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Art With a Thin Crust 

Lococo's offers the kind of light, tasty pizza you'd find in Northern Italy

Americans' idea of thin-crust pizza might pass muster in Naples, where pizza originated, but it's a monstrous puff of bread compared to what you get in northern Italy. There, a pizza is more like the cheese crisps we're served in Tucson Mexican restaurants. The base is paper-thin--unleavened and very much like a tortilla. It's topped not with deep layers of cheese and tomato muck, but with a light spread of minimal ingredients.

I'm not sure how thick true Sicilian pizza is (as opposed to what Pizza Hut calls "Sicilian"), but I think it's more along Neapolitan lines. Carrie and Darrell Blanchard, who own Lococo's Pizzeria at Thornydale and Cortaro roads, have Sicilian family roots, but their pizzas are more like what you find in northern Italy: with super-thin and crisp crusts, and toppings spread with a spatula rather than a trowel.

The Blanchards' family ran a pizza parlor in Milwaukee some years ago, and they brought the family recipes with them when they opened Lococo's (an old family name) last June. It's in a nondescript Bashas' shopping center, but the owners have fought the location's drabness by hanging framed Italian scenic posters on walls painted gold or maroon. It's a counter-service operation, with only a half-dozen tables. On a recent visit early in the week, the tables weren't by any means fully occupied, but there was a steady stream of individuals picking up called-in orders; Lococo's also offers free delivery between Interstate 10 and La Cholla Boulevard, and Orange Grove Road and Lambert Lane.

No matter how the food turns out, the counter help sets the tone for a place like this, and Lococo's employees are exceptionally friendly and helpful. A child in our party had a gluten allergy, so the guys behind the counter took some time to figure out what the kid could eat and happily provided a plate of unbreaded chicken bits that were otherwise destined to become topping for a pizza. A TV near our table was showing a baseball game, and an employee came over and offered to turn down the volume before we had to ask. These are thoughtful guys, and I don't think they even own the place.

Pizza occupies only a quarter of the compact menu. There's a selection of appetizers (including breaded and deep-fried objects, garlic bread and hot wings, most of them $4 or $5), "bombers" (sandwiches served on a Sicilian roll, $5.50-$5.95), calzones ($6.50) and lasagna ($7.95), and salads ($4.95-$7.25).

The pizza department is pretty simple: There are four sizes, ranging from 10 inches ($5.95 for just cheese) to 16 inches ($12.95). For an extra charge, add from a list of 16 toppings (75 cents to $1.50 per item, depending on the pizza size), or opt for one of the specialty pizzas: Hawaiian, meat ($7.95-$15.95 for either), veggie ($7.95-$16.95) or "The Works" ($8.95-$19.95). Too bad they don't offer the two Italian basics: marinara (tomatoes, herbs, oil) and Margherita (basil, mozzarella, tomatoes). Lococo's cheese base, by the way, is a blend, not just mozzarella.

Just to be different, I ordered a cheese pizza with Sicilian giardiniera and crumbled Italian sausage. The giardiniera is a pickled vegetable relish of carrots, celery, peppers and so forth, seasoned and stored in oil for one to two days. The ingredients had been chopped so fine that if I hadn't known it was coming, I would have figured the giardiniera was merely a very complicated tomato sauce. I ordered the hot varieties of it and the sausage, but because I have a high tolerance, the heat barely registered. Actually, the pizza carried a very subtle sweetness. It was a welcome change from the usual cheese-glop pie.

One of my dining companions, Yvette, opted for the Hawaiian pizza: pineapple, green peppers, red onion and ham (not Canadian bacon; chicken could be substituted for the ham). Yvette declared her personal pizza to be "cute," as the ingredients were so artfully arranged. Again, this is not a dump site for toxic toppings, and the more voracious among us might feel underfed--but there's always Magpies. Yvette appreciated the balance of flavors, but her husband, Bruce, thought the peppers overrode everything else. He's not a pepper guy.

Bruce, the most conservative eater among us, dug into the lasagna. It was pretty standard fare, with a conventional meat sauce and noodles of good consistency. There was absolutely nothing unusual about it, but Bruce found it to be tasty in a comfy, traditional way.

Yvonne ordered a calzone ($6.50) and Mediterranean village salad ($5.95). Now, with a calzone--the Italian answer to stuffed pita--the bread has to be thicker than Lococo's standard pizza crust, or else the thing would turn into a quesadilla. Even so, Lococo's calzone pocket is not quite as thick and doughy as such things can be; it's crispy, not oily, and doesn't dominate the filling. The salad was a winning combo of napa cabbage (how often do you find that at a pizzeria?), tomatoes, onions, Kalamata olives, cucumbers and feta cheese, tossed with a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. Yvonne thought she detected a bit of caraway seed in there, which was a nice surprise.

Lococo's is not the place to go if you want to pig out, unless you order a pizza way bigger than you ought to. The owners' ancestors may have been from Sicily, but their light fare is the closest I've found in Tucson to the pizza of northern Italy.

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