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Pulcinella’s Italian Restaurant

Posted by NOK 30 Jun 2010 14 Comments

To place this in its proper perspective, I was a big fan of Sal’s in Loehmann’s Plaza before it closed several years ago. Satisfying red sauce Italian, sizable portions, great homemade bread, etc. Since Sal’s closed, I’ve been looking for other options to fill this hole in my life, and finally landed on Pulcinella’s. I’m not sure what took me so long – they’ve been around for awhile, and are easy to get to from just about anywhere in Durham.

We stopped by Pulcinella’s for lunch, arriving early (11:30) to an empty dining room. We were warmly greeted first by the hostess, then TWO servers (one may have been training). We ordered the capriccioso salad ($5.95) to share, then the lunch portions of eggplant parm and pizza.

Because we ordered the eggplant parm entree, they started us off with bread, which came with an olive-oil dipping plate flecked with sun-dried tomato and hot pepper. The bread was fresh, seemed to be cooked in the pizza oven right before serving. It had a good crust and soft, chewy interior, and went well with the included oil/pepper dip.

The salad was very good, the highlight being the house dressing. The dressing was a vinaigrette, made fresh daily we were told, with a substantial amount of pureed/crushed fresh tomato, giving it the consistency of a pureed fresh salsa. Good mix of vinegar, a bit of sugar, and relatively easy on the oil. The salad itself had a great, well-proportioned, blend of fresh romaine/green, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, shredded mozzarella, red onion, and homemade croutons. The only disappointment was the croutons. They were made from the same good bread, but were either too old/well done, making them hard and difficult to eat. Still, a fine salad, and a good deal at $5.95.

My dining companion ordered the pizza lunch deal, which was two slices of Neapolitan style pizza, each with one topping, and a drink for $4.99. Classic pizza by the slice, in which toppings are added to a cheese pie, then reheated in the oven. This resulted in that great by-the-slice crisp crust, but the overall effect was slightly drier than I prefer (for my money, Randy’s by the slice is pretty hard to beat). The mushrooms on top were fresh, and the sausage was good as well.

The lunch eggplant parmesan portion ($7.50) was huge, taking up the whole plate. It featured four or five large, thin slices of breaded eggplant, breaded, then topped with a ring of red sauce, melted mozzarella, and a generous sprinkling of parmesan (fine grated – it may have been canned). I loved the sauce – bright red and fresh tasting, somewhat chunky. The mozzarella hardened to a slightly rubbery texture midway through the meal, but overall the whole dish worked as it should – hearty and rich with a good balance of flavors. My dining companion noted just one complaint: it would’ve benefited from a more strategic application of the sauce and cheese – one that left some of the breaded eggplant exposed to retain some of the crispy breading.

One note about the eggplant parm. It was under the heading “Baked Pasta” on the lunch menu, even though no pasta was included with it. If you want a side of pasta, consider the dinner portion of the eggplant parm, which includes penne and a salad for only $3.50 more.

So, while not a culinary revelation, Pulcinella’s is my new go-to spot for red sauce Italian. Good food, reasonable prices, great service. From what I can tell, a lot of other folks have already figured that out; by the time we left at 12:45, the dining room was almost full.

Pulcinella’s Italian Restaurant
Woodcroft Shopping Center map
4711 Hope Valley Road
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 490-1172
http://pulcinellasdurham.com/, with menu [pdf].


  • RG said:

    I love Pulcinella’s! You really have to get the fresh whole pizza to appreciate the quality. The bread and dipping oil really go together well and most of the dishes are really good.


  • Tooth said:

    I judge these types of places exclusively on their red sauce, usually by way of dipping a calzone into a side dish of sauce. I will go on record in this hallowed comments area to declare, “The sauce at Pulcinella’s is pretty darn good!”


  • CDB said:

    I always thought I’d post on Pulcinella’s but just never got around to it. Such is the fate of a faithful standby. The pasta is fantastic and the lasagna worth waiting for. The place is usually packed with early diners and a veritable ghost house by 8pm.


  • Laura said:

    While not gourmet, Pulcinella’s is always tasty, usually has excellent service, and is a great place to take kids. The dinner portions are really large; we always take half home for the next days’ lunch. Why go to an Italian chain restaurant when you can go to this nice family-owned place?


  • Cindy Lewis said:

    Isn’t Pomodoro, in the former Shoney’s store at I-85 and Hillandale, next to Loehmann’s Plaza, actually just Sal’s relocated and renamed? The reviews I’ve heard from NJ/NY folks are not good.

    We used to visit Pulcinella’s for lunch quite often…but work increased, staff decreased and carbs became our bane. The lunch special (just a slice of cheese, please) was pretty tasty.

    I believe I noticed that the gal who used to hostess (perhaps more) at Pulcinella’s seemed to be running (?) the little Italian place on Erwin, Francesca’s (in what once was a First Union Bank building).

    As for obscenely large portions of pasta, Bocci’s on Fayetteville is the ticket. One can eat off a $14 pasta entree for 3-4 days. The pizza is tasty, too, as it inherited a Cinelli’s outpost.

    Still, since Randy’s and Pop’s Back Door(s) came to town, there’s no reason to pizza anywhere else.


    Jason replies on July 6th, 2010 at 9:12 am:

    I ate at Sal’s once and the food was horrible.

    I ate at Pomodoro’s once, not realizing it was the same people, and the food was horrible.

    Afterwards, I also heard that Pomodoro’s was the same as Sal’s.

    Francesca’s on Erwin had great food even though they were slow and the service varied.

    It closed a couple of years ago when they tore down a bunch of buildings in that area to put in the apartment/restaurant complexes.


  • Chris M. said:

    Pulcinella’s is a favorite neighborhood restaurant for us–prices are very reasonable, staff is friendly, and for good hearty red-sauce Italian fare it’s hard to beat. I love the bread and the house dressing, and I don’t recall ever having an entree I didn’t like. Now if only they had an outdoor/patio area…alas, no space. Still a great place to get a good Italian dinner without breaking the bank.


  • Valerie said:

    Our service at Pulcinella’s last week was actually less-than-desirable. Our server, a very tall woman, was out of sight for at least 15 minutes before taking our order. After I shot some looks at the other servers, she came by AFTER my dining companion left to go to the restroom. The food was fine (I had manicotti and he had the Bella Donna), but it would have been nice to hve been offered complimentary beverages or dessert for our poor service. However, since I liked the food, we’d still probably go back, esp., because a Groupon was being offered for the place today.


    Res replies on July 1st, 2010 at 12:28 pm:

    I saw that Groupon too, but it’s for a Pucinella in Raleigh. Does anyone know if these 2 restaurants related, and if that Groupon can be used for either?


  • MP said:

    My wife and I frequented Pulcinella’s in 1999, the first time we lived in Durham. We used to love picking up a calzone or stromboli for an easy and tasty take-out dinner. We now live way on the north side of town, so we haven’t been there in years; glad to hear it’s still a good spot!


  • Joel said:

    Pulcinella’s isn’t the best Italian in an absolute sense. You can spend a lot more and have some truly excellent Italian around here. However, as things so, Pulcinella’s is one of my favorite treats because while I may dare say it would be considered pedestrian back in Trenton, it’s a little slice of home for this carpetbagger. It really is the closest I’ve come to the good, cheap Trenton version of comfort food in the area.


  • Mark said:

    I’ve eaten there 25-30 times, and never once had a bad meal or experience. Though it may not be gourmet as one reader put), it is consistantly good. And that is all one can ever ask for in a restaurant!!


  • AG said:


    If you miss Sals- you should go to the Pomodoro located in the old Shoneys on Hillsborough road. They just closed the Sal’s and re-opened shop there. Same people- same menu.


  • Der-K said:

    I touched on Pucinella’s in a Bocci comment (I prefer the latter by far on pizza and on some other items) but wanted to note:
    * the house dressing, as noted, is quite good. I like the bread-and-oil as well, and I’m not a bread-and-oil guy. (God bless sundried tomatoes. But, I digress…)
    * the owner is a good dude.

    If you want Olive Garden/Johnny Carino’s/etcetera type fare (not meant pejoratively) – this is a better choice.


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