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The local surge in quality cart food – think taco trucks, hot dog stands and various other food-mobiles – drew us out of the office this week to try out Pierre's Gourmet Pizza Co. Express Kitchen, an RV-housed pizza place located, at least for the moment, at Third and Izard in Little Rock. While it was worth the trip, we found the offerings to be more satisfactory than sublime.
Pierre's opening marks the second coming of a once-popular pizza joint based on JFK Boulevard in North Little Rock. The location closed in September 2009 when owner Michael Ayers underwent neck and back surgeries. Contrary to what you might think, Ayers says the confines of his RV are actually bigger than the old kitchen and don't seem to be hindering him from cranking out pizza, subs, calzones and salads once again.
We started off with a couple different salad selections. Pierre's Chef Salad (a small for $4.25 or a large for $8.50) was made with a mixture of greens, topped with turkey, banana peppers, red onions shredded cheddar cheese and croutons. The Grand Antipasto Salad (prices same as above) was very similar, just substitute salami and pepperoni for the turkey and add carrots, cucumbers and Parmesan cheese.
Both salads were decent. That is to say, you're not likely to find one that's much better in the surrounding environs. But they weren't great either. The lettuce was green, crisp and fresh. The same can't be said for some of the other vegetable toppings, which seemed limp and previously-frozen. However, the pepperoni and banana peppers made for a nice zing and it's hard to complain about the price. A small version fills up an entire to-go box for only $4.25. The main issue is that salads just don't travel well, so a salad from Pierre's is better for those in close proximity.
As Italian sandwiches go, Pierre's take on things (the Hot Italian Sub, $5.95) has all the guts right — nice cuts of salami, ham and pepperoni; a trio of slightly piquant pepper rings; lettuce; tomato and olive oil, pepper and some basil flakes. The sub bread was fine — nowhere near the high standard of Iriana's and Pizza Cafe sandwich bread (perhaps the best in town) — but fine. The problem was that either the bread wasn't sturdy enough or it wasn't sufficiently toasted to avoid going a touch soggy. Another thing: An Italian sub needs salty chips to accompany it. Unless ours were forgotten, Pierre's doesn't include any.
The pizza fared better in our taste test. We ordered up two specialty items, Pierre's Favorite ($12.50 for a small, $15.50 and $17.50 for a medium and a large, respectively) and La Vegetarian ($12.10, $13.40 and $15.40). Pierre's Favorite is basically a supreme, topped with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, salami, beef, Italian sausage, black olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, red and white onions and green peppers. It's served with marinara sauce and mozzarella.
Although the sauce tasted a little pasty, the toppings were nice and chunky. Big hunks of tomato, onion and peppers really set this pie off. The crust is soft and chewy and perfect for soaking up those juices that run off the selection of Italian meats piled atop. We think one mark of a good pizza is how it holds up in the fridge, waiting to become a midnight snack or a cold breakfast and this pie would be great for both. The vegetarian pizza – basically a meatless version of Pierre's Favorite – will be good for the herbivores in your midst.
While Pierre's pizza wagon is good in a pinch — have we ever met a pizza outside of a grocery store frozen case that wasn't good in a pinch? Let us think on it and we'll get back to you — the problem is one that has killed off several other pizza parlors in Little Rock in the past few years: the bar for pizza here is set fairly high as far as we're concerned (people who have lived in New York or Chicago, stop laughing). Why have pretty good pizza when you could have excellent pizza at Olde World, or Iriana's, or Vino's downtown? Or at Damgoode Pies or Pizza Cafe, among others, a little further on down the road? Not to mention: BEER.
We hate to kick Pierre while he's just getting back on his feet — or in this case, wheels — and we love that someone is trying to add to the suddenly-interesting food truck/cart scene in Little Rock. But in a town with so many fine sit-down pizzas (served with BEER!), maybe mobile pies wasn't the best choice. Might we suggest cheesesteaks, fried chicken or big 'n' sloppy cheeseburgers?
Pierre's Gourmet Pizza Co. Express Kitchen
Corner of Third and Izard Streets
Next time we'll take a crack at some of the other specialty pizzas like the Baja Mexico, topped with re-fried beans, beef, salsa, cheddar cheese, black olives, jalapenos, tomatoes, red onions and cilantro. Oh, and if you're lazy, Pierre's delivers – but not in the RV.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday
No credit cards. Cash and checks only.