I fell in love with the pizza first. With its ultra-thin crust topped with perfect marinara sauce and melted mozzarella, the margherita pie at The Painted Lemon in Sherman has become one of my favorite pizzas in the state.
When it comes out of the oven, mozzarella and other ingredients float on the sauce on top of the pizza and might drip off if you turn it sideways. It is “kind of like a soup,” says Kimberly Taylor, noting that her husband and partner in the business, Giovanni Iardazio, used to teach Neapolitan-style pizza technique in his native Naples.
As good as some Neapolitan-style pizza can be in the state, many do not fulfill my craving for a classic “slice” of pizza. This pie scores major points in that regard. It is one of many reasons to make the trek — and, as it’s situated not far from the New York state line, it will be at least something of a trek for many readers — to Sherman to dine at The Painted Lemon. Opened in 2018, the restaurant is a culinary gem in this quiet country town that, though technically part of Fairfield County, feels like it’s part of Litchfield County, which it borders.
At the restaurant, you’ll find big portions, housemade pasta, and rich-flavored, well-executed classic dishes. The eggplant parmesan is strong with a lighter flavor than many variants of this popular dish. Pasta is made fresh daily and it shows in dishes such as the pappardelle rosa — wide pasta in a cream sauce with zucchini and salmon bits — and the fiocchetti pear and gorgonzola, little pasta pockets stuffed with fresh pear and gorgonzola cheese, which is as good as it sounds. The fried calamari are also excellent.
For one popular special, tonnarelli forma parmigiana, an order of hot pasta is sautéed in a giant Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel, and chef Iardazio scrapes up the cheese and mixes chunks with the pasta before plating and serving it. “People will drive an hour just to have the cheese wheel,” Taylor says. “It’s so decadent; it’s such a huge amount of parmigiana.”
It hasn’t been offered since March, because the restaurant has had trouble getting the giant wheels of cheese, which are imported from Italy, at a price point that works. Taylor says they will start offering it again soon. I tried it in the before times and was impressed, and Taylor is not joking about its heaviness. It is one of the most filling dishes I’ve ever had — either share it with the table or plan on getting it and nothing else.
Though no dish fails, slightly less effective is the penne vodka. This has the addition of bacon, which makes the normally light red sauce darker and heavier than I prefer. This is more than made up for by the successes including the margherita pizza, which I have been craving since my last trip.
Previously a BYOB establishment, Painted Lemon now has a small but well-curated wine list focused on Italian vintages. For dessert, my party tries the tiramisu and cannoli. The latter is solid, but the tiramisu is a standout and strikes the right balance between coffee and sweet flavors.
When COVID-19 led to a shutdown in March, Iardazio and Taylor took the opportunity to renovate their restaurant. The carpeting was replaced with wood floors and the decor was updated to better reflect their name, which is inspired by the lemon trees of Italy’s famous Amalfi Coast. Outside, two tents are fully enclosed. With the help of heaters, Iardazio and Taylor hope to keep serving patrons in the tents throughout November and possibly into December. Once it gets too cold for even tented outdoor dining, the restaurant will continue its indoor and takeout options.
For Iardazio and Taylor, meeting and opening a restaurant together was fortuitous. He grew up in the restaurant industry, working in family-owned establishments as a kid before heading his own kitchens. He moved to the U.S. in 2018 to take a job at the restaurant that previously occupied Painted Lemon’s location, Amore Ristorante. In the same shopping center as the restaurant, Taylor owned Crystal Visions Inc., a psychic healing center. After meeting, Iardazio and Taylor quickly fell for one another, were married within a year, and decided to take over the restaurant together when the opportunity arose. “It was love at first sight,” Taylor says.
Though, like me, she was also drawn to Iardazio’s pizza. “The first time he made me a heart-shaped pizza that was it, I was done,” she says.
1 CT-37 East, Suite 1, Sherman
Hours: Tue.-Sat. 3-10 p.m., Sun. 3-9 p.m. Closed Mon.