The elephant in the room at The Pizzeria at Terry’s Finer Foods is that there’s no room for an elephant at all—much less a table for four.
Find yourself at a pint-sized two-top in the back, and you’ll have to get creative if you want plates and drinks on the table at the same time. Even the walls have little room to breathe, with floor-to-ceiling shelving crammed with oversized cans of tomatoes, liquor bottles and a few extra sticks of firewood. Every inch of space here is consumed.
But a lack of legroom isn’t stopping diners from swarming this tiny Heights pizza shop. The space, located just south of Terry’s Finer Foods, used to be home to the gourmet grocery’s eponymous French restaurant. But when the bistro relocated, it left the shotgun-style space up for grabs.
Jeremy and Jacquelyn Pittman thought the location would be the perfect spot for their mobile, Neapolitan-style pizza operation to put down roots. Those roots included having a massive, brick-floored oven make the journey from Naples, Italy, to a resting place in the Little Rock restaurant—a feat that involved weeks in customs and the teardown of an entire wall of the restaurant. By early October 2014, you were lucky to snag a seat in the pizzeria’s dining room.
You could say the Pittmans’ reputation preceded them. The time they spent running their roving pizza oven, then known as Pizzeria Santa Lucia, earned them a sizable fan base in central Arkansas. Combine that audience with the built-in foodie crowd that comes with the Heights, and it’s no wonder even the tiniest of tables are snapped up each night.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a seat in the section closest to the door. Don’t worry about the chill, though—you’ll also be sitting closest to the open, wood-fired pizza oven tucked behind a counter to the left of the front door. Up front, things are cheerfully loud and crowded as people vie for a few extra inches of real estate to stand at the bar along the north wall and wait for a table.
Get directed to a seat in the back, and it’s a different restaurant. An oversized flat-screen TV dominates the wall next to a tall communal table with a few two-tops squeezed in for good measure. It’s not unusual to find the game du jour on and diners happily vocalizing their fandom. If it’s an Arkansas game on the screen, the restaurant transforms seamlessly into a bar that happens to serve good food—really good food.
Any remaining mystery as to why Little Rock diners would balance glasses on window sills to make room for pizza pans and side-shimmy past tables to the bathrooms is dispelled once the pies arrive.
It starts with the crust. The one-size-only, 10-inch pies come fresh from the oven on a thin, chewy crust dotted with a few tell-tale char-crisp bits from the super-hot oven. The crusts are bubbly on the edges but so thin toward the middle that they require a knife and fork to keep things from getting too messy. Toppings range from the classic—tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni—to more gourmet choices such as kale, onion and potato, or chorizo, queso fresco and jalapeno salsa. The fact that any pizza can be made into a calzone should not be overlooked. It just means more of that crust.
The prosciutto arugula is an obvious fan favorite, with the salty prosciutto playing well against the peppery arugula. But where The Pizzeria really shines is in the less conventional. Instead of sticking with mozzarella and Parmesan, the four-cheese-and-tomato variety tosses tangy Gorgonzola and goat cheese into the mix. And then there’s the Spinarizo. Topped with house-made chorizo, spinach, mozzarella, Parmesan and a garlic cream sauce, it’s rich and packed with flavor without feeling heavy or greasy.
With each table ordering multiple pizzas, the wait may be a little longer than you’re used to. The wise order right away. There are a few appetizers to tide you over, though the small antipasti section is the one part of the menu that falls flat with just four options to choose from, including two salads. If you want to splurge (both monetarily and calorically), opt for the oven-fried Camembert. Served up with flatbread, it’s an indulgent start to an indulgent meal that can (and should) be capped off by a killer dessert. The nightly option here? More pie.
Before the Pittmans launched their pizzeria, they were selling their desserts under the name The Pie Shop at Terry’s Finer Foods. And those same sweet pies make a nightly appearance by the slice at the pizzeria. Choices rotate, with options such as coconut cream, German chocolate and butterscotch. The rich slices are enough to split, which will save valuable table space, especially if you’re opting for a post-dinner cocktail.
The Pizzeria may be the new option in the neighborhood, but it feels like it’s been there for years, not months. There’s something instantly intimate about a place where you’re more likely than not to literally bump into someone you know while you’re standing at the bar with a martini. And there is no escaping those moments here. With good food, drink and atmosphere, who’s going to complain about elbow room, anyway?