Ironwood, Manlius, N.Y.

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When the opportunity of an evening out sans child presents itself, you take it.

When it involves an overnight at Grandma and Papa’s house, you don’t rush.

The drive to Manlius, one of Syracuse‘s higher-rent districts, was slow. Combine post-work traffic with roadwork and one of the busiest intersections in town (Lyndon Corners), and our drive took almost as long as dinner.

Located on the corner of East Seneca and Wesley Streets in the center of the village, the Ironwood occupies a storefront on the end of the block that includes the Manlius Art Cinema, a local landmark. While it lacks its own parking lot, on-street spots and a municipal lot across the street provide an assist.

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The decor draws from both halves of its name. Exposed wood walls and floors are complemented by metal tables and chairs, including a handful constructed from metal shelving units and other industrial fixtures. The lower dining room houses a cooler packed with homemade gelato, while the upper level offers a view of Marana Forni wood-fired oven, its ductwork, and the six taps of rotating craft beers from across the east coast.

2013-06-14 at 17-50-32Our waitress, Joanne, took care to explain the menu and specials, wearing the house uniform of a flannel shirt and blue jeans. Orders are taken on iPod touches, which sends orders to the kitchen, process credit cards and some other functions related to the restaurant.

The Wife started with a glass of Salmon Run riesling, which at $7.50, was pricey considering that an entire bottle is about $11. I opted for the Narragansett Lager (Win!), followed by a Victory Summer Love (Meh!). The salad menu blends traditional greens, arugula mixes, and a pair of tomato-mozzarella plates. We opted for the mozzarella swirl ($9). The housemade mozzarella is flattened, layered with prosciutto and sliced. Two large rounds are served with generous slices of roma tomato and crostini. Swirls of balsamic reduction and olive oil on the plate provide the stage. The combination of salty ham and the fresh, creamy cheese married two flavors that The Wife and I love, and this presentation did not disappoint.

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2013-06-14 at 18-09-11The menu is artisan pizza, not unlike some of the great artisan pizza restaurants in San Francisco. Six house selections, as a well as traditional cheese and garlic, and a menu of toppings to create your own, are available. We ordered two and split the fruits of the kitchen.

The Wife’s choice was the fire-roasted chicken. The homemade dough was stretched to a 12-inch diameter and given an olive oil and garlic base. Fresh spinach, fire-roasted chicken breast and fresh mozzarella come next, followed by a visually and palate pleasing array of pancetta (ohhhhhh pancetta!). The menu called for caramelized onions. What we got were sauteed. Not a big deal, but we were both looking forward to the flavor that comes from caramelization mixed in with the rest of the toppings. A little bit of a letdown.

2013-06-14 at 18-09-07I picked the vegetopia sans banana peppers. The red sauce base was topped with garlic, spinach, mushrooms, onions, roasted red peppers, tomato slices and fresh mozzarella.

Both pizzas brought distinct flavor and not because of their sauces. So much pizza derives its flavor from the base. Here, the salty pancetta and cheese drove the flavor on The Wife’s pizza, while the vegetables on the vegetopia actually smelled fresh. Both crusts were crispy without being brittle, evident that great care was put into the prep of each serving.

2013-06-14 at 18-35-28We passed on gelato in favor of a trip to Gannon’s Isle in Syracuse’s Valley neighborhood.

My inclination is to go back on Monday for lunch, but they don’t serve it. I would go back tomorrow (Sunday) but they are closed then too. In my world, there is always room for pizza, and as long as they are open, there will always be room for a ride to Manlius and the Ironwood.

Ironwood is located at 145 E. Seneca St. in the village of Manlius. Parking is available on street and in the municipal lot behind the buildings across the street. Dinner for two with drinks was $58 before tip.

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