published Friday, September 9th, 2011

Fresh ingredients a plus at Rafael's

IF YOU GO

Where: Rafael's Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant, 9607 Dayton Pike, Soddy-Daisy, and 3877 Hixson Pike, Hixson.

Phone: 332-4559 in Soddy-Daisy, 508-8561 in Hixson.

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Price range: $4.95 cheese calzone to $20.45 large Chef Special pizza.

I picked up food at Rafael's Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant as a favor for someone last week and immediately regretted the fact that I had already eaten. Waiting in line for the Malibu chicken sandwich, I fell in love with the cheese pizza on a nearby table.

So when a Labor Day power outage closed my kitchen, I knew I wanted to feed my mozzarella craving. I put the plan in motion with a call to the Soddy-Daisy location (there's a second restaurant in Hixson).

The Menu

Pizzas are priced two-for-one at Rafael's for all but the 8-inch personal-pan size. You can choose from seven specialties in three sizes (10, 12 and 14 inches) or build your own from 16 toppings, including anchovies (no thanks) and mushrooms (yes please).

I went with a small House Special, a 10-inch pie topped with cheese, beef, sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, green peppers and onions. As promised, I got two for the $14.45 price tag. The crust was a little thicker than I usually prefer -- the thinner the pizza, the more I can eat -- but the dough is made fresh daily and had a good consistency -- crunchy outside, chewy inside.

Other specialty pizzas include vegetarian, Chicken Fiesta, Hawaiian, barbecue and Greek. Prices range from $9.50 for a small cheese pizza to $20.45 for the 11-topping Chef's Special.

I also ordered a side of spaghetti from the three-item kids menu. A little Parmesan on top added a boost of flavor. Other kiddie options are chicken fingers with fries and beef or cheese ravioli. Each is priced at $3.95.

The menu also offers seven salads in two sizes ($2.50-$6.50), eight calzones ($4.95-$6.50), 12 pasta dinners ($5.95-$8.45), 21 sandwiches ($4.95-$5.75) and five quantities of chicken wings ($6.75 for 10 up to $32.75 for 50). For the record, the Malibu chicken from last week's order was quite tasty, I was told. It's a grilled breast, topped with ham, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion and served with fries.

The 11 dinners on the menu range from quesadillas and chicken fajitas to chicken souvlaki and Italian chopped steak. Most are served with some combination of rice, salad and breadsticks. All are priced at $7.95 except the tilapia, which is $1 more.

A lunch menu with nine options is served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Items are priced from $5.25 to $6.25.

This was a to-go order, and I had salad fixings at home, but seeing the crisp, fresh vegetables in the to-go containers in the front cooler made me wish I'd added that to my order. Same with the strawberry cheesecake, one of four desserts to tempt the sweet tooth ($2.45-$2.95).

The Service

Because of the day's rain, I wanted to make a quick run in and out. This was easily accomplished with a call ahead. The order taker was efficient and promised my food would be ready in 15 minutes. I timed my arrival to 15 minutes, and my order was brought out fresh from the kitchen. There were several customers coming in for takeout, but the guy running the register dispatched each order with quick precision.

The Space

This was a to-go order, but I've eaten at Rafael's several times. It's not a fancy place, sort of a countrified pizza parlor, but it's clean and comfortable. There are two separate dining areas, with a mix of tables and booths. Arcade games at the entrance can entertain the kids while the food cooks.

The Verdict

The wide selection is a plus at Rafael's, but what I like best is the freshness of the ingredients. Doughs and sauces are homemade, and the vegetables are bright and crisp. The boost in flavor is undeniable. And the amount of food for the price is hard to beat.

about Lisa Denton...

Lisa Denton is deputy features editor and content editor of Current. She previously was a lifestyle, entertainment and region reporter/pod leader for The Chattanooga Times, which she joined in 1983. Lisa is from Sale Creek and holds an associate’s degree in journalism from Chattanooga State Community College. Contact Lisa at 423-757-6281 or ldenton@timesfreepress.com.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
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