The United States of Pizza: Arkansas

And it's back! It's been a while since we dropped an installment of this 50-part series on you, and we couldn't be happier to resume with Arkansas. You'll notice that there's a new voice joining us here — Lauren of Pizzalicious. Say howdyado and have a gander at what's in store pizzawise in "The Natural State." —The Mgmt.

20100226-arkansas.jpgWith the help of a few friends and Arkansas-based writer and food critic Kat Robinson (Arkansas Times) I explored some of Arkansas' most-loved pizza places. Robinson claims that Arkansawyers love their thin crust, but of course there are a number of places where they happily stray from that crispy status quo.

In Arkansas, pizza success is most often achieved by small, prosperous pizza parlors centered in Little Rock and branching out into Conway, Fayetteville, and other areas.

Here are some places you should keep your eyes on in the Land of Opportunity.

New York Style

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Vino's Calzone. [Photograph: Kat Robinson]

Vino's Pizza and Brewpub 923 West 7th Street, Little Rock AR 501-375-8466; @VinosBrewPubLR on Twitter

For years, Vino's has been a place for Arkansas' pizza lovers to get a slice, a good beer, and a show. Vino's is well known for their cheap slices, live music, and the 15 varieties of award-winning beer they make in their microbrewery.

Richmond, Virginia–based tattoo artist and Arkansas native Fred Pinckard remembers hole-in-the-wall pizza parlor Vino's Brewpub from his days as a young man in Little Rock. Pinckard recently returned to Little Rock for a visit and made a stop at Vino's. He was treated to the same deliciously greasy New York-style slice he remembered from his youth. With a nice crust and a good cheese-to-sauce ratio, Vino's slice is good for lunch, dinner, or that drunk slice you're looking for after a punk rock show.

Kat Robinson says their hand-tossed pizza Margherita is the best in town, though pies often come out of the oven in more organic shapes. And if (God forbid) pizza isn't your thing, Robinson recommends the calzones, "They are to die for."

For me, the stand-out on Vino's menu is their Muffuletta Pizza. This sauceless pie is topped with olive oil, chopped garlic, ham, pepperoni, mozzarella, and Muffuletta mix. Muffuletta is a New Orleans-style salad that features olives and pickled vegetables (usually cauliflower, celery, and carrots). I wanna eat that.

Thin Crust

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U.S. Pizza Company's "Daves Favorite." [Photograph: Kat Robinson]

U.S. Pizza Company

2710 Kavanaugh Boulevard, Little Rock AR 501-280-0399;

U.S. Pizza Company now has locations in Conway, Fayetteville, Maumelle, as well as several locations in Little Rock. This successful statewide chain was founded in 1972 by Judy Waller, who still owns the company today. They opened three new locations just last year.

Pizzas at USPC are baked in a gas oven with stone hearth. They are well known for their buttery, cracker-thin crust loaded with toppings. Take, for example, their very popular specialty pizza, Dave's Favorite. This thin crust pie is topped with grilled chicken, spinach, jalapeño and Anaheim peppers, spicy tomatoes, yellow squash, garlic, olive oil, alfredo sauce, fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, and feta and pepper jack cheeses.

U.S. Pizza Co. is also known for their salads and Stuffy Stix, which are bread sticks stuffed with garlic butter, mozzarella, and an ingredient of your choice.

Chicago-Style Stuffed Pizza

Damgoode Pies

6706 Cantrell Road, Little Rock AR 501-664-2239;; @damgoodepies on Twitter

Damgoode Pies is another example of a successful Arkansas chain. They have three locations in Little Rock, as well as a location in Fayetteville. This Arkansas favorite has their hands in the dough for several different styles of classic American pies: hand-tossed, thin crust, and stuffed pizza.

The hand-tossed is DGP's take on a New York-style pie, but the crust is liberally basted with garlic butter. You can also order a crispy thin crust pie and, for a few extra dollars, a stuffed pizza, which is their version of a Chicago-style stuffed pie with toppings in between two slabs of dough topped with sauce. Damgoode is famous for their stuffed pizza in a state where the thin crust reigns supreme.

Their menu also boasts nine different kinds of sauce to be paired with a long list of pretty standard toppings. Their famous "Pink Sauce" is a combination of their ricotta-based "Spicy White Sauce" and their marinara sauce.

Brendan Maxwell, 35, owner of the newest Damgoode franchise in Fayetteville, says that the company's commitment to using fresh, made-from-scratch ingredients is what sets them apart from other Arkansas pizzerias. Maxwell told Slice that they never use frozen ingredients and prepare fresh meats, sauce, and dough daily. Pizzas are baked in a gas oven with a slate floor.

Neapolitan Pizza

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ZaZa's Rosemary Potato Pie. [Photograph: Kat Robinson]

ZaZa Fine Salad and Wood Oven Pizza Co.

5600 Kavanaugh Boulevard, Little Rock AR 72207 501-661-9292

For a traditional Neapolitan style pie or more interesting, gourmet toppings, you'll want to head to ZaZa Fine Salad and Wood Oven Pizza Co.

Co-owners and chefs Scott McGehee and John Beachboard first met at McGehee's Boulevard Bakery and then teamed up in 2008 to open this fast-casual pizza and salad joint. They both have a background in baking and both have trained at Alice Waters' renowned bistro, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California.

Modeled after traditional Italian bars where you can get a quick bite, good coffee, wine, beer or gelato, ZaZa has become a hit with Arkansas locals looking for something more authentic than the typical American-style pepperoni pizza. ZaZa's is a seat-yourself kind of place, where you order at a window and are assisted by customer service liaisons rather than waitrons.

McGehee told Slice that the dough is made daily using tipo 00 flour; their sauce is simply San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, basil, and salt and pepper. Chefs McGehee and Beachboard place a big emphasis on using fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. They even use Arkansas wood--seasoned oak, pecan or hickory--to fire their 700-degree brick oven.

ZaZa's has a salad bar with approximately 100 ingredients, and pizza can be topped with a number of ingredients as well. Though they do offer traditional Italian pies like Quattro Stagione, Quattro Formaggi, and Pizza Margherita, they also offer pre-designed pies with toppings that are considered more unusual to Arkansawyers, like their house-made chorizo sausage, or Kat Robinson's pick: rosemary and potatoes. My money is on the Atomica, which features Sicilian anchovies, capers, and spicy tomato sauce. I love a good salty, spicy pie and I'm looking forward to sampling that one should I ever find myself in the "The Natural State."

Of course, I could always wait for a franchise to open up near me. According to co-owner and Chef Scott McGehee, ZaZa's is about to open a second location in Conway and venture into the franchising business with former Democratic Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown at the helm as CEO. Brown is best known for purchasing the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise from Col. Harland Sanders in 1964.