By the power vested in me by the state of gluttony, I hereby pronounce the little span of High Street from Second Avenue to Russell Street "Pizza Parkway." I do so because there simply is no slice of land in town richer in better pizzas.
See, Pizza Parkway is home to the Northstar Cafe (have you tried their fine, thin, spicy pies yet?), the Rossi (really wonderful NYC-style), the artisanal Bono ToGo (no better pizza in town), Donatos (reliable big chain) and, for about a month now, the provocatively good Z Pizza.
Z Pizza is a locally franchised establishment with roots in a Laguna Beach setup that premiered in 1986. It operates in the tradition of the California Pizza Kitchen chain - meaning thin crusts and uncommon topping styles that range from barbecue to Moroccan to Thai and so on. Where Z really tries to distinguish itself is with its emphasis on health.
Wait, healthy pizza? Yeah, I'll believe that the day we have cheap gasoline and an intelligent president. Oh, wait, those things can happen.
And so I embrace Z's robust claims of using certified-organic wheat dough "prepared fresh every day, hand-thrown and fire baked until uniquely crispy." I also applaud its Wisconsin skim mozzarella, organic tomato sauce, MSG-free pepperoni, additive-free sausage and under-200-calories slices (for several styles).
But frankly I wouldn't give a flying crust about any of that stuff if the result didn't taste good. And, gladly, it does.
Refreshingly, Z sells their high-quality pizzas both in slices (biggies for a cheapish $2.50) and pies (a not-so-cheap $10 to $20).
Other options are: the regular crust (really good - thin, yeasty, a tad puffy, crispy but not crackery); gluten-free crust (untried); the best whole-wheat pizza crust I think I've ever eaten (crisp and chewy, not gummy or altogether "half-baked"); and pick-your-own toppings or excellent pre-designed combos. Of the half dozen or so pizzas I sampled, I liked every single one.
Apart from pizzas, there are some OK salads ($6 to $8.50), irregularly shaped pizza-like "Rusticas" ($9, might feed two) and some good sandwiches ($6 to $7) - like surprisingly undoughy calzones and the Pollo Latino, with lime-drenched chicken and other zesty Latiny goodies stacked on crunchy French bread.
Z Pizza seems more geared toward takeout, but it's not altogether bad to eat in. If so doing, expect a roomy, modern, minimally embellished space with wooden floors, silkscreened reminders of healthy eating, high ceilings, no booze and the soundtrack to Grey's Anatomy. But mostly just expect some really good, even unconventional, pizzas, and an overall terrific addition to quick and easy Short North eating.
Some recommended Z Pizza styles
Provence: This ate like a pizza from an upscale eatery. Its tomato and garlic sauces were topped with big chunks of artichoke, tomatoes, and snippets of fresh basil and briny capers that helped neutralize the garlic.
Thai: Rich, spicy and gingery, the Thai was surprisingly good. A thickish peanut sauce was beneath tender chunks of spicy chicken, red onion, cilantro and an inspired final flourish of crunchy raw carrots and bean sprouts.
Moroccan Rustica: An oval-shaped savory tart with pesto for a base supported paper-thin slices of roasted eggplant, super-sweet caramelized onions, salty feta and pine nuts.
Santa Fe: This got high marks for being unusual. A cuminy, chili-inflected sauce was accented with sliced cilantro; aromatic, almost floral chicken sausage; corn; onion; tomatoes and even more peppers.