Let us mince no toppings: Though we have not eaten of its products so much over the past few years, we are nonetheless fans of Pizza Cafe, the small, quirky but homey pizza-salad-sandwich emporium on Rebsamen Park Road in Little Rock’s Riverdale area.
Yes, the parking is a bit of a nightmare, but the pizza is among the town’s finest and we don’t really give it enough recognition, a lack we hope to here partially repair.
If you, too, are a fan of Pizza Cafe, but live far enough west of Riverdale so that it has been inconvenient to eat there, you can rejoice: There is now a second sit-down location at Cantrell Road and Taylor Loop, in what most recently had been an ice creamery-hot doggery. (As a sort of halfway measure, there is also the Pizza Cafe Take & Bake at 102B Markham Park Drive, where you can pick up partially prepared specialty and build-your-own pizzas and finish them in your oven. It also sells submarine sandwiches and salads, and an almost double handful of pasta dishes based on recipes from the now-defunct Villa.)
The new location is at the southern end of the strip center where, at the north end, is Thirst N Howl Bar & Grill, which was, if you recall, the birthplace of Izzy’s before it moved even farther west on Cantrell.
It’s also in the midst of a restaurant cluster that includes Buffalo Wild Wings, Mooyah Burgers and Forbidden Garden (if you’re heading west on Cantrell and pass those establishments, you’ve gone too far) and on the opposite side of a parking lot from a Pizza Hut.
Pizza Cafe general manager Richard Harrison claims the excitement of opening a new place helped bring him out of “retirement.” He’ll be taking on a lot of pizza competition, not just from Pizza Hut but from other places along the Cantrell corridor west of Interstate 430, including Razorback, Larry’s, The Pizza Joint and NYPD.
As with his Riverdale establishment, Harrison (no relation to the reviewer) has cheerily decorated the place with flea market findings, decking his walls with whimsical signs and artwork - for example, our favorite, the “I Love Lucy Ave.” sign on the face of the bar, where customers can perch on aluminum stools at the edge of the open kitchen. (Harrison declares the “Beauty Salon” neon over the women’s restroom door is the piece d’ resistance.) Flat-screen TVs over the bar and on one wall show mostly sports or news programming.
Unlike the Riverdale restaurant, this one has become a magnet for couples of all ages and families with small children. A well-covered patio seats a couple of dozen in fair weather.
The furnishings are an eclectic mix of Bruster’s (that’s the former ice cream place) tables and chairs and some others Harrison has brought in, including a set of booths along the eastern windows. Bruster’s evidently left in sufficient haste that it left a lot of its napkins behind, which Harrison thriftily is still stocking in the on-table napkin holders.
Speaking of haste, though it took Harrison longer to open than he had anticipated, he got the place up and running on a shoestring, several days before his wine glasses showed up (don’t let the “liquor” sign on the bar fool you - the place just serves wine and beer) and with makeshift signs in the windows.
The menu is identical to the one in Riverdale, with 10-, 13- and 15-inch pizzas - more than a dozen specialties, plenty of meat, vegetable and cheese topping options and four kinds of sauces for build-your-owns (available by the slice in pepperoni, vegetable and cheese for weekday lunch), plus a selection of plain and specialty salads and a half-dozen sub-style sandwiches.
A gluten-free, 10-inch pie is an option for $1.50 more, but otherwise, Pizza Cafe only does one crust. It’s crisp at the edges and firm in the middle, just the way we like it. The menu asks that you be prepared to wait 25-30 minutes for pizza, but in our experience it rarely takes that long.
Though we are not ordinarily a fan of frou-frou pizzas, the “Mediterranean” - an olive-oil instead of red sauce base, topped with mozzarella, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach and black olives ($12.85,$15.95 and $17.95) - recently became one of our new favorites. And it’s just as good out west as it is near the river. The ingredients are plentiful and the balance between them is surprisingly good.
The beef topping is pellets instead of clumps, but otherwise we also did well with a “standard” beef-mushroom black olive pie (be aware: additional toppings are $1.35, $1.65 and $1.85 per, based on the size of the pizza).
Our $4.75 small Caesar salad was excellent, with crisp croutons and plenty of grated cheese, but it was slightly over-dressed (dressing should be just enough to adequately coat the romaine; a residual coating on the bowl generally means the kitchen overdid it).
Sandwiches come on a sourdough hoagie roll with lettuce, diced tomatoes and the house honey mustard dressing (extra dressing is an extra 70 cents) plus chips and a salad pepper.
You can mix and match with a salad and half-sandwich option - $2.50 off the price of a sandwich, plus a buck off the price of a salad. That’s how we half-encountered Pizza Cafe’s delightful Supreme Sub Muffaletta ($7.50), generous portions of ham, turkey, salami, provolone and an olive salad mix.
Service was uniformly good (and by that we mean the entire wait staff wears black tops), competent and friendly.
Pizza Cafe West
Address: 14710 Cantrell Road, Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Cuisine: Pizza, salads, sandwiches
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Alcoholic beverages: Wine and beer
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Weekend, Pages 31 on 04/25/2013
Print Headline: Pizza Cafe goes west, well