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ZPizza's Napoli thin-crust pizza is ideal for roasted-garlic lovers.

ZPizza's Napoli thin-crust pizza is ideal for roasted-garlic lovers.

Twenty minutes early to a nearby appointment, and in the mood for a culinary somethin’-somethin’, I spotted ZPizza at the corner of Tatum and Thunderbird in Phoenix. Actually, I had passed by it many times before but today seemed like a day to experiment. I am quite selective with my pizza, preferring the back-East, New York pizzas with classic sauce tinged with a just-right balance of garlic, oregano, salt, and spice.

But since ZPizza does not tout itself as a New York-style anything, I put my expectations aside and asked what today’s slices were. Aside from the cheese and pepperoni standards offered, it was the Napoli that compelled me. A crispy, thin crust holds a rich, robust, almost creamy (though not cream-based) roasted garlic sauce, melted mozzarella and tomato slices which have been seared with texture from a generous sprinkling of parmesan. This flavorful grouping is accented by thick strips of fresh basil, baked into an irresistible fragrance. Yes, I was surprised. And yes, I was impressed. This was garlic with a purpose; basil with strength; and tomatoes –fresh, which I usually do not care for on a pizza – which held their own with their salty parmesan coating.

I did not realize that ZPizza uses 100% certified organic tomato sauce and 100% certified organic wheat dough, which is crafted daily and fire-baked on hot bricks. (The definition of “100% certified organic” these days could warrant its own article, but I did touch upon the benefits of organic bread just the other day). Kudos for helping us rationalize that devouring cheesy pizza is now healthy, if not fully for the body then at least for sustaining a hip local business.

ZPizza dishes up its pizza with a heart, through its ZCares program. At the time of this writing, ZPizza’s website touts that its 2009 goal is to “give away $4,000 worth of pizza per store in support of community fundraisers.” ZPizza proclaims it opened its first store in Laguna Beach, California in 1986, and has locations nationwide. This is one pizza restaurant that takes its community as seriously as its food.

But let’s get back to some of the great pizza flavors offered – after all, who does not enjoy vicarious exposure to new and delicious pizza combinations?

Artichoke hearts make a surprisingly frequent appearance on more than one pizza, including the Provence (organic tomato sauce, homemade roasted garlic sauce, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, capers, tomatoes and fresh basil). The Casablanca also comes with that signature garlic sauce, mozzarella and artichoke hearts, but also includes rich ricotta, mushrooms, and parmesan.

The cleverly named ZBQ pizza has a BBQ sauce base with mozzarella, BBQ chicken, roasted peppers, red onions, tomatoes, cilantro and – for some starch with your starch – sweet corn. Most of the pizzas are priced around $10 for a small 10” pie, $17 for a medium 14”, and $21 for a large 18” extravaganza.

Another pizza category that ZPizza offers is the Rustica pizza ($8.95), which is a free-form, individual pizza, topped here in out-of-the-box combinations. Perhaps the most unusual is the Chicken Curry and Yam Rustica, which includes an exotic mix of mozzarella, curry chicken, yams, mango chutney, raisins and cilantro.

ZPizza also offers a variety of salads like Pear and Gorgonzola ($6.50/$8.50), two types of pasta ($7.50), and a wide range of sandwiches, including a Yuppie Veggie Sandwich ($5.95) and a Pollo Latino Sandwich, with marinated lime chicken breast, salsa and avocado ($6.25).

If you are gluten-sensitive, ask for the gluten-free crust (where available). And if you are reading my mind, you are now selecting the perfect Chianti to pair with the roasted garlic Napoli you will be picking up to go.

For locations and more information, visit

© Gilat Ben-Dor. All rights reserved.


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Who knew? Oak Leaf Vineyards' Pinot Grigio/Chenin Blanc blend is a surprising product on WalMart shelves.

Who knew? Oak Leaf Vineyards' Pinot Grigio/Chenin Blanc blend is a surprising product on WalMart shelves.

The world of wine blends can seem infinite, but there are several time-honored classics that dominate the shelves. There are traditional blends, such as Bordeaux’s signature reds, consisting of up to five grape varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec (though often just the first two to three are used). There are the heroically titled Supertuscans: Italian-inspired creative blends of various reds including the earthy Sangiovese grape.

And there is the famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend from the Southern Rhone region of France, celebrated for its complex blend of up to 13 varietals (go to any late-night wine geek party to partake in a “who can name them all” contest). White and red meet on occasion, with fragrant Viognier blended in with its dark Syrah partner in some Northern Rhone wineries.

Other common blends involving white wines include the classic dessert wine trio comprising Sauternes (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle), as well as Western Australia’s Margaret River region, which favors combining rich Semillon with crisp Sauvignon Blanc. However, very rarely do we see wine blends that break the mold, especially on the shelves of a mainstream, big-box store (I realize you may be crafting a “big-box wine” pun in your head at this moment).

Yes, we are talking about WalMart wine. Specifically, their Oak Leaf Vineyards Pinot Grigio/Chenin Blanc blend, which happens to be priced at $2.47 a bottle – the same price as the Boon’s Farm concoctions on the shelf below it. WalMart’s Oak Leaf comes in a series of seven wines; six are single-varietal and one is our innovative blend. The line-up includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, the Pinot Grigio/Chenin Blanc blend, White Zinfandel, and Chardonnay – the latter being the only varietal packaged in the curvilinear Burgundy-shaped bottle. A nod to its Old World roots. Nice touch.

Oak Leaf Vineyard is a California-based producer who has been listed across the Internet as being part of Gallo; however, I recently found out that this was not the case (scroll down here to read a detailed profile of the true, and somewhat mysterious, origins of this “extreme value wine” giant).

What is interesting about this particular Pinot Grigio/Chenin Blanc blend is that, first of all, it is an unusual combination. You just don’t find Chenin Blanc and Pinot Grigio fused together every day. Second of all – and I don’t mean any snobbery by this – I was quite surprised that they included this in the line-up at WalMart. Not that WalMart shoppers do not deserve to sample unusual wine blends, but this just seemed akin to McDonald’s having a braised short rib and mushroom risotto to-go plate for $3.59 alongside their burger menu. Uh, ok. Sure.  Great, in fact, but not the expectation.

Clearly, this is a wine to rival the other mass-marketed value wines (i.e., Trader Joe’s famous “Two-Buck Chucks,” or Charles Shaw wines).  Apparently, it is too much to ask for a vintage date on these bottles. Or tasting notes on the back label. Or any marketing copy about the vineyards, and south-facing slopes, and the painstaking care of the harvest. Just buy the thing and take it home to enjoy on the back patio with grilled chicken and herb-roasted potatoes, as I did. From this Pinot Grigio/Chenin Blanc blend, you can expect a simple, refreshing burst of tart pear, sweet autumn apple, and a subtle cedar-like woodsy note.

The best part is, this wine complements a variety of situations, not least of which includes watching Jerry Springer on the tube.

© Gilat Ben-Dor. All rights reserved.


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