Creativity Name Of Game At Campion's

There are pizza purists in Connecticut, the traditionalists who think nothing beats a sauce of uncooked crushed San Marzano tomatoes topped with mozzarella and maybe a sprig or two of fresh basil. And then there are fans of Campion's Pizza in South Windsor.

Here pizza crusts serve as canvases for experimentation with wild flavor combinations. Pulled barbecued pork, red onions and scallions. Bacon, cheddar and French fries. Vodka sauce, fresh mozzarella and olive oil. Ketchup, hamburger and American cheese, topped with lettuce. Whitefish, black beans, cabbage, cilantro and chipotle sauce. Smoked salmon and capers.

THE VIBE: Campion's is a neighborhood pizza joint in a small strip mall, nothing fancy or particularly eye-catching, but clean and warm with ample seating. Vintage posters with culinary themes line the walls, and booths are large and roomy. Service on two separate occasions was on the slow side.

THE FOOD: The sheer size of the menu is a little overwhelming, particularly if you're the indecisive type. There are 15 starters, many of the breaded-and-fried variety (calamari, onion rings, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, eggplant sticks, jalapeno poppers.) Then there are 10 wrap sandwiches, another dozen hot and cold grinders, 16 salads, a separate section of Italian-influenced entrees and pastas, six 8-ounce burgers and specialty calzones.

And then come dozens of pizzas, in specialty and signature categories. This list itself is a little dizzying, but we finally settled on the Chicken Cordon Bleu (lightly breaded chicken, parmesan peppercorn sauce, Swiss, provolone and ham.) The blend of rich ingredients is one to savor; the flavors are zesty and intense.

From the "seafood" category – yes, Campion's even has a dedicated section of five pies with fish and shellfish – we chose the Clams Casino, adding shrimp (an extra $2) on the tip of a colleague. The pizza benefited from a cream sauce base, melding the tiny shrimp and shucked clams with garlic and bacon bits. To better balance the pizza, it could use smaller, finer diced red peppers instead of large roasted strips. But despite the high heat of the oven, the shellfish never ended up rubbery.

Creativity is the name of Campion's pizza game, and it works.

THE BILL: Campion's unique pizzas aren't the least expensive in the region, but they provide substantial portions (also known as lots of leftovers for two of us.) Small pies with traditional toppings start at $9.99. Specialty and signature pies are $12.50 to $14.99 for a small, and large pies are $19.50 to $21.99. Slices start at $2.75 for cheese pizzas.

Wings are priced by the dozen (starting at $9.99 for 12) with such flavors as teriyaki, citrus chipotle, sweet Thai, sesame and garlic Parmesan. The honey BBQ was light and sweet and covered crispy and sizable chicken pieces.

Appetizers are $2.99 to $9.99; salads are $6.50 to $9.99, sandwiches are $4.99 to $8.25, burgers are $6.50 to $7.50, entrees are $12.99 to $18.99.

Campion's offers deals early in the week; an all-you-can-eat night on Mondays starts at 4 p.m., priced at $7.49 for endless pizza, $9.49 for just wings or $9.49 for both. Lunch specials, available Monday through Friday, include combinations of slices, salad, grinders and/or soda for $3-6. On Tuesday, get a large cheese pizza for $9.99, good up to four pizzas.

THE PARTICULARS: Campion's is open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.