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A Favorite Spot
Where The Pizza Pie Will Never Succumb To Humdrum

The Journal Inquirer · Thursday, July 28, 1994

By Melanie Giesen

WILLINGTON — Mayonnaise or sour cream on pizza may seem unlikely substitutes for red sauce, but both these innovative toppings are making a hit at Willington Pizza House.
    “I never anticipated there being waiting lines and our being as busy as we are,” owner Jeff Kelly said. “We’ve been more successful than I ever dreamed of.”
    It was a combined attempt to keep regulars interested and an experimentation on the part of staff who’d eaten one too many pizza for dinner that started the oddball recipes, Kelly said.
    “We don't want people to get bored, we try to keep on the edge with different pizza,” Kelly said.
    Folks can get a bite of mayonnaise with their pizza if they order Seafood Casino Pizza, General Manager Marc Amtower’s creation. The mayonnaise, seasoned with lemon juice and black pepper, is spread on the crust and topped with shrimp, snow crab meat, and bay scallops, followed by sharp Cheddar cheese and bacon. Parsley and lemon twists garnish the pizza.
    Kelly said the seafood pizza is now a weekly special but will probably become a permanent addition to the menu.
    The sour cream topping is sported by the Red Potato Pizza, a recipe by Chef Richard Rogers. This once-weekly special got such a good response from guests it’s now a permanent part of the menu.
    Potato pizza is made with a layer of sour cream spread on the crust, followed by thinly sliced cooked red potatoes, then either broccoli or bacon, and sharp Cheddar cheese, garnished with fresh chives.
    Soon people other than regulars got wind of these creations, and when they were featured on a national morning talk show even people across the ocean wanted the recipe.
    Rogers’ potato sensation took first prize in the exotic category in the 1994 Pizza Festiva recipe contest sponsored by Pizza Today magazine. And Amtower’s seafood creation took first place in the seafood pizza category.
    Following the contest, Amtower wrote a letter to “CBS This Morning” with Harry Smith. The show responded by broadcasting live in March from a pizza expo in Las Vegas, where the pizzas were featured. An interview with the New York Times followed, Kelly said.
    The recipe may appear in an airline magazine too, although Kelly said he doesn't know who tipped off a representative from Singapore Airlines, who called wanting the recipe for “Seafood Casino Pizza.”
    Other designer pizzas include Vegetarian, California, Greek, and Heart Smart pizzas. Entrees range from a $6 plate of pasta to an $11.95 shrimp and pesto fettuccini dinner. Appetizers include pesto and garlic and Gorgonzola breads.
    Business is booming, and Kelly says he sees a lot of new faces now. But the regulars still come in, maybe more often than before. Kelly speculated they are thinking: “Harry Smith had it, I should have it too.”
    Kelly’s career in the pizza business began when the Hartford Civic Center roof caved in, forcing the former bartender to look for another job. He first went to work for his brother, who was a partner in a pizza venture in Hartford. But then Kelly began to envision his own pizza place — something a little different.
    So in 1978, he founded Willington Pizza House. Originally a mostly take-out business with only 12 seats, the restaurant can now accommodate 200.
    The 200-year-old farm house is filled with antiques, including pricey carousel horses. But most items lining the walls and sitting on the beams overhead cost less than $20, Kelly said.
    They include an old bicycle, an oxen yoke, and lots of old posters advertising products for movies, such as “Gone with the Wind” and the Spencer Tracy version of “Father of the Bride.”
    The expansion of Kelly’s second pizza venture, “Willington Pizza Too,” a pizza place with a sports bar atmosphere is scheduled to be completed by the end of July. The restaurant is located on Route 74 in Phelp’s Crossing. With the expansion, the former take-out business Kelly founded in 1988 now serves a variety of food including pizza, hamburgers, and buffalo wings.
    More important to the University of Connecticut fans, Willington Pizza Too will play UConn games on the radio, whereas at Willington Pizza House Kelly couldn’t tune into the games, he said, or people would never leave.

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