Friday, August 31, 2012

Layla's takes on Italian

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 9:59 AM

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Since I arrived in Arkansas, people have been squawking to me about Layla’s, perhaps more than any other place in Little Rock. Once I tried it, I got it. It’s got a nice “divey” atmosphere without being a dump, it’s reasonably exotic, and it’s unbelievably cheap. Not to mention, they put out some pretty decent eats. In a city that represents itself very well in the world of Mediterranean and Halal cuisine, Layla’s is a standout because they are consistently producing satisfied customers with consistently satisfying authentic ethnic fare. For myself, I’m fairly easy to please as long as I can slather tzatziki sauce on just about anything on my plate.

On a recent trip to Layla’s, I decided to take a stroll down some of their more Italian ventures, figuring if they could pull off a solid chicken shawarma and falafel platter, they may be able to hold their own with a pizza or calzone…and it was also just too hard to pass up anything with the words “triple-meat” in the name. I brought home some hummus and pitas just in case things went totally south.

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Surprisingly, the “triple-meat calzone” was a decent representation of the Italian classic. The three meats, pepperoni, sausage and beef were present in substantial amounts, oozing just enough orange grease to remind you this thing is on no one’s health food list. The sausage was a little too similar to the rubbery garbage you’d find on a Pizza Hut “meat lovers” pie, and I suspect that it was of the generic frozen variety standard at many low-end pizza joints. But this is a minor issue, one which the hearty dose of “double mozzarella” easily helped wash down. The lovely baked bread encasing these ingredients was perhaps the greatest part of the dish. Golden brown on the outside, chewy on the inside, with a generous spread of Italian seasonings on top. The accompanying marinara was a refreshing addition, with freshly chopped tomatoes, onions, and spices…it was more reminiscent of an Italian version of pico de gallo, but was perfect with the salty meats and rich, stringy cheese.

Always open to the wacky-world of fusion cuisine, I next took on the gyro calzone. It’s darn near impossible not to order lamb when you walk into Layla’s…as you watch the large chunk of skewered meat rotating on a vertical spit, it’s simply hypnotizing and unavoidable. As expected, the gyro calzone is stuffed full of dark, sliced lamb meat and mozzarella with a side of that glorious tzatziki. Simple in its construction, but deceivingly complex in flavor and texture. The salty, tender lamb meat gets enveloped in gobs of runny cheese, and the entire dish is made whole with the flavors of tangy yogurt, dill and lemon in the tzatziki. It all worked, and I was sufficiently satisfied with my selections. Seems there is no corner of the Mediterranean Sea that Layla’s hasn’t got covered.

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