Between our last excursion to Minneapolis and this next excursion to Little Rock, something pizza-blog worthy happened. Co-Pilot Brandon proposed at sunrise on a beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and of course, I said yes. Well, actually I blurted out a shocked, “Are you sure!?” but you get the point. While I am so happy to be marrying the love of my life, it’s going to put my pizza travels on hold. Brandon and I had planned to take a couple of weeks at Christmas and drive down the east coast and back up the middle-ish of the country to tackle, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and Indiana, but since we decided to get married in Florida on January 3rd, we will have to put our pizza journey on the back burner for a bit. Don’t worry. We’re going to spend our honeymoon in Italy, and I assure you, I will eat every pizza that I come into contact with during that time. As much as I enjoy talking about my human love, let’s now talk about my pizza love—
I visited Little Rock in May, and I was so tired, that I skipped getting my pizza. I had been on the road for something like 6 or 7 weeks in a row, it was raining, and I was exhausted. I’ve been mad at myself since, so when my client in the Rock asked me to come back, I happily agreed because (A) He fully understands my love for sloths though he thinks I’m weird as hell, and (B) I could have a second shot at the pizza. Our meeting was going to be Monday at 2:00, and I knew I couldn’t waste any time… so I flew in Sunday. I was determined to get this pizza, so before I even checked into the hotel, I had the cab driver take me to Zaza in Little Rock. Of course this caused him to give me a funny look, so I explained that Zaza was alleged to have the best pizza in Little Rock. He quickly told me I was wrong and started telling me where the best pizza was, but I don’t recall what he told me now.
We found the restaurant, and I made the driver give me his cell number to come back and get me since it was Sunday evening in Little Rock in a non-hopping part of town, and I grabbed my carry on and traipsed right into Zaza, bag and all. I wheeled my carry on right over to the bar, then ran to the register to order. DAMN YOU AGAIN, ZAGAT! The special pie changes fairly often… much like the last time I had this issue, I believe in Denver. So this was the special:
Zagat said to order the special, so I ordered the special… then while I waited, I had to Google was calabresi is.
On we go! Zagat, you’re up!
Arkansas-grown wood goes into the oven at Zaza, helping create the thin, slightly charred Neapolitan-style crust the place is known for. Owners use fresh ingredients, many of them imported from Italy and San Marzano tomatoes. Try the special pie, a not-run-of-the-mill combination of those three ingredients plus caramelized onion, cherry tomatoes, lemon, Parmesan and mozzarella. It’s the best of this place’s salad and pizza, combined.
That’s a pretty terrible photo, so I apologies, but have I mentioned that I’m phobic of taking photos of food in public, especially alone?
So, for the special, we had calabresi (though Google tells me it’s spelled calabrese?), green onions, garlic, oregano, Fontina, mozzarella, Parmesan, and caramelized onions. As I sat at the bar (which only holds about 5 people; this isn’t a bar kind of place), a man came in and places a to go order and sat next to me while he waited for it. I sipped my wine and waited for my pizza to arrive, and when it did, the man asked how it was after I’d eaten a couple of bites. I despise being talked to in restaurants, on airplanes, in airports… anywhere. I have always enjoyed my alone time, and I have no problem going places alone. So when this man asked me how my pizza was, I have a nonchalant, “It’s okay,” despite that it was actually awesome. “It’s great” or “It’s terrible” might have invited further conversation, and I just wanted to hang by myself and eat my pizza.
So, calabrese… IS AWESOME. It’s perfectly spicy, not too much, not too little, it was just right. (I’ll be the Goldilocks of Spice if I damn well please, thank you.) There’s this place where I’m from in Albany, GA called Gargano’s and my mom always added green olives to our pizza, and I hated it. I love green olives; I love to eat them from the jar, I love them in blood marys, and I really love them stuffed with Bleu cheese in a Ketel 1 Martini, straight up, dry, and dirty, but I have always hated them on my pizza. Nope. I was doing it wrong. The saltiness of the olives with the spice of the calabrese and the sweetness of the caramelized onion was nothing short of perfection. The crust was the closest to being perfectly done yet. Sorry Minneapolis, you’ve been booted. (Side note: This was a wood fire oven, yet again. Score!)
The man next to me continued to ask questions (kind of my fault for bringing a suitcase into the place with me), and it turned out that I had just told the owner and chef that his pizza was “ok”. WHOOPS. I explained my pizza blogging, and he was really nice and asked several questions. I told him where to go read the blog, so Mr. Pizza Chef, if you’re reading, I apologize for telling you that your wonderful pizza was “okay”. He took his food home to his family, but not before telling the staff that my gelato was on him. I’m not a gelato gal (except for the grapefruit stuff in Minneapolis), and I was stuffed after eating all but one piece of my pizza, so I called my new cab-driving friend, and he came back to get me. I had the last piece of pizza wrapped up and I gave it to him, but I’m willing to bet he didn’t eat the leftover pizza from the tiny blonde girl in the cab demanding his cell phone number and later demanding that he eat cold pizza. Who knows?
One thing that I haven’t pointed out about Zaza, is that it’s full title is Zaza’s Fine Salad + Wood Fire Pizza Oven Co. This is probably the only time that I’ve ever eyeballed a salad bar and thought that I may want it instead of the pizza. My clients also told me the next day that their gelato is the best, and I’m an idiot for passing on it. So if you find yourself in Little Rock, Arkansas, make Zaza a stop no matter what you want from pizza to salad to sweets!