"Must have a good lunch crowd," was my first impression of this little restaurant, tucked down in a strip center off Greenville and Park. The dining room was empty when we arrived (though it was Thursday at the dinner hour) except for a reviewer from another publication and her party, and it remained empty the entire time we were there. But its easy location and the sandwich prices ($5-$6) held promise for the lunch hour at Trattoria P.J.
The food we tried was a strange mix of prefab and fresh. Mozzarella sticks were the fast-food variety, uniform cylinders in once-frozen breading, but an entree of linguini tossed with broccoli and shrimp tasted new and bright (and was probably the best thing we ate). Chicken P.J., a house specialty, was an overwhelming platter of baked chicken, sausage, and potatoes.
The sausage--actually long, fennel-flavored, hot-dog-shaped links--was meaninglessly described as "fresh," and they alternated with pieces of boneless chicken breast that are undoubtedly popular in these fat-phobic days, but not the best piece of chicken to use for baking. The homemade manicotti could have come out of the oven a minute or two earlier; the crepes were slightly tough and the cheese topping boiling.
P.J.'s dining room looks like a pleasant place, but our evening was sabotaged on several fronts. The ceiling fans were whirling away under the track lights, creating a constant strobe effect over our table. That, plus a waiter who perhaps works a comedy club on his off-nights and tries out his lines on his customers (using a Chef Boyardee Italian accent, no less) made dinner at P.J.'s seem longer than it was.
There were other irritating examples of carelessness: The menu spells the same words several ways, the bread is slightly stale, and we had to wait a long time for our check. These are the kinds of things that seem to matter less at lunch, which you're squeezing into a day, and more at dinner, when you're celebrating the end of a day.
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Trattoria P.J., 7035 Greenville Ave., 739-2938, Open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Fried Mozzarella Sticks $4.95
Homemade Manicotti $7.95
Linguini Shrimp and Broccoli $11.