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Elegant Eights; More than just ordinary pizza and sandwiches

Elegant digs at the Eights Bistro high ceilings, great woodwork and a nostalgic remembrance of architecture of the past, it is a spacious adjunct to what once was Destino's Pizza, a former "in" hideaway for obsessed pie lovers in love with crisp thin crust.

There are two rooms here, one with a handsome bar open long hours, the second for dining. And, true to its heritage, the menu lists eight -- what else? -- tempting variations on the pizza theme.

Well sure, you can pretty much stick to the straight and narrow with the Cheese and Pepperoni pie ($14.50), but you get a nice surprise with it. Namely, the addition of spicy Sopressata (salami) provides an unexpected kick. That crust is great.

Or you can go wild and order your pizza with Brussels sprouts and smoked caramelized onions and gruyere along with fresh mozzarella ($13.50). Or a pie with shaved asparagus, gruyere, mozzarella, scallions and two cracked eggs ($14.75). You get the idea.

Small Bites are worthy here, too. A detour from the ordinary and hurrah for that. Example: house-made Peanut Brittle ($4.50). Yes, that's what I said. Not just ordinary peanut brittle, folks (if indeed there is such a thing as "ordinary peanut brittle"). This version sports bacon (just a teasing hint and it's in some pieces but not others) plus a hint of chili. And it's surprising how that hot taste enhances the peanuts we all know and love.

The brittle is an interesting take, I'd guess, on the satays of southeast Asia but, of course, in a purely American form.

My favorite of all the lighter dishes, however, has to be the Avocado Fries ($6.50), battered and crisp on the outside and unctuous on the inside. I ordered my fries served with house-made ranch dressing, enlivened with cilantro, jalapeno and lime and was not surprised to learn the darn things were totally addictive. By the way, Jalapeno Fries are also on the menu and something described as "very spicy corn fritters." Note the choice of various dipping sauces as well.

The menu at the Eights is a basically limited one, the other big listing is devoted to Specialty Sandwiches.

A Vegan Philly Cheesesteak, perhaps ($9.95)? Sauteed mushrooms and onions, complete with house-made "Cheese Whiz" (think soybeans) and vegan mayonnaise.

Or my choice -- House-made Vegan Merguez Sausage, given its Moroccan twist with spicy hot harissa (hot pepper sauce), garlic, coriander and cumin. Sweet Potato Fries on the side. I particularly liked the spicing here. Hot, sweet, zesty. Not your usual sausage sandwich, in other words. And we all appreciate a change.

Another specialty sandwich was the Spicy Vegan Pulled Pork Taco complete with a tangy piquant vegan coleslaw all the better because it was not dripping with mayonnaise. It's $8.95.

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3 stars (out of 4)    

WHERE: 888 Main St. (939-2815). Fine pizzas, a good beer list and vegan sandwiches in this restaurant/bar on the edge of downtown. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.    

FAVORITE DISH: Avocado Fries with Ranch Dipping Sauce.    

NEEDS WORK: Food is tasty.    

PRICE RANGE: Specialty Sandwiches from $8.95. Pizzas from $12.75.    

SERVICE: Still learning.    

HOURS: 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.    


PARKING: On the street    

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.     * indicates that restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.

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