Mamma mia! Za’s one tasty slice

By Jason Engelhart 
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 12:00 a.m. 
Updated Sunday, October 14, 2007 1:25:44 a.m.

10 0 Votes

There has to be an ordinance in the Madison city charter stating that State Street must have exactly one restaurant prominently featuring exactly one S, one A and one Z in its name. This is the only possible explanation for the recent closing of the Saz, State Street's inexplicably long-lived "Mexican and Mediterranean Fiesta," and the subsequent opening of Za's Italian Café. Located at 515 State St. — where Blockbuster Video once stood — the new restaurant is the third in a chain whose other restaurants are found near the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois. In many ways, eating at Za's is like eating at other State Street café-style restaurants. The restaurant has no wait staff, and patrons pick up their dine-in or to-go orders from a service counter when it is ready. There are, however, a couple of twists in the dining experience at Za's. Instead of simply ordering from the cashier, customers must fill out bubble sheets that are reminiscent of standardized tests in order to select items from Za's massive menu. Also, unlike many of its peer restaurants, Za's busses its own tables rather than having the patrons stack their dishes in the back. Diners at Za's choose their entrees from four main categories: pizzas, pastas, salads and paninis. There is a wide selection in each one of these categories, ranging from Italian and Italian-American classics like cheese pizza and spaghetti with meatballs to funkier fusion dishes such as BLT pizza. For customers who are feeling creative, each category has a custom option that allows the diner to create his or her own meal from a list of ingredients. The fare at Za's runs the gamut from commonplace to very good. At $3 to $6 an entrée, though, Za's offers high quality food for the price. The pizzas, which are 9" in diameter and have a thin crust, are light but large enough to be quite satisfying. Adventurous pizza-lovers will enjoy the barbeque chicken pizza, a simple combination of chicken, onions, sweet barbeque sauce and two kinds of cheeses. The pastas and salads both taste fresh and have reasonably sized portions, but neither of them is as well-executed as the pizza. Both of these dishes also come with a piece of unremarkable garlic bread. The most impressive dishes at Za's are the paninis, but the term "panini" is a bit deceiving.

(Mia Za’s Comments

 In Italy, panino (Italian pronunciation: [paˈniːno]) is the word for a sandwich made from bread other than sliced bread, in which case Italians call it a tramezzino. Examples of bread types used are ciabattarosetta and baguette at Mia Za’s we use baguette which we bake fresh throughout the day.     Panini is the word used in the U. S, for a baked or pressed sandwich.)

  All of are sandwiches can be served hot—some can also be served not heated These modestly-sized sandwiches are not grilled or pressed but toasted open-faced like a sub. In spite of their lack of authenticity, the flavors do not disappoint. The Mambo Italiano — a vegetarian panini consisting of olive oil, garlic, spinach, mushrooms, artichokes, red pepper and cheese — is delightfully light and fresh. Overall, the paninis were excellent. Patrons who need a bit more than one of the restaurant's light dishes can enjoy smoothies made from 100 percent fruit and fruit juice. At $3, they are a bit pricey for a beverage, but they are quite filling and have a clean, fresh flavor. Za's also offers brewed coffee, espresso drinks, juice, Italian soda and fountain drinks. For customers with a sweet tooth, Za's has about four to five varieties of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, which Za's buys from the national chain. These desserts are, unlike the rest of the food at Za's, decadent and gigantic. One slice of cheesecake is easily enough for two people, and at $3 it makes a very affordable shared dessert. Overall, Za's is well worth the price., it is all fresh, flavorful and inexpensive. If you think of your favorite restaurant as a beautiful sonnet, think of State Street's newest café as a haiku — impressive not for its depth or meaning but for its simplicity.