When the Louisiana Street U.S. Pizza franchise operation suddenly closed earlier this year, it left a pizza hole in the downtown dining landscape.
What has arrived to fill it? Why, the Pizza Hole, of course.
Two earnest young men run the place, and it’s still a work in progress. The principal offering is a $7.89 buffet that in addition to 12-inch pizzas has a salad bar, a space for soup and most of the time a pasta special, but those earnest young men also whip up to-order salads, sandwiches, pizza by the pie or slice and several pizza-centered concoctions (calzones, strombolis and a so-called “pocket pie,” a smaller, square version of the calzone “great for eating on the run,” according to the menu).
The pizza has been improving as the operators find their footing, but it’s basically still a low-common-denominator, American-style pie, with a firm, medium-thin, cornmeal-dusted crust, topped with a nicely balanced red sauce, a not especially thick layer of cheese and a generous quantity of toppings.
Decently priced pies come in three sizes, 8-inch ($4.99, 60 additional cents per additional topping), 12-inch ($7.95, $1.10) and 16-inch ($11.96, also $1.10). The list of 16 toppings is pretty standard, but does not include many of the sandwich fixings that you can also put on your pie.
The five specialty pies ($7.99, $12.99, $16.95) range from Sicilian (salami, Italian sausage, pepperoni, banana peppers and Italian seasoning) to Supreme (beef, sausage, pepperoni, bell pepper, onions and mushrooms). Yes, there is a vegetable option, but nothing gluten-free, at least not pizza- or pasta-wise. Pizza by the slice is $1.50.
We would advise against sampling the buffet after the end of the lunch rush. We dropped in just shy of 1 p.m. and the pair of partial pizzas still positioned under the heat lamp were lonely, scorched and sad-looking - no telling how long they’d been there, but long enough for the cheese to have browned beyond immediate easy recognition.
When suddenly the oven door opened and a fresh pepperoni pie popped out on the pizza peel and took its place next to its much older brothers, the buffet suddenly brightened up about 150 percent.
There was no soup in the soup tureens and we were, we confess, a little leery about peering into the pasta-special pot, which allegedly contained some kind of mac-and-beef concoction. The buffet salad consisted of only iceberg lettuce with a standard range of toppings and dressings. The salad-bar and-pasta option is $6.25.
We tried Pizza Hole’s very respectable Calzone ($5.99), shaped in a half-moon rather than as “trousers” (that’s what the word means in Italian) in a to-go box. The crust is made with pizza dough; the filling is mozzarella and, not ricotta cheese, but most unusually, creamier mascarpone. It comes with a good-size portion of tangy marinara sauce for dipping. So far, though this is likely to change before long because it’s not cost-effective, the $5.99 price tag is good for a plain calzone or one stuffed with any or all of the pizza toppings.
Alas, we delayed overlong in consuming our calzone; it was quite nice when we first dug in, but as it cooled, the mozzarella and mascarpone fused into a gummy, chewy and considerably less appetizing stratum that no amount of tangy marinara could improve.
We had a similar problem with our Cheesy Breadsticks ($5.10), pizzalike round bread baked in the pizza oven and cut up into cheese-topped strips. Allowed to cool, they became considerably less interesting than they were when “new.”
The one thing for which we unreservedly would return to Pizza Hole is the meatball sandwich ($5.79), plentiful, firm, small meatballs stuffed into a hoagie roll, well surrounded by plenty of marinara sauce and lightly baked to melt the cheese. It’s messy as all get-out; if the meatballs were less firm, Pizza Hole could probably get away with calling it a “Sloppy Giuseppe.” But it is tasty. (A recommendation: Ask one of the earnest young men to cut the sandwich in half for you, or grab a knife and halve or even quarter it yourself. It’s much more manageable that way.)
Seating is at standard cafeteria-style chairs and tables and booths topped with well-worn (perhaps not quite shabby) checkered plasticized tablecloths. The on-table napkin dispensers are handy but, we discovered, sometimes not refilled as often as they should be. Artwork by our own John Deering, painted on the walls and then roughwood-framed, lend a certain class to the decor.
The Pizza Hole
Address: 402 Louisiana St., Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday Cuisine: Pizza, etc. Credit cards: V, MC, D Alcoholic beverages: No Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes; also delivery (501) 244-9609
Weekend, Pages 38 on 10/31/2013
Print Headline: Pizza Hole fills open spot in downtown Little Rock