If there’s one thing I learned growing up in the great state of New Jersey, it’s the cultural importance of a town’s local family-owned pizzeria. A good pizza place is a community’s culinary anchor, in a way: cheap, friendly, reliable, somehow been in the same spot for multiple generations, almost since the beginning of time itself.
So, what happens when such a crucial local staple moves into a new and much larger location down the road?
Willows Pizza and Restaurant resided at 1422 Broadway in South Portland for 27 years before moving a mile and a half down Broadway into what was SoPo Bar & Grill, which closed in October 2016, and, before that, JP Thornton’s. In making such a move, owner Dan Lengyel effectively tripled the size of Willows, which is now divided into three distinct areas: pizzeria, bar and restaurant.
The bar is the next room over from the pizzeria; so easy to find! I got their in time for happy hour, which runs Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. and offers $1 off draft beers. Let me just say, my $4 Lagunitas and I were (and still are) rather pleased with ourselves.
The shiny new wooden bar is wide and comfortable, with plenty of seating for those angling for a good view of one of its three flat screen TVs. On this particular Tuesday, patrons were treated to Sports Center, golf and the inimitable and honorable Judge Judy.
What’s that? Those viewing options just don’t do it for you? Well, take a seat at one of the six booths and feast your eyes on one of the wall mounted in-booth televisions. Who says you can’t have it all? At Willows, you clearly can.
In addition to the healthy list of beers available on draft (Allagash, Geary’s, Goose Island, Sebago and Maine Beer Co., to name a few), there’s a full bar and a decent wine selection, as any self-respecting Italian eatery should have. If the complementary jars of Chex Mix on the bar aren’t enough to satisfy you food-wise, the entire dining menu is up for grabs, as is a newly added bar food menu. There are few things in life more satisfying than having an entire 10-inch pepperoni pizza all to yourself; trust me on this.
While the idea of a well-established restaurant moving and expanding into a much larger location could seem like a risky move, a visit to the new Willows will assure customers, new and old, that it may even be – dare I say it – better than it was before. The staff is friendly, the pizza is good and the beer is cheap. As long as these basics needs continue to be met, new Willows has nothing to fear.
WHERE: 740b Broadway, South Portland
HOURS: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
AMENITIES: Huge and comfortable bar, long happy hour with great drink deals, full pub menu, flatscreen TVs, tableside TVs, good draft beer selection, excellent pepperoni pizza
BOTTOM LINE: A slice bar, casual Italian restaurant and pub, all in one convenient location. Even in its new spot, Willow’s is keeping up the tradition of the family-owned Italian restaurant, just with more amenities, a bigger menu and more seating. Nothing wrong with that.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes