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Pizza Cafe West maintains winning formula


We rarely meet a pizza we disagree with. Sure, we have our preferences, as most do, and pizza comes with a great deal of variability. Thick or thin crust, Neapolitan or Sicilian, New York or Chicago styles — many people are as loyal to their preferred pizza as they are to their spouses. But it's never a bad thing when a new pizza joint moves into the neighborhood, no matter what its offerings may be. There's something inherently comforting about sitting down in front of a hot, cheesy pizza — it has a supernatural ability to melt away all of life's evils, at least for a moment.

And so we welcome the newest member of the Pizza Cafe family, a restaurant whose founding father has long carried a steady following in Riverdale. The menu hasn't changed, but the new West Little Rock digs are bringing new life to the restaurant.

The new location screams "family friendly," but it's also welcoming to any kind of group gathering. Looking around, you can almost picture the birthdays, the post junior-league soccer game chow-downs, and the "I'm-too-tired-to-cook" family dinners happening regularly at Pizza Cafe West. There's a large, covered outdoor patio — perfect when the weather permits — that houses plenty of seating and long, group-friendly tables for comfortable, casual dining. Inside, the space is roomy, the decor leans a little to the quirky side and you instantly feel that you could become a regular here, so long as the food can hold its weight.

The menu is a good mix of classic pizza joint standards and house specialties that add a bit more interest to what would otherwise be a rather uneventful menu.

Pizzas come in 10-, 13- and 15-inch sizes. Traditional pies — cheese, pepperoni and other one or two topping pies — are always a safe bet, but we opted for some of the more interesting combinations. Our 10-inch "artichoke chicken" ($13.95) was everything we were hoping it would be. The pie begins with a generous helping of stringy mozzarella and melted yellow cheddar cheese, but the few sprinkles of tangy feta really won us over. Grilled chicken, juicy and flavorful is seasoned heavily, and thrown across the pizza along with garlic and onion. But we most enjoyed the chunks of meaty, tender artichoke — always a favorite of ours on a pizza pie. It's served hot, the cheese almost bubbling, and one certainly does well to consume as close to its escape from the oven as possible.

We enjoyed our "Mexican chicken" pie ($13.95), but found the salsa base to be sparse and not spicy enough. This pizza was similarly topped with char-grilled chicken, mozzarella, and cheddar with monterey jack thrown into the blend. Bell pepper and black olive are included, but we found the addition of fresh, raw green onion and diced red tomato to be the smartest choice in the mix.

Pizza Cafe's crust definitely fits in the thin crust camp. It's crispy, almost crunchy. It's a fairly standard crust, but supports the cheese, sauce and toppings soundly.

Around a half-dozen sandwiches find themselves on the menu as well, all served with a bag of chips and a salad pepper. We were most interested in their version of the muffaletta ($7.50), the classic New Orleans sandwich that's now found popularity across the country. Pizza Cafe's version begins with a soft sourdough hoagie that spends some time in the sweltering pizza oven until it comes out toasty and crisp. Ham, turkey, and salami make up the protein portion of the sandwich, while a few slices of soft, creamy, melted provolone provide a bit more richness. A nice spread of house-made olive salad mix gets spooned over the top. It's composed of briny green olives, crunchy celery, cauliflower and carrot, seasoned with oregano, garlic and olive oil — always the greatest part of any decent muffaleta. Pizza Cafe may be many miles from the French Quarter, but it does a respectable job with this sandwich, and if for some reason you're not in the market for the muffaleta sandwich, you can always order it as a pizza, something we're anxious to try at a future visit.

Pizza Cafe West is likely to thrive at its current location — longtime cafe fans living on the west side of town will be pleased with the proximity, and new patrons are likely to be won over as diners begin to test out the new kid in town. Pizza Cafe has been, and will continue to be, a solid, dependable option for any aching for a no-frills, no-hassle pizza joint.

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