Four workmen are having at a deep dish pizza when I enter Lil’ Pizzazz in Mesa.
Lil’ Pizzazz had kind of a cult following in Queen Creek.
The pizza, subs and wings joint had a reputation for quality grinders and inventive variations on the traditional pie. But now, the little pizzeria has hopped the San Tan and lodged in the nook of a Wal-Mart strip mall off Guadalupe and Hawes roads. Can Lil’ Pizzazz maintain its pizzazz in the vast beige heart of east Mesa?
The answer lies with our workmen friends: When a group like this eats and talks, the pizza is just standard issue. When they eat and quietly eye one another, the pizza is pretty good. This group ate quietly, staring down their pizza like a cheese-covered Ouija board for fear it might bolt away. If you love pizza, this bodes well.
I gotcher pizza
Pizzas come in 7-, 12- and 16-inch sizes. You can build your own — adding toppings and cost as you go — but then whom do you blame if it comes out terribly? Best defer to their specialty pizzas, which run the gamut from Margarita and Green Chili to Barbecue and Lite Ricotta. I cast my hopes on the Fajita Chicken Pizza, and it did not disappoint.
The thin-crusted pizza spins generous chicken chunks and knots of sausage with fire-roasted red and green peppers under a quilt of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. It’s terrific because it maintains a balance missing on most pizzas: The thin crust has body to it, but you don’t feel like you’re biting through a loaf of bread. The chicken, sausage and crust are all moist without tasting greasy; the cheese is cooked until golden, but only the furthest edges of the peppers are singed.
In an era of portion distortion, a 7-inch gourmet specialty pizza ($4.30) can give you a good lunch that doesn’t leave you fuzzy or off-center the rest of the day. Hearty eaters, dining solo, might want to upgrade to the 12-inch, or preface their pizza with an appetizer of chicken wings ($3.75 for six) or jalapeno poppers ($4.25 for six) with ranch dressing on the side.
If you prefer an alternate bread-and-sauce delivery system, Lil’ Pizzazz also builds calzones ($3.30; add 35 cents per topping) for shy folks who don’t like their toppings exposed.
What about the subs?
The true test of any sandwich vendor is their meatball sub. A good meatball sandwich is a minimalist masterpiece of meat, sauce and bread. Many places muck it up with garnishes and produce, drench it in sauce so the structure collapses, or use jaw-breaker-sized meatballs so it looks like you’re disemboweling a small animal.
Lil’ Pizzazz’s meatball sub ($4.20) does it right: folding dwarf meatballs into a full-bodied marinara sauce, under an awning of melted provolone. It’s big, so bring the other half home. It’ll give you a reason to live.
The restaurant itself is well-decorated and pleasantly airy: tan walls and tasteful art over a saltillo tile floor. You place your order at the service counter, then dine on blond-wood tables with rosebud vases between a triad of plasma screens. Food arrives with twin shakers of peppers and Parmesan — which you don’t need. Sometime after your last bite, you’ll realize the tables had no salt and pepper shakers … which you didn’t need, either.
If, after all off that, you’re still a little peckish, they have eight flavors of ice cream ($1.75 for a scoop, cone or bowl.) They also sell by the pint and quart, but bring some Vaseline and a shoe horn to fit into your car afterwards.
Lil’ Pizzazz opened in its new digs in August, and the thin weekday crowd for food this good suggests that positive word of mouth hasn’t kicked in. So sneak on down to East Stucco-ville while you still can.
Those four guys on the Ouija board are going to stop chewing soon.
Pizzazz hazz ...
Appetizer: Chicken wings (Italian, hot, BBQ or combo; with a ranch dressing side), $3.75 for six; $6.75 for 12
Pizza: Margarita Pizza, BBQ Chicken or Mexican Pizza (thin crust), $4.30 for 7-inch; $11.60 for 12-inch; $20.40 for 16-inch
Subs: Fajita Chicken, $4.20 cold, $4.70 toasted
Dessert: Ice cream, $1.75 (scoop, cone or bowl)
Just the facts
What: Lil’ Pizzazz
Where: 8257 E. Guadalupe Road, Mesa
Info: (480) 357-6355 or lilpizzazz.com
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday
Price: Pizzas $2.90-$20.40, subs $4-$5, salads $2.70+