Ever since a few friends and work colleagues discovered my food blog, I always get plenty of advice on which restaurants I should try. The suggestions always are presented in one of three ways.
The first is one of glee. ("You should review this place because it is fantastic!")
The second way is a person wanting to not rain on anyone's parade. (Maybe you could review that place and tell me if you thought it was as bad as I thought it was.")
The last one is the one of fear in hating the place, but not wanted to make a commitment. ("Perhaps you could review this place I went to last week and tell me what you thought. I found it... interesting.")
I heard the last line from two people regarding Pie Zanos Kitchen, a little pizza place in the Town & Country Shopping Center at 20th Street and Camelback Road in Central Phoenix. Since Town & Country is strangely laid out, you can find Pie Zanos to the north of our local Trader Joe's and right behind the Cypress Pita Grill.
I had to venture into Trader Joe's to check out any new arrivals and decided to try Pie Zanos. It has, after all, been the subject of quite a bit of talk in 2005, including being named a winner in some category in the 2005 New Times Best of Phoenix and named "Best New Restaurant" in 2005 from Phoenix Magazine. So, I thought I would give it a go and see how good the pizza can be.
The space itself is sizable and filled with earth tone paint and wooden tables and chairs. A few TVs are on, but muted, usually showing sports events. The kitchen is open air and a team of people are ready to take your order. You peruse the chalkboard and make your selection, pay for your meal and then take a seat.
I reviewed their specialty pizzas and the friendly gentleman told me that the Bo Diddley Pizza and the Garden Pizza were the eatery's biggest sellers. All of the selections looked yummy, with pizzas featuring such toppings mixtures as sliced apple, carmelized onions, honey on a poppy seed crust or Sausage, Pepper Jack Cheese, Jalapeno on a Cayenne Crust.
After taking some time, I decided on the Bo Diddley Pizza ($6.75), which featured Bacon, Spinach, Provolone, BBQ Sauce, and Sweet Potato on a Chipotle Crust. It really sounded great and I was drooling just thinking of the flavor combination. I also decided that a pizza deserves a nice salad to accompany it, so, I chose the Side Salad ($2.50) with the Creamy Caesar dressing. I wanted a Diet Coke, but they only had Diet Pepsi, and being the purist I am, I went for the Iced Tea ($2.00) which the gentleman that took my order said was an infused tea with lavendar, honey, hyacinth and other things. It sounded refreshing, so I took his advice.
I paid my bill ($11.89) including tax and headed to get my tea from the self-serve station. I poured my drink and added an orange slice for some sweetness. The tea was really quite good and a nice mix of tastes. I normally don't add sugar to my iced tea, but in this case, just a small sprinkle was a good option.
I took a seat at one of the tables and waited for my order to be called. I was pleasantly surprised to have a server arrive at my table with my salad.
The salad arrived in a metal bowl. It was substantial and the fresh mixed field greens were tossed with red onion, diced tomatoes and sunflower seeds. The Caesar dressing was drizzled on top and I like the taste of the dressing with its hint of course black pepper. What made this salad was the freshness of the vegetables and the crunch of the sunflower seeds. The only complaint was the tomatoes which were somewhat mealy and had that horrible texture. Since I was able to pick those out, it was only a slight drawback, but overall, I was pleased with the salad.
A few minutes passed from the end of my salad until my pizza arrived. When it was set in front of me, my first reaction was mild disappointment. The size of the pizza was, in my estimation, rather meager for one person. I know I am a fairly heafty eater, but because of the very thin crust of this pizza, this would not be considered a substantial serving by most people. The second thing that disappointed me was the sweet potato topping. This was not slices or pieces of diced sweet potato, but swirls of finely grated sweet potato. It seemed as if the point of the sweet potato was for decoration rather than taste.
I pulled one of the quarters of the pizza and lifted it up to my mouth. Unfortunately, the very thin crust was unable to sustain the weight of the cheese, bacon and spinach and had already been weakened by the BBQ sauce while cooking. So, my pizza piece collapsed near where my fingers were holding the lip of the crust and the toppings and sauce dropped onto the pan.
I was able to save the piece by doing the old New York trick of folding the piece of pizza in half to give the crust some rigidity. I took my first bite. Again, I was disappointed. The problem was evident the minute the bite hit my tongue: the BBQ sauce. The sauce was clearly institutional in nature and was so strong that it overwhelmingly dominated the taste of the pizza. There was no taste of cheese, sweet potato, bacon or spinach. All I could taste was BBQ sauce.
I finished the piece and tried another hoping for a change, but again, all I could get out of this was BBQ sauce. I love the taste of BBQ sauce, but it is meant to enhance the taste of something, not be the taste. In retrospect, perhaps it was best that the pizza was small because I was thoroughly over the BBQ taste by the time I bit into piece #3. At that point, I simply abandoned the attempt and finished my glass of tea.
It was one of those moments where I wondered if I had only ordered something different, would the outcome had been something deserving of the title "Best New Restaurant" or "Best of 2005." I really wanted Pie Zanos to be a nice new place to settle down for a pizza and salad, but I would be remiss if I didn't say this was simply a poorly executed pizza.
There were missteps here and all could have been rectified with a bit of quality control or assurance. I may try Pie Zanos again to see if this was just a one-time oversight.
For now, however, I simply want to spend some time away from anything BBQ.
Pei Zanos Kitchen
4743 North 20th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Note: Pie Zanos is north of Trader Joe's and behind Cypress Pita Grill.