I realized tonight as I entered ZAZA Pizza and Salad that I hadn’t actually been inside the place in over a year, and things have really changed at the Heights restaurant. Gone are the bright plastic chairs and garish lighting, replaced by wood, wood, and more wood. A large wooden table downstairs evokes memories of family-style dinners, while the wooden chairs upstairs are as comfortable as they are stylish. But that’s not where it ends — the walls themselves have been turned into huge bins of stacked firewood, an interesting decorating choice that hammers home one point: ZAZA is all about making wood-fired pizza.
We sat near one of the chopped wood walls, and the faint smell of the wood reminded me of being a kid and stacking wood with my dad — a very pleasant aroma indeed. Of course the main smell in the place is what that wood fuels — a huge pizza oven where a delightful variety of gourmet pies are turned from fresh raw ingredients into slightly charred masterpieces.
So the dining room was a wonderful, softly lit change from the previous decor, a testament to Amber Brewer’s talent for designing elegant spaces in which to eat (Brewer is also responsible for the look of Local Lime and both Big Orange locations) — but how was the pizza? The answer is: better than ever, and I say that as someone who has been critical of the place in the past. We ordered a pizza called the “Forager,” and the combination of caramelized onions, artichoke hearts, briny olives, and some of the freshest and most colorful tomatoes I’ve ever had might be my new favorite pizza in Little Rock. Take look below the jump for some other pictures from the renovated space, and make some time to get over there to eat.
The Forager is a masterpiece. Sweet grape tomatoes, briny olives, and some of the best caramelized onions I’ve ever had. They don’t overdo any ingredient, and the result is a balanced taste in every bite. The wood-fired oven gives the crust just a slight bit of char, adding depth to the salty and sweet flavors of the toppings.
Stacks of firewood line the walls, emphasizing the restaurant’s commitment to high-quality wood-fire cooked pizza.
The upstairs includes a subtle nod to the location’s former life as the Heights theater.
And, of course, the gelato is still excellent. It’s always nice to see a restaurant make changes, but the one thing I’m glad that stayed the same at ZaZa (apart from the pizza) is the excellent music — grooving to Stevie Wonder and the Talking Heads during dinner makes for good times.