Some say that even bad pizza is still pretty good. I don't agree. In my experience, bad pizza has always been pretty bad. I'm talking about the parched slices from my cafeteria-lunch days, huddled beneath heat lamps and slippery with grease. Or worse yet, the frozen-TV-dinner kind. The dough was always too doughy, the cheese was always too thin and the whole thing was always too far away from "pretty good."
But if that were the case—if bad pizza were, at the end of the day, still "pretty good"—would good pizza suddenly arrive in the "great pizza" zone? If so, then the flavorful pies from Zia Gourmet Pizza (3311 Adams Ave.) might just land a spot among the "spectacular."
With its mosaic floors and colorful wall murals, the Normal Heights eatery instantly brought to mind the dimly lit video arcades of my teen years. Walk past a few booths to the end of the restaurant and you'll discover a countertop displaying several different variations of the oven-baked stuff.
Lucky first-timers might get a quick rundown of the flavor combos from owner Khaled Waleh, who was all smiles as he pointed out the eggplant pizza. The Zia best-seller focuses on buttery slips of oven-roasted aubergine, but unexpected ingredients like yogurt and cranberries also join the mix. The potato pizza, Waleh said, is another crowd favorite, and the New Yorker rounds out the top three.
Other than its calzone, Zia's menu doesn't offer much more than pizza. There are salads, yes, but who wants leafy greens when there's cheesy bread on the brain? Pizza purists should be forewarned, though: You won't find your simple, straightforward Margherita here. The unconventional toppings travel in large groups—about an average of five per pie. The potato, for instance, brings together rosemary spuds, garlic, scallions, mozzarella and cream cheese.
At first, I was a little hesitant about trying cream cheese on pizza, but the end result was distractingly good. A crisp whole-wheat crust supported the hearty ingredients, and the entire thing was like an extra-indulgent take on breakfast potatoes. I also ordered the New Yorker, which combines thick-cut strips of turkey pastrami with scallions, pepperoncini, cream cheese, basil and mozzarella. This, too, was tasty. The pizza was gently spicy, and its light, chewy crust pulled the flavors together with ease. Although I ordered by the slice, you can also choose from the 14-inch bambino and 17-inch grande options.
Several of Zia's pizzas are topped with what's called a "savory yogurt sauce." The yogurt, garlic, mint and herb mixture arrived in milky splotches on the eggplant pizza. I was a bit skeptical about this ingredient choice, too, but it ended up complementing the eggplant's rich, oily undertones, and the whole thing tasted great.
Waleh also mentioned dessert pizzas. The Tropical Splash—a smattering of baked yams, pineapple, peach slivers and cashews—sounded intriguing but also a little overcrowded. Anyway, I was too stuffed for anything more than the last few bites of my New Yorker. But I'll be back for other menu standouts, like the roast chicken and banana-split pizzas.