Wednesday, September 26, 2012

'Wich Trials: The wood-oven baked sandwiches of ZAZA

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 10:40 AM

The ZAZA Grinder
  • The ZAZA Grinder

The ZAZA Grinder
  • The ZAZA Grinder

Unless you’ve been living under a mighty large rock for the last four years, you’re probably already aware that ZAZA is slinging some of the finest pizza in the state. In my opinion, Neapolitan-style is the greatest form a pizza pie can take, and ZAZA is possibly offering the closest you’ll come to Naples here in Arkansas. Thus, I've found it nearly impossible to walk through their doors and not order pizza. I've sampled the salads (generally ordered by my considerably more health conscious significant other) and they are fine, but when stacked up against the blistered and slightly blackened thin crust topped with bubbling mozzarella, aromatic basil, and house-made sausage, there is practically no contest. A piteous bowl of leafy greens rarely, if ever, comes out on top.

And so, it was equally difficult for me to branch out and sample their wood-oven baked sandwiches. Now I love a good sandwich, but I never thought one could curb my cravings in the same manner as a fine pizza pie. Apparently, I was wrong.

My first sandwich epiphany came after sampling ZAZA’s surprisingly outstanding Roasted Veggie sandwich. As a card-carrying carnivore, I do enjoy my meat, but (again) thanks to my cholesterol-conscious dining companion, I was offered half of her lovely meat-free sandwich. The sandwich begins with their perfectly crispy, oven-baked whole wheat bread. Crispy, slightly charred on the edges, the sturdy bread supports all of its juicy insides without falling apart, retaining its delightful texture from first to last bite. A meat-eater, like myself, never even misses the animal flesh with this sandwich. The secret to its success is in the tender roasted veggies. The mushroom, artichoke, sun dried tomato, caramelized onion and peppers are hearty and filling, the slow roasting bringing all their inherent flavor to the forefront of the entire experience. A little tangy richness is provided by a light touch of fontina and goat cheese. Lastly, a dressing of lemon-cucumber vinaigrette provides a hint of tartness, only enhancing the flavors contained within the luscious vegetables. It’s a wonderfully constructed sandwich with a balance of flavors that could match any plate presented by a Michelin-starred establishment.

With such an unexpectedly exceptional sandwich experience already under my belt, I was quite optimistic on a return visit, determined to sample another of their sandwich offerings. Returning to my carnivorous roots, I opted for the ZAZA Grinder, another oven-baked sandwich laced with thinly sliced turkey, spicy pepperoni and mozzarella. The grinder also gets topped with sweet artichokes, pepperoncini, fresh Romaine lettuce, and black olives, all lightly dressed with a house-made garden ranch. Again, I was thoroughly impressed with the skill with which this sandwich was created. The careful balance of thick, soft baked bread, savory and salty cured meats, and fresh vegetables makes this particular sandwich a thing of beauty.

It would appear that the fine folks at ZAZA can do no wrong. Perhaps on my next visit I’ll get completely nuts and order some boneless buffalo wings...perhaps. It's reassuring to have a place like ZAZA in Little Rock. It’s a place you can show off to out-of-town visitors, where your friends and family will assuredly remark upon your superior taste for suggesting it. I'll surely find myself frequenting these guys when the pizza pangs hit me, but the sandwiches are not second-rate options...definitely a place that fellow sandwich seekers should sample for themselves.

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