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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Pizzeria's pies a slice above

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published January 12, 2017 at 5:45 a.m.

with-bacon-and-pepperoni-the-ford-is-a-meaty-option-at-the-pizzeria

With bacon and pepperoni, The Ford is a meaty option at The Pizzeria.

The Shrimp Scampi (front) and Spinarizo (back) are specialty pies at The Pizzeria.

The Pizzeria

Address: 4910 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday (bar stays open one hour later)

Cuisine: Neapolitan-style pizza

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: No

Carryout: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

(501) 551-1388

facebook.com/pizzeriasantaluciaLR/

Pizza is like politics.

It's personal. It's passionate. It's certain to cause factions (Team New York vs. Team Chicago). And it's certain to cause fights (#ImWithExtraCheese vs. #MakingAmericaMeatyAgain) -- at least over who gets the final piece.

So The Pizzeria -- the newly renamed (formerly The Pizzeria at Terry's and, before that, The Pizzeria Santa Lucia food truck) and recently relocated (from a block away) Heights pizza restaurant dealing in Neapolitan-style pies -- will be a slice of paradise for some but not others.

And so it was with our group of five gals who parked ourselves at a corner table on a recent Thursday night.

Backing up a bit, this wasn't my only trip to The Pizzeria (though I had never visited in its previous Terry's and food truck incarnations). This was my only successful trip.

For a pizza place, The Pizzeria keeps somewhat limited hours. There's no lunch service, and it's closed on Monday.

The first time I attempted a meal with a date on a different busy Thursday, the wait was entirely too long (although there is at least a welcoming waiting lounge, complete with amusements, like a vintage Star Wars pinball machine). We again tried to pop in on New Year's Eve, only to learn business wasn't open for a traditional dinner, just a late-night, reservations-only party.

So instead of our usual two two-people review visits, one five-people review visit would suffice this time, with our group sampling a variety of pizzas and potent adult beverages.

Because we arrived at 5:30 p.m., we had our choice of tables, but the restaurant's limited seating was quick to fill up.

Dark paint and accents such as tin ceiling tiles and a Texas longhorn skull over the large bar give the cosmopolitan Pizzeria a cozy feel. And the stock of the booze-filled shelves with a library-style ladder makes it an ideal place to camp for a few hours.

We all enjoyed the feel of the place. One of our diners captured it perfectly: "Felt very New York City neighborhood restaurant. Like a quaint eatery only the locals know about." One thing that makes it different from New York: there's an ample amount of parking, at least by Heights standards.

Our server was friendly, offering recommendations, accommodating picky preferences, answering countless questions and checking on us often. If he could congenially roll with our idiosyncrasies, we're confident he could deal with any group.

To drink, there is beer (Diamond Bear to Peroni), wine (pinot grigio to port), shooters, cocktails and mocktails. Expect those specialty cocktails like the Purple People Eater ($10) -- a blend of fruity Schnapps, rum and lemonade that a friend described as "sweet with just the right amount of tartness" -- to add up. Especially when you are overcharged by $2 for them (it was $12 on our bill). Also $12 was a special cocktail request not on the menu -- an Appletini. The friend who grimaced as she sipped it called it "too much tini and not enough apple -- too much hooch and not enough tart." I was enchanted by my precious mini bottle of La Gioiosa Prosecco, a relative bargain at $8.

For an appetizer, we shared the modestly named Cheese Dip ($15) from the Antipasti menu. The baked skillet of melty Camembert cheese served with not-quite-toasty-enough bread rounds was definitely not the typical Arkansas cheese dip. While four of us enjoyed it, our most particular friend deemed it bland.

The starter menu also features choices like Wood Oven Shrimp, a Hummus Duo, Olives and Sweet Hots and Bonta Sticks (mozzarella flatbread with locally made Amy's Bonta Toscana red sauce), plus two salads with prices ranging from $6 to $11. The Caesar salad ($6; $9 large) that came with no croutons, just bread on the side, was "basic and could have used more dressing," reported Particular Friend. But another countered, "I was the recipient of a Caesar salad I didn't order. But it was tasty -- a good lemony zing." That we weren't charged for this bonus salad more than made up for the cocktail upcharge.

The Pizzeria's menu features about 20 10-inch pies ($10-$18) that the kitchen can also prepare as calzones. Or build a creation from their list of toppings ($2 each) like goat cheese, truffle oil, farm-fresh eggs and baby kale.

We ordered a trio of pizzas to share: The Spinarizo ($16), Shrimp Scampi ($16) and The Ford ($15). All the thin pizzas came out hot, artfully presented and dotted with those love-or-hate dark carbon bubbles that characterize Neapolitan-style pies. Cooed one friend: "I liked the wood-fired crust, with its burned bits and smoky taste." Members of another pizza caucus, however, might just call them "burned."

I, who prefer my pizza a little thicker, a lot saucier and less "done," left much of the outside crust on the plate. But I'm moderate in my pizza viewpoints. I still found The Pizzeria's quality ingredients and interesting flavors pleasing.

With garlic cream sauce, spinach, fresh mozzarella, Spanish chorizo and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the Spinarizo was a table favorite. Particular Friend, however, wanted more chorizo.

The most unconventional was the Shrimp Scampi, featuring olive oil, basil, oregano, roasted garlic, fresh mozzarella and one plump wild-caught shrimp and prosciutto shred per slice, with a few unexpected small lemon wedges resting on top.

We would have liked more of the garlicky Bonta sauce on The Ford ($15), our most traditional choice, featuring Petit Jean bacon, pepperoni and fresh mozzarella.

More toppings in general, would have been preferred by Particular Friend: "I thought generally they were good, but there just wasn't that much cheese, sauce or anything. I am a toppings person so that could just be my preference."

Even Particular Friend had nothing but praise for The Pizzeria's homemade desserts. Drizzled in sauce and covered in nuts, the rich Brownie ala Mode ($8) was ice creamy, and the equally elaborate plush Peanut Butter Fudge Pie ($5) was dreamy.

Pizza partiality might divide us, but good desserts always unify us.

Weekend on 01/12/2017

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