Smokehouse Special pizza at Rosario's Italian Restaurant in Medford. [Photo by Sarah Lemon]

Wood-fired pizza at Rosario's in Medford

There’s pizza. And then there’s wood-fired pizza.

Every now and then, I’m lured from our regular pizzeria by the promise of a smaller, even less elaborate pie that redeems itself with incomparably crunchy crust and that telltale whiff of wood smoke. Among several wood-burning ovens in the Rogue Valley, Rosario’s is my go-to in Medford for pies that come out in mere minutes compared with the region’s busier pizza establishments.

The spectacle of our pizza’s baptism by fire didn’t impress my preschool-age son as much as I had hoped. He wanted to enjoy his lunch in view of a different restaurant’s fish tanks. But assembling pizzas and calzones in full view of customers traversing from the front door to the dining room is another way that Rosario’s keeps things real 42 years since its inception as an Italian deli.

One of the region’s oldest Italian eateries, Rosario’s maintains a full menu of pasta dishes and meat entrees to complement its sandwiches. Lunchtime portions of pasta are priced from $8.29 for the marinara-sauced combination of spaghetti and ravioli to $9.99 for scampi Alfredo or lasagna.

Gaining a side-dish choice of soup or salad, pasta dinners offer a few more selections, including mostaccioli, pasta primavera, ricotta- and ham-filled crepes and shrimp and scallop penette. The dinner menu’s most expensive items are several preparations of veal, piccata, Marsala and Parmesan, each $17.79.

Tempted in no small measure by Dungeness crab ravioli, advertised on Rosario’s special board, I reaffirmed my craving for Rosario’s particular brand of pizza. I would happily pay a few more dollars if crab was available as an extra topping. Instead, I browsed the menu’s dozen selections from cheese to such hits as barbecue chicken, Florentine and luau. Pizza prices range from $9.29 for the 10-inch cheese to $26.49 for several 16-inch versions that boast specialty toppings.

Among those, the combination of pepperoni, ham, sausage and linguica, known as “big wood,” was almost guaranteed to please my carnivorous son. But I couldn’t quite set aside my own preference for pies that rely on fewer ingredients yet elevate one above the rest. Roasted garlic’s accent to pepperoni and linguica atop the “smokehouse special” struck just the right balance.

Because forgoing fish tanks at the other restaurant also cost us a chance for clam chowder, I was more receptive than usual to Manhattan clam chowder, Rosario’s soup of the day. For those unfamiliar with chowder’s nuances, New England-style is the cream-based classic while Manhattan could more accurately be called a tomato-based seafood stew. More clams might recommend Rosario’s chowder, but I won’t feel compelled anytime soon to settle for Manhattan-style over New England.

Rosario’s pizza, however, fulfilled all my expectations for beautifully burnished crust with a wood oven’s trademark toothsome texture. Bubbly, browned cheese showed off the other toppings to deliciously caramelized effect, including the just-charred bits of garlic.

A special mother-son lunch calls for a special treat. Rosario’s dessert menu is strong on the chocolate that my boy favors above all other sweets. From tiramisu, cannoli, cheesecake, mud pie and even Italian-style fudge, we requested the profiteroles ($4.99), cream puffs sauced with bittersweet chocolate.

A tad soggy, these profiteroles suggested they’d been sauced for several hours, rather than the minutes since we ordered them. But the portion of six was generous for the price, and the flavor ended our meal on the requisite note.

Located at 2221 W. Main St., Medford, Rosario’s is open from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 541-773-2230 or see www.rosariosmedford.

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