- Posted November 4, 2012 by
San Diego, California
This iReport is part of an assignment:
100 places to eat like a local
Culinary Adventure: Zia Gourmet Pizza
- Anika3, CNN iReport producer
Zia Gourmet pizza is a small restaurant located on Adams Avenue in the Normal Heights neighborhood of San Diego. The interior is eclectic to say the least. There is a center row of booths and some on either side, which extend from the front door to the back. All along the walls local artist work is on display. The artwork is a study of humanity, catching many a customer off guard when they first enter, unprepared for the stark reality that is depicted in oil paint. When we visited the place was undergoing some construction but that did not detract from the wonderful smells emanating from their kitchen. It is completely open, giving customers the opportunity to watch the chefs work their magic. In the background Bob Marley sings about peace. The overall atmosphere is relaxing bohemian and that sort of describes the clientele as well. This is a neighborhood pizza place, where the owner greets the regulars by name and they exchange pleasantries in the familiar way of a returning customer. The owner is an artist by trade and on his off days can be found in the back of the restaurant working on his latest painting. This restaurant is a true labor of love for him. He once told us that he spent three years developing the dough for his dessert pizzas. When it was completed, he liked it so much he started using it on all his other pizzas as well. If that is not dedication to your work, I don't know what is.
On the counter sat several examples of their top selling pizzas - Potato, The New Yorker, and the Eggplant. Back in the kitchen, workers were busily rolling out dough and dicing up ingredients. In addition to the unique pizza combinations found on the menu, one could also create their own pie. Given the myriad of options, it took us a while to make our selections. After a heated debate over who will get what on their side of the pie we settled on half potato and half Papay. After placing our order we settled into a comfy booth to watch our pizza take shape.
In no time a steaming pizza was delivered to our table and placed on a pedestal. My first slice was of the potato pie: rosemary potatoes with garlic, feta, lean cream cheese with slices of fresh mozzarella on a whole-wheat crust. I have never had a piece of pizza quite like this one. In fact, I have never had pizza with potato on it at all. I have now seen the error of my ways. The rosemary potatoes were cooked to perfection, tender and flavorful, with bursts of rosemary coming through each bite. The red sauce had a spiciness that lingered long after I polished off my second slice. Unlike most pizza places, Zia's does not ladle the red sauce on so thick that the toppings seem to float in it. They spread a light coating over the crust, just enough to compliment the toppings, not drown them. Cream cheese, another new pizza topping for me, is now welcome on any pie of mine. Though typically a fairly noticeable flavor, in this case the cream cheese played a background roll, only coming through every once and a while but with great success, pairing nicely with the potatoes and complimenting the red sauce. The whole combination made for a fascinating taste bud experience.
The other half of the pie was the Papay: seasoned baked spinach with mozzarella, scallions, garlic, and capers, all over the same red sauce with a drizzling of yogurt sauce. I was not kidding when I said these guys were creative. The spinach and leeks combined to give the pizza a sweet and salty taste that was enhanced by the spicy red sauce and creamy yogurt.
It was during a subsequent visit that I discovered my two most favorite pizzas in the whole world (sorry sweetie). We were just in for a few slices, nothing as serious as a whole pie, so we had to choose from what was on the counter. I chose the Vegetarian and the Sweet Southern French. It was as if both were custom made to my taste, which if you have been following this blog even a tiny bit you know my list of no-go foods is longer than the line to see the Hunger Games opening night (I bought tickets in advance so I wouldn't know anything about that). The Vegetarian was topped with olives, feta, artichoke hearts, light cream cheese and topped with mozzarella all evenly distributed over a light spread of that delicious red sauce. I am pretty sure that after my first bite my eyes rolled up into the back of my head and I blacked out from bliss. The artichokes retained their full flavor and texture; they were not dried out the way you might expect them to be after being blasted with oven heat and the same went for the olives. It was like they baked the pizza and then added the toppings afterward, instead of baking everything together, which is what they actually do. The artichokes and olives brought the salty; the cream cheese the tangy; the mozzarella and feta a smoothness; and the red sauce finished everything off with a spicy zip.
I would go on to have a similar reaction to the Sweet Southern French pizza only with the added impulse to hug not only the pizza maker but the pizza itself. I may have muttered something about wanting to marry the pizza but I can't be sure. The Sweet Southern French had chicken marinated in a lemon garlic sauce with feta, caramelized pears, walnuts and mozzarella. The chicken was flavorful and juicy despite being cooked in an oven (how does he do these magical things?) It was the kind of chicken you wish you could make for your parents when they come to visit instead of serving them something vaguely resembling chicken with the taste and texture of a baseball mitt (this could be why we go out to eat a lot when my parents visit...). The pears remained juicy (was this pizza man a wizard?) and the walnuts crunchy. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful this pizza tastes,
|This iReport is part of an assignment that we created with Travel + Leisure: 100 places to eat like a local|