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Santa Monica Pizza and Pasta offers great food

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I broke one of the Rules of Restaurant Critics this past week, but at least I'm confessing up front.

Generally, critics are not supposed to review a restaurant before it's been open for a month or two, for obvious reasons.

Those first few weeks, restaurants are still finding their way a bit, and mistakes are more common.

It's not exactly fair to judge a restaurant during times like this, but when my family, some friends and I visited Santa Monica Pizza and Pasta on a recent weekend evening, we didn't know the place had been open only one day.

And, really and truly, we never would have known, had the owner not come up to our table to ask how we liked the food, talk enthusiastically about his new venture and inform us that it was, in fact, grand opening night.

The restaurant was sparkling clean, as you might expect, the service energetic and the ambience sporty, stylish and comfortable. And the food was great, and especially creative for a pizza restaurant at this price point.

Our group of four adults and six kids started with a couple of orders of breadsticks, the soft-inside, crusty-outside kind sprinkled liberally with Parmesan cheese, with chunky marinara for dipping. We also had baked mozzarella sticks, which were decent but not spectacular, with the same tasty sauce on the side.

I was surprised to see that Santa Monica Pizza and Pasta has no kids' menu, particularly as various online menus for the place list kids' options.

However, this is a pizza and pasta eatery — they're pretty kid-friendly. After teaming up several pairs of kids, we were able to order adult entrées for sharing that were more than enough for young appetites.

The kids all had pasta, first the spaghetti with chunky marinara and three huge, baseball-size meatballs on top.

Second was the unusual and decadent macaroni and cheese, al dente elbow mac in an excellent, milky white sauce swimming with shredded Cheddar, Jack, provolone and mozzarella cheeses — plus shredded bacon on top. I confess: We adults snitched more than a few bites.

We grownups concentrated on other aspects of the menu, starting with the "Super Freak" combo pizza, an excellent crisp-chewy crust topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, ham, black olives, onions and green bell peppers.

This pizza was a variation on your standard combo, but there are plenty of other specialty pies ranging from standard recipes to wackier varieties with such toppings as artichoke, pesto, Alfredo sauce, meatballs — even jalapeños, arugula, bean sprouts or cranberries.

My husband had a calzone, a huge calzone — no, an enormously huge calzone, filled with more of those huge meatballs and scads of cheese. It was among the better calzones I've ever tasted and provided tons of leftovers for him, even though he ate until he was more than full.

I followed the kids in getting pasta, but a deliciously grown up kind: spaghetti noodles, dark and chunky slices of portobello mushrooms, fresh spinach leaves, roasted tomatoes and garlic and alfredo sauce, which quickly turned dark and flavorful as all of the ingredients blended on my plate.

My salad, the "Popeye," was a refreshing riff on the classic spinach salad: fresh baby spinach leaves, red onions sliced super-thin, crumbled bacon, roasted tomato and croutons, with an amazing sweet-tangy tomato basil vinaigrette. I took it home and finished it later, a great midnight snack.

For dessert there were more breadsticks, this time rolled in cinnamon sugar and accompanied by a pot of white icing, and a locally made and delicious slice of tiramisu, nicely balanced between creamy and cakey, darkly rich and light.

Appetizers $2.99-$7.99, salad (sizes from half to family) $5.99-$12.99, sub sandwiches $6.49-$12.49, lunch specials $4.99-$7.49, pasta (single and family sizes) $7.99-$16.99, pizza $8.99-$24.99, calzones $9.49-$19.99, desserts $3.49-$6.99.

Santa Monica Pizza and Pasta Co.

Rating: ★★★

Where: 7680 S. 1300 East, Sandy

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight

Phone: 801-562-1757

Wheelchair access: Easy

Web: www.mysantamonicapizza.com

Also: Takeout available; lunch specials available daily 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News.