No. 10: ZAZA Fine Salad + Wood Oven Pizza Co.
1050 Ellis Ave. (Hendrix Village)
6.5 percent done with Conway restaurants based on the current list
She Said: We were having a lovely Saturday, yoga in Heber Springs, a movie in Conway and an early dinner before going home to lollygag and such like. During the movie, I got the brilliant idea we should review ZAZA because I love it, but my husband doesn’t, and reviewing it was the one way I could think of to get Ruud to go with me that day.
He Said: Pretty fiendish scheme there, Jones. But no, you are right, it would be hard to get me here without the duty to review the place, which I committed to when I said we could review every restaurant in Conway. It’s not like I hate the place—I just don’t see why other people include it as one of their favorites. What’s to like?
She Said: It’s lively and can be loud, but I like the décor—the orange accents, the wood and the openness to the food-making areas. But it’s a little industrial, and not the most comfortable place with the polished concrete floors and large, open space that is the opposite of snuggly. I will say I like that they are open all day, and they are a place I am comfortable dining alone, which isn’t always a given for a woman.
He Said: Yeah, I have noticed that it is in fact women who like this place. Maybe because there are so many kinds of salads. Or because the pizza is not really pizza but flatbread masquerading as pizza. And I agree about the place not being that comfortable.
The least comfortable thing about the place is that you have to go through one line to order food, and then if you want a drink you have to go through another line. There used to be a third line for gelato, as I recall, but they seem to have at least done away with that annoying inconvenience, and only kept the drink one.
Oh, and one other thing. And here I’m going to rant about Arkansas restaurants in general: Look people, if it’s 95 degrees outside, that doesn’t mean it needs to be 60 degrees inside. That isn’t a comfortable temperature. Why don’t you just keep the thermostat set on 72 whether it’s winter or summer? I had to run out to my car to get a jacket to be able to sit eating in this place. And it’s not the only restaurant like that. It seems like every time the thermometer goes up a degree on the outside, they need to turn it down another degree on the inside. How does that make any sense?
She Said: They have a variety of drinks, both fountain and bottled, but I, of course, usually frequent the bar. They have great happy-hour specials, good margaritas (not the best cosmopolitans, though, in my experience), lots of beer with a changing cast of characters there, and wine, along with cocktails. The problem with the bar is … well, I’ll catch up with that in the “Service” section below.
He Said: Since I can’t do the bar, I satisfied myself with a classy root beer. They do have a variety of soft drinks here, and not the run-of-the-mill Coke or Pepsi kind, so that is a plus.
She Said: I like the food. I like the pizzas, though I think the rosemary potato pizza I loved is off the menu these days, but what I go here for is the Asian chicken salad, which I get with extra fried chicken and light dressing, though just the “half” portion. It’s got edamame, crispy wantons, slivered almonds, mixed greens, green onions, carrots, all that glorious FRIED CHICKEN and mandarin oranges, or at least it usually does. The salader (salad chef? salad artist?) who put mine together this day didn’t include them, which I noticed only when I was talking up the salad to my cynical dining partner and saw those little beauties weren’t there. I could have gone up to get them, but I was lazy. This is a salad I get to go a lot. And when I was trying to be vegan for Lent, I just got it without the chicken, and it was pretty great. You can get it with grilled chicken, Ruud, and that might be better for you than what you actually chose.
He Said: More than likely. There are not a whole lot of things on the menu here, and what there is, is mainly salad or pizza. Now my low-fat diet makes pizza almost impossible: even if you have a vegetarian pizza, omitting the high-fat pepperoni or sausage usually found on pizza, and leave off high-fat toppings like olives, you are still left with all the cheese. I don’t know any place where they will actually make a pizza with no cheese—I did try that once here at ZAZA and was told it could not happen. What I got then was a pizza with huge clumps of mozzarella, rather than small amounts spread delicately throughout the tomato sauce. So no, pizza is not really an option for me here.
Those of you who think salad is a healthy, low-fat option do have another think coming as well. Here, at any rate, every single salad includes olives, cheese, avocado, almonds, eggs, and/or bacon, not to mention the possibility of a number of high-fat dressings. Your salad could end up with more calories, and maybe even more fat, than your pizza. You can, of course, ask for a vinaigrette type of dressing, and ask them not to include the particular offending fatty items in your particular salad, but often that means it’s just not going to taste as good.
What’s a poor boy to do? I opted for something new: I had never tried the wings at ZAZA, perhaps because they are new (they do not appear on their online menu). I got boneless barbecue chicken wings, and these were actually very tasty. If you like fried chicken and barbecue sauce at all, I’d recommend them as one of the more flavorful items on the menu, but I am pretty sure they were not exactly low-fat, since they were fried. So…I’m still looking for a low-fat item to get excited about here.
She Said: This is where I agree with you, Ruud, on the ZAZA experience. To order food, you wait in one line, and I do think it’s a little confusing where you stand to order salad, versus ordering pizza or other hot foods, like wings. You get your salad, but then if you want something from the bar, you have to stand in another line. This past time, I put my salad down at our table and went back to the bar to get a margarita. I happened to be after a couple of gregarious dudes who wanted to talk at length with the bartender about all the different beers on tap, so while my food waited for me, I stood there waiting for them to talk out all their choices, the bartender’s preferences and knowledge, and yada, yada, yada. There was nothing wrong with what any of them were doing. The dudes were having a relaxing Saturday afternoon; the bartender was focused on them, as he should be, but my husband was at the table alone and I stood there. And stood there. And stood there. Finally, I got to order and wait for it to be made. When I wanted a glass of Prosecco, and got to go up and wait for service, again, though this time it was much more timely, as there were more bartenders by then. This model is why I decided against gelato, though I would have liked to review it: I didn’t want to go back up there and stand there again.
However, the servers who make the food, bring the food and wait on you at the bar are friendly, personable and professional. Every time.
He Said: Yeah, I said this earlier. But I’m glad you’re reiterating it here. It’s dumb. The folks who make the salad or pizza are friendly and helpful enough, usually—I didn’t have your experience with the bartender. But the whole model just really doesn’t work very well.
What We Got and What We Paid: A half-portion Asian chicken salad with extra chicken, an order of boneless wings, a fountain soda, a margarita and a glass of Prosecco. Food ticket: $24.35. Bar tab: $11.
She Said: I love the food, so I’m willing to endure the service model, but I don’t like it.
He Said: I won’t be going back any time soon.
So…He Said and She Said: Get your zen on if lines are not your thing, but you may or may not think it’s worth it.