There are few foods in this world more universally loved than pizza. To young and old alike, pizza is a part of our American culinary fabric no matter how “Italian” its roots may be. We’ve got a healthy variety of pizza styles in this town, but one’s opinion on which style of pie is “best” is certainly open for discussion. I enjoy all types of pies—from Neapolitan, deep dish, thin crust, thick crust, New York, or Chicago. If it’s made with care and attention to detail, I wholly support whatever style a pizzeria deems appropriate for their establishment. Could we use a few more pizza joints in Central Arkansas? Of course. Pizza is a wondrous canvas for creation and there’s a whole host of things going on in the world that have not yet reached Little Rock. But if you’d like to know where the best is in Little Rock right now, here they be.
1. The Z’apreme at ZAZA: Anyone who appreciates good pizza in Little Rock has likely been blessed with the opportunity to sit in the hallowed halls of this Height’s staple. ZAZA is consistently packed with pizza-loving patrons, with waits sometimes edging on 45 minutes for a pie at peak hours. No matter what amount of time you are painstakingly forced to wait for your pie to exit the restaurant’s towering centerpiece, the massive inferno of blazing wood, it will absolutely be worth it. It’s likely that each patron has a pie that they consistently gravitate to, and perhaps it’s unfair for me to single out just one as the best offered, but for my entire time in Little Rock I have been fixated and impressed, again and again, with the Z’apreme. But let’s start with the foundation of any respectable pie—the crust. ZAZA nails it every time. Those not accustomed to this style of pie may be a little surprised by the dark, fire-kissed blisters around the crusts periphery. While too much char can overwhelm the flavors of the pie, the right amount adds the perfect crisp and a subtle bitter note to the dough. The crust is always soft, pliable, but able to support the variety of toppings gracing the surface of the pie. I’m particularly enthralled with the Z’apreme due to its depth of flavors, textures, and quality ingredients. It’s topped with mozzarella, parmesan shavings, mushrooms, pepperoni, and onions. I’m always pleased to get a bite with the dark, briny kalamata olives. But the pièce de résistance is their housemade fennel sausage. I’ve added sausage to a number of other pies (the Green and White makes a particularly good substitute), but none come close to the balance of flavor found on the lovely Z’apreme.
2. The margherita from Pizzeria Santa Lucia: A relative newcomer to the Little Rock pizza scene, but in the short time that PSL has been operating, they’ve managed to captivate an audience that understands that they’re producing a product that’s required adequate training to create using only quality ingredients (many imported directly from Italy). The pizza truck can be found at various food festivals outdoor events around Little Rock. They’re mobile, so tracking them down requires a bit more effort than picking up your average to-go order, but the effort is worth it. Santa Lucia is arguably the most authentic Neapolitan pie in Central Arkansas—a style of pizza that has been booming across the country for a few years now. It’s their margherita that tells their story best. Simple, elegant, light. The crust is thin, tender and soft. The pie is simply adorned with fresh mozzarella, crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and a few sprigs of basil. It’s a combination that has worked for centuries, and Santa Lucia does a fine job of upholding the lofty Neapolitan standards. Naysayers may bemoan the fact that it’s scantily topped—not much cheese, not much basil. But this is all intentional; this is their take on what a classic margherita should be. And they’re doing a mighty fine job with it.
3. Pizza by the slice at Vino’s: Perhaps the closest one will find to an authentic New York-style thin slice. We’ve often extolled the virtues of the drafts coming out of this brewery here at The Times, but their pizza should certainly not be overlooked. The beautiful thing about a slice at Vino’s is just that—the ability to order your pie by the slice without having to commit to a large, family-sized pizza. Patrons are able to top their slices however they like, utilizing the long list of options presented as accompaniments to their pie. Sausage and onion makes a fine combination, pepperoni and black olive as well. There’s something to please everyone when creating your own slices. But the primary reason to go with the pizza by the slice is the fact that each slice—which is already baked off prior to your order—gets a second round in the scorching pizza oven, imparting a nice cracker-like crispiness to the lower half of the pie. As you crunch through your slice, savoring the fabulous textures and flavors of melted cheese, zesty pizza sauce, and other chosen toppings, you’ll feel instant gratification. There’s no other place in the world you’d rather be than within the walls of Vino’s.
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