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Lunch for 10 at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Pasta with white beans, carrots and celery Ten of us gathered for lunch at Pizzeria Prima Strada's Bridge Street location.

Pasta with white beans, carrots and celery

Ten of us gathered for lunch at Pizzeria Prima Strada's Bridge Street location. We discovered praise-worthy food and, just as important, we found that the restaurant has an ideal set up for groups whose members drift in separately, pay separately, want to have a conversation, don't want to be crowded, and have about an hour to eat. Plus, the prices of most items are moderate.

So, we eliminated much of the delaying that can happen when a large group tries to order individual meals, and then, horrors, seeks individual bills.

During lunchtime at Pizzeria Prima Strada, you order at the counter and pay immediately. You pick from specials that areĀ  scribbled on a board or from a paper menu with set items. After you order and pay, you get a card on a stick that identifies your order. You sit down at a long communal table that can seat, with some squishing, up to 12 or 14. You fetch your own water and cutlery. The food is delivered to your table. (One minor downside - the food came at different times because our group ordered at different times. We mostly started eating when the food arrived, making conversation to distract those who were still waiting.)

At our lunch, we sampled much of the menu.

I had the $8 daily pasta special (available only from 11 to 2) - pasta with white beans and small chunks of carrots and celery. It was mildly flavoured - I wasn't sure with what - but it was pleasant.

I also had a small insalata fresca for $5. It features thin slices of fennel and red onion, mint and wedges of orange and grapefuit. A colleague had the full-meal version for $9. She said it looked bland, but didn't taste that way. I found that every mouthful offered a different taste - the cool crunchy fennel, the mint, the hot-ish pepper flecks, the sweetness and tang of the citrus wedges. It's a nifty experience.

Pizzas made in a wood-fired oven are the main attraction - thin crusts with puffy, sometimes blackened, edges and a restrained sprinkling of toppings. Six of my eating companions had various pizzas, and they all had kind words. I snagged a spare slice of one that was topped with pesto and morel mushroom and decided it was one of the finer pizza slices I've had. Pizza prices range from $6 to $9.50 for small ones and $11 to $16 for larger ones.

Some advice from a fellow diner who has been a repeat customer: the pizzas here don't travel well. Eat them in the restaurant. When they're boxed for eating later, they get a bit limp and soggy.

The theme for much of the food at Pizzeria Prima Strada is lightness. The pizzas are literally lightweight, and their flavours are light. You can taste the ingredients. They're not overwhelmed by salt or heavily seasoned sauces. The same can be said about the pasta I had. It was lightly seasoned. I could taste the pasta.

Pizzeria Prima Strada provided a good experience. But, I'm willing to admit, my upbeat assessment might have been skewed a bit by the pleasant company.

Insalata fresca - fennel, red onions, mint, orange, grapefruit - $5 for small version

Insalata fresca - fennel, red onions, mint, orange, grapefruit - $9 for large version

Panino, vegetarian version, with a small insalata della casa. $8 for the sandwich - served 11 to 2 only, $4 for the salad

A parade of pizzas - tomato, cheese and basil; tomato, anchovies and olives; pesto and morel mushroom; sausage and bell peppers