Catching the tail of Hurricane Gordon, it was a rainy week at the beach that we made just a little better by extending our stay through Saturday afternoon instead of our usual morning drive home. This schedule change had the added benefit of allowing a dinner stop at Sa Za in Montgomery that is open for lunch every day but Saturday.
Sa Za is a new Italian restaurant that serves pie and likely derives its name from that horrible “Za” nickname for pizza. In all my long life, I’ve never heard any pizza devotee utter that term and hope that I never do. Sadly, these guys aren’t the first to use it in their name and probably won’t be the last!
Not too far off the Interstate, we found Sa Za in an unfamiliar (to us) part of downtown that had the bonus of being only a block away from a cool statue of native son Hank Williams. We found easy street parking that was just a short walk to the place. Arriving just after its 5pm opening, we thought we’d have the place to ourselves.
Wrong! Sa Za was packed and the open tables in the large room we spotted through the front window were all reserved, and the ones outside on the sidewalk were taken as well. Fortunately, they were able to seat us at the long chef’s counter overlooking the kitchen. This turned out to be a fun spot to watch the busy creative cooks at work. From where we sat, we saw the large conventional pizza ovens next to which stood a tall stack of par-baked pizza crusts.
Overall, Sa Za was a nice hip place with a cool vibe although perhaps a tad noisy. We soon realized that today’s capacity and noise had something to do with Alabama football on the multiple televisions in the room.
While Sa Za is proud of its pizza, it is also more so a full-scale Italian food joint with an extensive menu. Their sign calls it “Serious Italian Food.” Sitting at the counter, everything we saw dished out looked quite tasty and all the plates were big. Also, if drinking is your thing, they have an extensive assortment of specialty cocktails as well.
As I expected, there were no slices for sale, so I ordered the 18-inch plain cheese pie ($15) that they called “Grandma’s Pizza,” an additionally, an order of meatballs and a salad. Mrs. Pie went the pasta and salad route, and I figured she’d be good for at least one slice.
Apparently named to honor someone and not to coin its style, my pizza was technically not a “grandma” in the complete sense. While the tomato sauce was more on top than usual, Sa Za’s pie was round and not square like its namesake. Served proudly on a tall platform, its 18-inches were cut down into eight slices.
My early reaction to Sa Za’s pie was that it was over-sauced. Even if this were a traditional Grandma, the tomato sauce simply overruled the light layer of cheese atop of which it lay. The cheese was a non-entity to this pie, and the sauce was also too sweet. Forgetting that I was in Alabama, not New York or New Jersey, I called this pie out for being unauthentic.
On the plus side, I found the crust to be quite tasty and delicious. However, it was quite odd in that perhaps a result of the par-baking, the char-free bottom of the crust was crisp, but I could not say the same for the crust as a whole. It was odd for the bottom to crack but find it a so soft at the top. Texture aside, it was delightfully chewy and somehow made things more enjoyable.
Mrs. Pie passed on any pizza, so I took my leftover slices home to the freezer, and they made for some good reheated snacks.
Although the pizza had some shortcomings, nonetheless, there was enough good about it to make it enjoyable. Overall, the place was fun and the OTP (“other-than-pizza”) we had was fabulous, making me want to try some of the other menu items. While Sa Za is not a pizza Mecca, it certainly gets my recommendation as a truly fine restaurant. Their website mentions that they are looking for franchisees, so we will see how that works out. Maybe they will catch my drift and change the name!
PIZZA SNOB RATING ***1/2 Working on a Good Thing
138 Commerce Street
Montgomery, AL 36104