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story.lead_photo.caption The Rosa Dama at Sauce(d) in Little Rock features San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, Merguez sausage, mushrooms, egg and fresh basil. - Photo by Jennifer Christman

Edgy and ambitious, Sauce(d) Bar and Oven is nothing like Cicis, the last pizza tenant in the space in Little Rock's Market Place Shopping Center.

There's no buffet. There's no game room. There's no pepperoni. Now, prosciutto, on the other hand ...

Sauce(d) Bar and Oven

Address: Market Place Shopping Center, 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: Pizza, salads, sandwiches, lasagna, tapas

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: Larger parties only

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 353-1534;

While families are certainly welcome, a sophisticated menu prepared by an open kitchen on one side and a full bar on the other make casual Sauce(d) more ideal for an adult night out. Or lunch out; the eatery, which has been bustling since it opened in May, added midday service this week.

Sauce(d) is the creation of well-known area chefs, including Gwen Jones (Rebel Kettle Brewing, Beast Food Truck, the Food Network's BBQ Blitz) and Amanda Ivy (1836 Club, Food Network's Great Food Truck Race).

The modern segmented space with several seating areas is kept sparse, save for flat screens and bold keg lights hanging from the ceiling in one alcove. Sleek surroundings make one forget you're dining in a strip mall (a patio has a view of the parking lot). Servers are congenial and competent.

Sauce(d) specializes in wood-fired pizzas. Fancy ones. This isn't where you order a "pan pizza with extra cheese." It's where you get a thin Quattro Formaggi with "EVOO [extra virgin olive oil], mozzarella, gorgonzola, goat cheese, parmesan and fresh basil" -- with extra char.

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Photos by Jennifer Christman

While the ingredients are "upper crust," the prices tend to be pretty reasonable. Personal pizzas range from $12-15 (build your own with toppings that range from 75 cents to $5 each); that and a craft beer will get you dinner -- leaving maybe a slice or two to take home -- for about $20.

Beyond a dozen specialty pizzas, there are five sandwiches ($9-$15), four salads ($9 individual to $15 for a "share" portion; add chicken or shrimp for $4), two kinds of soup ($8 bowl) and seven "Tapas" ($6-$17).

More than they seem to love sauce at Sauce(d), they love eggs. We concluded that after our first meal, which included eggs atop our appetizer and pizza.

The Meatball in Purgatory ($9) -- a sizable sphere of mozzarella-stuffed beef, served in a miniature skillet of zesty marinade with toasted bread and topped with a cracked egg -- was a quite heavenly starter to share with my date.

One runny egg -- off to the side and mostly on one slice -- also was an ingredient on our unevenly topped Rosa Dama pizza ($15) that also featured spottily placed San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, Merguez sausage, mushrooms and exactly two leaves of fresh basil. The ingredients sounded mouth-watering, yet they didn't register. The result was unexpectedly bland; the overwhelming flavor was char, and there was a lot of picked-over bald crust on our plates.

Better to us was the Some Like it Hot pizza ($14), which also had an ample amount of "leopard spotting" on its crust. It too was unevenly topped -- with melty mozzarella blobs missing from a third of the pizza -- but ingredients such as habanero honey, bacon marmalade, soppressata and fresh basil (again, two leaves) went a bit further on the overall flavor front.

My next visit to Sauce(d), I'd order something else and have Friend 1 try the pizza. Her verdict was similar to ours.

But first, drinks and tapas. And more egg.

Friend 1 and I sipped summer Stiegl Grapefruit Radlers ($4), appreciating that the Austrian brew was served in shapely glasses. Other closer-to-home drafts include selections from Little Rock's Rebel Kettle, Stone's Throw, Lost Forty and Flyway breweries (most $5-$6). There are also a dozen wines ($5-9 per glass; $9-$16 half bottle; $17-30 bottle.)

This time we'd share the Carpaccio ($11), pleasant thinly sliced rare beef served with toasted bread, a fluffy and peppery ruculoa salad (arugula, lemon, olive oil, parmesan) and cured egg yolk. Because Friend 2 has a bizarre fear of any kind of egg -- fried, deviled, Cadbury -- that isn't scrambled, we asked for it to be placed on the side, which it was in a separate metal cup. As fans of the comparable carpaccio at another restaurant in town, we couldn't help but think this serving was considerably smaller; of course, it's also $3 cheaper. Next time we're going for the Board ($17), a beautiful arrangement of "meats, cheeses, kitchen love" that we saw taken to nearby tables.

About the Sweet Cheeks pizza ($14) of olive oil, guanciale (Italian cured meat), mozzarella, Peppadew peppers, Peruvian teardrops (peppers) and fresh basil (again, two leaves), Friend 1 says: "I loved the list of what sounded like punchy, fun toppings. ... But the ingredients were so sparse and unevenly distributed, and the flavors so much more subtle than I had prepared for, that I was a bit disappointed. The bread was nicely oven-fired, but with no sauce and very little of anything else, I was left with a plate full of pizza bones. ... It had a good tooth, nice chew. I like the creativity. I just wanted more of everything except the crusty dry bread part."

This time I'd try The Adrian, a hearty sausage sandwich ($12, sandwiches include one side). The house-made quarter-pound sausage, nestled in a fresh hoagie roll and topped with a puckery chow-chow and garlic aioli was spicy and satisfying. I should have tried a different side -- pasta salad, purple potato salad or shoestring fries (regularly $3) -- but instead ordered the rucola salad, which I already encountered on the Carpaccio.

Friend 1 and I both had pasta envy, admiring the Lasagna Al Forno ($9; $4 to add chicken, shrimp or meatball) ordered by Friend 2; the entree was served in a mini skillet with a giant meatball on top. She said the lasagna, layered with mozzarella, local vegetables and marinara and bechamel sauces, was her favorite part of the meal: "It had a good bit of sauce on it, which had a really good flavor. The meatball was huge -- a bit undercooked on the inside. But I will let that slide because it was a very big meatball." As for the True Caesar salad ($9) she ordered before it, "It was probably the item I liked least. There was very little dressing on it, and what dressing there was did not have any flavor. It was supposed to have fried capers on it, and there were a few, but it needed more."

There are three desserts or "After" selections, as the menu categorizes them: Loblolly ice cream ($4), a Cheese Board ($9 four cheeses) and Cannoli Cheesecake ($7). We shared a slice of cheesecake, enjoying the rich and dreamy dessert that was dotted with chocolate chips on a plate that was Sauce(d) with chocolate.

Photo by Jennifer Christman
The Meatball in Purgatory is on the Tapas menu at Sauce(d).
Photo by Jennifer Christman
Sauce(d)’s Carpaccio features thinly sliced beef with toasted bread, arugula salad and cured egg yolk.
Photo by Jennifer Christman
Keg lights illuminate a dining area at Sauce(d) Bar and Oven.
Photo by Jennifer Christman
Cannoli cheesecake is an “After” selection at Sauce(d).

Weekend on 06/07/2018

Print Headline: Sauce(d) fired up about adult pizza

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