Lazzari will make you rethink what you love about pizza

I gave Lazzari a couple months before I decided to actually pay them a visit. I probably would have waited longer since I can’t honestly say I was anxiously awaiting the next pizza place in Portland, but since it was created by the owners of Taco Escobarr, I thought it might be worth a try sooner rather than later.

Outside the restaurant sat a well-designed sign that indicated a happy hour every weekday from 4-7 with beer and wine specials. The inside revealed a large, deep restaurant with lots of seating and bar space. We chose a table by the window and against the wall. A waiter soon visited with water and menus and presented happy hour specials. We asked for a few minutes to scan the offerings.

Skipping past the beer list, I went straight to the regular drink menu. It featured a sufficient list of wines, but the house infusions caught my eye. Featuring concoctions like hot cherry pepper gin, honey ginger bourbon, and strawberry basil tequila, I almost ordered one of those, until I spied the cocktail section.

There were a handful of mixed drinks that looked good to me and I soon knew that’s where I was headed. The two that gripped me were the Charred Oak Cherry Sour – infused cherry bourbon, with fresh-squeezed grapefruit, and lime juice – and the Triple Berry Lemonade – triple berry and spicy Anaheim pepper vodka with fresh lemonade. I order the former and Mrs. Portlandeater the latter.

The drinks arrived and we put in our food orders. I tried my sour and found it to be stunning. Like a unique citrus salad, the lime reduced the grapefruit bitterness, the cherry added a slight flavor, and the bourbon…well, bourbon is wonderful, so that part was excellent. The drink was well balanced and mostly sharp with a little sweetness.

After my initial sip, I just couldn’t ignore my wife’s lemonade and asked if I could try it. With a single swig, I was over the moon. The libation was breathtakingly delicious. It had come with a warning from the waiter that it was spicy, and indeed it was. A significant heat gave way to berries and refreshing lemon. No sugar was to be found. The tart heat knocked my socks off. It was brilliant.

We relaxed with the drinks, which were the best two I’d had in recent memory. The first wave of food arrived in short time. We were ready recipients of Panzanella – grilled bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, red onion, celery, radish, and mozzarella. It was very attractive with lots of beautiful color and a vinegar and oil based dressing.

With only one bite of the panzanella, it completely won me over. It’s freshness was hard to beat. The crusty bread, lightly softened by the flavorful dressing, complimented the vegetables and mozz in what was a superb summer sensation. It was an astoundingly tasty dish for something so simple and hit all the marks for texture and aesthetics too.

Drinks and app went down smoothly and I was a little disappointed when I ran out of the salad. The cocktails continued to amaze me as I sipped mine while waiting for the rest of our food. Soon, our friendly waiter delivered the goods – mine, a Pepperoni Pizza – tomato, mozzarella, pepperoni, and hot cherry peppers – and hers the Margarita Pizza – tomato, mozzarella, and basil.

Having heard that the new pizza purveyor specifically avoided anything fancy, I anticipated the type of pizza that one would find at an average pizzeria. That presented somewhat of an issue though, since I am a fan of both creative toppings and lots of them. Hit me with a loaded, triple mushroom and sausage, or mango and hot pepper, and I’m happy. But this wasn’t any of those, of course.

Despite my concern for boring pie, I was hopeful that the cherry pepper addition to the standard of thin sliced pork product would work some magic. I finally took a nibble and was totally pleased. No, the pie wasn’t overloaded with unique toppings, but it truly was great pizza. The cherry peppers and wide pepperoni slices were awesome, but the thin crust and sweet tasty sauce made it come together.

My pizza felt just right as I ate slice after slice, thinking “the time is now” as I grabbed at each piece. Every one met it’s doom as I went after it with a vengeance and also tried a taste of my wife’s. The pizza was respectable and then some, turning a mostly basic work into something that felt special. When we were all done, tax and tip brought the meal to $75.

Lazzari was outstanding. Each part of our meal – drinks, app, and pie shined brightly. All three were perfect summer dining and so good, I would order them in the middle of a snowstorm too. The service was excellent and the overall atmosphere quite enticing. I can’t think of anything at all that was subpar. Go to Lazzari for basic pizza? No, go for an exceptional dining experience.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.