course, no Italian-American restaurants would be properly furnished without a picture of Frank Sinatra above the kitchen door. So, a typical Italian place, just a little cleaner.

The place is welcoming, if not downright comfortable- which would explain the bleary-eyed parents languishing in booths while their children giggle and munch. Team pictures from softball seasons long past fit in well among the tired moms milling over their day with a glass (or two). Coming here on a Tuesday evening might not be the best idea if you want peace and quiet. But who eats out on a Tuesday expecting a quiet meal?

We were seated between a vin santo poster and the dessert cabinet, which had been stacked full of sweets that threatened both my health and my wallet. Before long, our waiter took drink orders and dropped a basket of bread on the table. Rolls are probably the best indicator of how good a restaurant is. If they’ve put effort into something complimentary, they’re going to put effort into everything else. Neena’s rolls had been prepared with effort, along with more than enough butter and garlic.

Multitasking between taking notes and picking out an entrée from the expansive menu proved difficult. The sprawling menu presents a litany of options. Salads and soups, fifteen different subs made to your liking. Chicken options from Florentine to Francese. Pizza done twenty different ways, pasta procured in all sorts of sauces, and a surprising amount of Pesce this far from the sea. The lengthy menu was unexpected. This place is more than a grease trap offering only wings and pizza.

Our first dish was eggplant rollatini as an appetizer. The only other options were deepfried mushrooms or pickles, or ravioli, or calamari or…you get the idea. Besides the bruschetta, the rollatini is the only thing I’d recommend as an appetizer. Rollatini is a thinly cut then fried vegetable stuffed with ricotta and tomato sauce. Neena’s rendition contained quite a lot of ricotta, which spilled out with a single bite. Normally I’m not a fan of ricotta outside cannoli, but Neena’s must have made theirs in store. The ricotta was fresh, and despite it being the main component of the eggplant rollatini, I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. Definitely a cheese lover’s dish, but don’t let that dissuade you, the eggplant hadn’t been ignored. It wasn’t overfried and kept a strong texture with its flavorful garlic breading.

The ricotta was fresh, and so was the side salad I got not long after. Every entrée came with one. It wasn’t much but it was fresh and presented on an actual salad plate- which was another surprise. A peppery vinaigrette accompanied it.

Next came a heaping dish of Zuppa de Pesce. The menu describes the meal as an “Array of shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams in a red wine marinara or white wine cream sauce over linguini.” I would call it more than an array. A helping of red sauce smothered the linguini, over which a ring of seafood lay. The linguini was tender and hadn’t been skimped out on. The same applied to the sauce- fresh, tasty. On the other hand, the seafood might not have been the freshest. The shrimp was a little tough and the clams were rather paltry. Regardless, it could satisfy a seafood craving.

My friend’s medium calzone however, proved more than enough to satisfy a craving. The thing was absolutely gigantic. I think a large might cover the table. The dish was only mozzarella and ricotta, but that proved plenty. Both fillings were fresh and overwhelmingly tasty when put inside of buttery garlic bread. So far, I had been eating meager amounts of what we had ordered, but I admit, I had an extra bite or two of that calzone. To be honest, the accompanying tomato sauce wasn’t entirely needed, especially since it was rather watery and lacking in taste. Well, besides a strange alkaline streak down the middle of my tongue.

No review of an Italian place would be complete without a slice of pizza. So in between hasty notes and a million other dishes- a pizza descended. We had originally ordered only two slices, but since closing time was coming, they were out of single slices. Instead, they gave us a whole small pizza. Though we later found out they only charged us for two slices. This kind gesture is a testimony to Neena’s, whose devotion goes beyond the customer and to the employees. After eating, I spoke to David, the cook who made our pizza. He gruffly informed me that he’s been working here for “Nine years.” He had worked up from busboy to cook. “Easy money” was his reply as to why he’s stayed put for so long. I couldn’t tell what was sweat and what was grease on his forehead, which would explain the curt answers. Call me privileged, but I don’t think someone would toss pizza at the same place for so long without some sort of connection. I don’t know what goes on in Neena’s kitchen, but they must be doing something right.

They’re especially doing their pizza right. Advertised as New York style, the pizza is firm and doesn’t collapse into a great pool like other Big Apple inspired pies. The crunchy crust gives way to pillowy bread that is balanced with a delectable sauce and fresh mozzarella. It’s basic but serves well as a benchmark for other pizzas

No Italian place is complete without a list of desserts that reads more like a proclamation than a menu. Somehow our server was able to recount all the opulent options. Tiramisu, White Chocolate Raspberry Cake, Cheesecake sliced and served a million ways (Chocolate, Raspberry, Strawberry, Plain…) along with cannoli, Italian ice, and the most interesting- Swiss Roll Cake.

Here in the U.S. ‘swiss roll’ evokes images of junk food aisles and rising rates of obesity, but Lil’ Debbie had to get their idea from somewhere. The swiss roll actually dates back to 1850s England, where the term was used in an ad for a Birmingham baker. In Sicily there is a similar confection called rollo. All this is to say, a swiss roll can be a lot more than heart inducing junk.

Neena’s swiss roll, then, had potential. Unfortunately, it was a little disappointing. The chocolate cake portion tasted like a store bought mix- entirely lacking in everything but sugar. However, the next bite salvaged things. The cream in the roll was incredibly fresh, and like the ricotta- must have been made in the store. This cake could be worth it just for the cream.

The cannoli, however, did not disappoint. A perfectly light tube with so much cream de ricotta, it started to spill out onto the plate. Compared with other cannoli in town, this is clearly the best. The filling had the ideal texture and balanced the nutmeg and almond extract well. I usually have to travel across oceans and mountains for a cannoli this good.

By this point, I had given up on keeping track of prices, so when the check arrived, I was surprised. Pleasantly. $56.85 for “enough food to feed a small African tribe” as my friend described it. The price alone makes Neena’s one of the best places in Cartersville. I’m unaware of any other local restaurants with such an amazing price:portion ratio. But Neena’s offers more than the numbers on its menu. Neena’s supplies truly delicious dishes that are worth even more. 3.75/5 Stars.