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Pizza plus; Large wood ovens work their magic on pies, wings

Rocco's Wood Fired Pizza takes the whole pizza genre up a notch. Or up two notches. Or maybe even three. This enormous, tile-walled and sleek restaurant, located in a strip mall, seems to extend forever. The first room you enter features conventional restaurant seating with two enormous, arched, built-in wood ovens.

So enormous are these ovens, I'd call 'em witch-sized. We half expected baked Hansel and Gretel to come out of those gleaming maws but -- not to worry -- they turn out pizzas. The staff rolls out and tosses the dough in front of your very eyes.

This first room is followed by another that features long tables for family or community seating. There's a bar, there's a lounge. There may even be a partridge in a pear tree. Still, the place manages to be both sleek and homey. No wonder Rocco's has been drawing multigenerational crowds since its opening only about a month ago.

To the menu: Pizzas of course, traditional and specialty. And sandwiches (e.g., grilled eggplant or Italian-style tuna with olives and cannellini beans from $8.95); two kinds of wings, and what the menu calls "side dishes" which include Eggplant Parm ($9.95), Chicken Cutlets over Arugula ($12.95) or burgers. Plus a very nice wine list (and a server who seemed knowledgeable about it). Something for everyone here.

We began our evening meal with the wings. But not just any chicken wings -- Specialty Wood Oven Roasted Chicken Wings, if you please (nine for $9.50) which had been marinated in lemon, olive oil, garlic and herbs before baking. Good? Sure, and they are better for you and much more subtle than your old, classic Buffalo wing (also available at $8.50). But -- allow me to mix metaphors -- the wood-roasted wings are a totally different kettle of fish. You can get chicken thighs with vinegar peppers, too, if you prefer.

To the small plates list: Rapini and Sausage ($9.95) was wonderful. Two plump links (from Johnny's) with a modicum of greens and more than enough for dinner on its own. And Meatballs in Tomato Sauce with some seasoned ricotta ($7.95).

Put it this way: a good time was had by all.

But we were not yet finished. We felt morally obligated to order pizza. And since there are two types of pizza, there arose a discussion as well as a debate.

It's more than a little confusing, but both the traditional and specialty pizzas use the same dough and are baked at the same excruciating 900 degrees. Both are based on crust that's halfway between super thin and ordinary thick. Traditional is the pizza we have known for what seems like centuries. It offers something called Grande Mozzarella, tomato and Romano. The large 16-inch runs $15; small is $12. To which you can add toppings at extra cost. Big list.

The Specialty Pizza (large $19, small $16) does all the thinking for you and is a little more upscale. The Margherita features fresh mozzarella; there's Homemade Meatball Pizza with hot peppers and ricotta, too. Or Arugula Pizza with Parmesan, pesto, tomato, ricotta and anchovies.

By this time, thoroughly mystified, we consulted the server who suggested what he called a half pizza, a small traditional with added meatballs (the small meatballs are not on the toppings list). It ran us $17.20.

Go figure. But also -- no complaints.

Email: janiceokun@yahoo.com.

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 ROCCO'S WOOD FIRED PIZZA    

3 stars (out of 4)    

WHERE: 5433 Transit Road, Depew (247-5272, www.roccoswoodfiredpizza.com). A pizza extravaganza. Think huge. This newly opened restaurant features tile walls, interesting old photos, an open kitchen and an equally large menu. Brought to you by the savvy owners of Oliver's, Siena and 800 Maple. Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.    

FAVORITE DISH: Rapini and Sausage in Garlic and Oil.    

NEEDS WORK: Everything is well prepared.    

PRICE RANGE: Small (12-inch) pizzas from $12. Small Plates (entrees) around $9.    

SERVICE: Very good.    

HOURS: Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (to midnight, Friday and Saturday).    

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes    

PARKING: In the lot.    

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit 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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