ZZ’s Pizza (Review)

The return of a neighborhood favorite

I didn’t know what to expect from the newly re-opened ZZ’s Pizza, as I had never been to the original incarnation of the Walnut Hills eatery, which closed in 2005. On a recent rainy evening — after circling the block three times looking for a decent parking spot — I settled for a parking meter a little farther away than I would have liked and hoped our experience at ZZ’s would be a redeeming one.

Walking in the front door, I was relieved to find clean white walls with red glossy accents and simple black tablecloths, napkins and chairs. None of the typical green, white and red pizzeria interior with sticky Parmesan shakers and linoleum floors. There was only one other table filled when we arrived, but it was early.

When ordering drinks, we asked if there was a wine menu to check out. Our waiter regretted that they were still waiting for their liquor license, but said he heard the Marathon across the street had a selection of gas-station wines. We opted for water this time. I chose to start out with the Caprese Salad ($8.50) — several identically-sized slices of fresh Mozzarella cheese and Roma tomatoes atop a bed of lettuce, topped with julienne basil, cracked black pepper and balsamic reduction. This is not a typical salad in that the amount of lettuce is a little sparse, but it was delicious, original and visually appealing. Some bread on the side would have been nice. My girlfriend thought the Soup of the Day ($2.50 for a cup; $3.50 for a bowl) sounded good and ordered a cup. It was a broccoli and cheddar soup sporting a heap of cheddar cheese and cracked black pepper on top and containing large chunks of broccoli (not the kind that get lost in a sea of Béchamel). It was good but could have been served hotter.

While we were waiting for our pizza, ZZ’s former operator Thomas Rehme arrived and took a seat at the bar. As if he was being followed, several groups of former patrons trickled in after him and almost all of them came over with a pat on the back and a smile for him. ZZ’s was back, just like old times. Well, not exactly — Rehme now leases the business and the building to Ben Chassagne and just enjoys the cordial ways of the restaurant regular. Who wouldn’t want to go where everybody knows your name?

We watched the pizza maker tossing dough and jamming to his iPod behind the glass and it didn’t take long before it was at our table. It was a tough decision between all the original pizza options like Seafood Pizza and the Shiitake Mushroom Pizza, but we eventually settled on the Greek Pizza ($15.50 for the 12-inch). The pies come in three sizes (8-, 12- and 16-inch); the 12-inch was plenty for us to share. It was perfectly cooked with a soft sourdough crust that managed not to be too doughy. In lieu of sauce was a bit of olive oil under spinach, tomatoes, garlic, capers and kasseri, topped off with provolone and mozzarella cheeses. It was as delicious as it sounds. The capers were a nice touch and didn’t overpower any of the other ingredients.

Even though there was no room left, we stuffed ourselves with a dense creamy piece of Velvet Cheesecake ($5), one of two dessert options. We wanted to try the Piled High Banana ($5), which we were told was like a banana cream pie, but they were out. I didn’t care much for the cheesecake, maybe because I was full. It wasn’t bad, but then again I’ve never met a bad piece of cheesecake.

If you go to ZZ’s and you’re not in the mood for pizza … first of all, what’s wrong with you? If you must, there are other promising options, such as the Italian Sub ($8) with imported meats, provolone cheese, onions, peppers, tomatoes and Italian dressing. The Lasagna ($11.50), with meat sauce, ricotta and provolone, sounded tempting as well.

Our experience was so good that we picked up a pizza to-go a few days later. The Mediterranean (sun dried tomatoes, basil, spinach, artichoke hearts, pine nuts and capers on a whole wheat crust) was $16 for the 12-inch and just as tasty as everything we had previously.

Even though parking can be a pain, ZZ’s provides a great experience and a warm atmosphere. I’ve since learned that ZZ’s customers commonly park in nearby business parking lots (only if they’re closed) and in the adjacent U-Haul lot. So go back to ZZ’s for a Sunday football game or a nice dinner. You know you’ve been missing it.

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