We stay in Little Rock for this week’s restaurant review!
I took my family to ZAZA two weeks ago, and then we went again last week. The kids loved it, the wife loved it, and I sure as hell loved it. The pizza joint tucked right off Kavanaugh Boulevard in the Hillcrest area of Little Rock (there’s also a Conway location) is an absolute winner.
Before we get to the food, let’s set the scene. Upon entry, first timers may be a little confused about the ordering process. There’s a gelato/drink counter immediately to your right. Skip that (for now) and head directly to the salad station line.
This is where you order all your food (pizzas, salads, soups, sandwiches, and wings). The cashier gives you a number and the food is brought to your table when ready. Salads are prepared right in front of you and are usually finished with your transaction. I’ve found that it’s better to hunt down a table, drop off any food, and head to the adult drink line. The drinks and/or gelato are a separate transaction from the food. It’s a process that’s a tad disjointed, but seems to work.
There’s also a little dilemma at ZAZA…where to sit? If it’s crowded, the answer is easy…anywhere. But if you have a choice, I’d recommend staying inside and heading upstairs. You get a bird’s eye view of the place, it’s a little more secluded, and you have a wonderful flat screen television staring you in the face. On Friday nights, expect a flood of early teens dropped off by mommy and daddy to be perched up there. Eating in such a confined area with that many pink cell phones hurts my brain, but who am I to judge?
ZAZA’s setting is cool, but the food is even better. You can build your own salads or go with one of their signature versions with the ingredients already laid out. You can’t go wrong with either the Petit Jean Ranch ($9.50) or the Chicken Caesar ($8.50). All the ingredients are fresh and plentiful. Huge chicken chunks reside in the Caesar and the aptly named Petit Jean has those wonderfully smoky pieces of ham, along with the creamy ranch sauce, and massive croutons. The salads are excellent, but I highly recommend splitting one with a dining companion. You certainly want to save a little room for the pizza.
Speaking of the pizza—it is fantastic. I’m not one of these people who needs my pizza a certain way. I love all pizza, as long as it’s good. Whether it’s deep dish, New York-style, thick crust, thin crust..whatever…pizza is pizza. ZAZA’s wood-oven pizza has a wonderfully thin crust that is both crispy along the edges, and somewhat chewy near the interior.
I’ve tried the Quattro Formaggi ($11.50) and Barbecue Chicken ($12.50) pizzas. Skip the Quattro. The cheese combination is way over the top, especially the overwhelming saltiness of the Parmesan. I loved the Barbecue Chicken. Those same chunks of chicken mentioned in the Caesar Salad find their way onto this pie, and boy does it work. They also offer a Barbecue Shrimp pizza, which I really want to try, but my wife is allergic to shellfish. Can someone say “high maintenance?”
A couple of side notes. I had low expectations, however, I was pleasantly surprised with my cup of the Crab and Clam Chowder. It made me feel like I was back in Boston. Also, ZAZA claims to have the best margarita in Arkansas. They just might be right. That was one of the best margaritas ($6.50) I’ve ever had…anywhere. Served on the rocks in a beer mug, this meticulously prepared margarita is both smooth and strong. Finally, if you have some room, you really can’t go wrong with a small Arkansas Strawberry gelato ($3.75).
ZAZA is my kind of place. It’s relaxed and casual, the food is fresh and reasonably priced, and the overall concept is unique. Visit #3 is right around the corner.