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Italian in Need 

The food needs some serious work at the pleasantly decorated Pizazz! Bistro

Pizazz! Pizza Bistro is housed at the site of a former Burger King in the parking area of my neighborhood supermarket. The spot had been empty for years, so it was impossible not to follow the slow transformation of the abandoned burger joint into a building with a full-service restaurant. We looked forward to having a new dining spot nearby, and after months of painting, plastering and so on, Pizazz! Pizza Bistro finally opened its doors.

Was Pizazz! worth the wait?

Walking in, you'd never guess that a Burger King used to call the building home. There is a small bar area that looks nothing like the order counter it used to be. A large window allows a view of the pizza maker. On the other side is the dining room, festooned with all things Italian: huge murals, old Italian movie signs, posters, maps of Italy and wallpaper with wine bottles on it. There are red leatherette booths, several tables and lights like you might find at an Italian street fair strung throughout. The colors of the Italian flag dominate, even in the rafters. There is a patio out front, but it was still a little too warm for us to properly enjoy al fresco dining.

We were greeted, seated and handed enormous pictorial menus. (I'm not a fan of food photos on a menu: The food usually doesn't look appealing.) The server, dressed as a Venetian gondolier, took our drink order--a glass of Coppola Russo ($6.50) apiece--and then returned to the table with the ingredients for the house specialty: tableside-made pesto. He seemed unsure of himself and was concentrating very hard on creating the pesto; after a little more practice, I'm sure soon he'll have the routine down. The pesto was rich with fresh garlic, Parmesan, tomato (an unusual addition) and just the right amount of basil; the bread was freshly made.

We ordered appetizers and told the server we needed a bit of time to decide on entrées. John ordered the stuffed mushrooms ($2.98 during happy hour, normally $5.98). I was excited to see arancini ($6.95), which were served with aioli. (Why there wasn't a happy-hour price offered on these risotto balls, I can't say.) John's three 'shrooms didn't offer anything special, and I was a little disappointed with the arancini. Arancini are supposed to pop with a multitude of flavors and ooze cheese. These were dry, and a marinara on the side might've worked better than the aioli.

The salads that came with the meal were OK--lots of lettuce, two tomato slices, one olive, cucumber, croutons and carrots cut into all sorts of sizes. The dressing popped with garlic and spices.

Our entrées included veal scaloppini ($12.95) for John and sausage lasagna ($10.95) for me. When the meals arrived, John did not get what he ordered--baked ziti showed up instead of veal scaloppini. We called a server over; he apologized and whisked away the pasta, returning shortly with the correct order.

Lasagna is supposed to include layers and layers of pasta, cheese, spinach, meat and whatnot, baked to a crispy, golden brown on top with a solid, but moist, inside. This lasagna wasn't any of that. The pasta was overcooked and drowned in too much sauce, with way too much mozzarella.

Sadly, the scaloppini was also not what we expected. Scaloppini, by its very definition, means "thinly cut." It really doesn't matter what meat is used, as long as it has been sliced thin and tenderized. In this case, both pieces of veal resembled small boneless chops, about a quarter of an inch thick, and were buried in a thick cream sauce loaded with sautéed onions. The meat was undercooked--not a bad thing with veal--but the resulting meat was tough. The pasta aioli was bland.

We ordered tiramisu ($4.95) for dessert. But as with the lasagna, there was not enough of what makes for a proper tiramisu: Two, maybe three layers of cake were buried under a mountain of whipped cream.

We returned a few days later for lunch. We ordered the calamari fritti ($6.95) and a 12-inch pepperoni pizza ($10.45).

The service was pleasant, but it seemed to take forever for us to get the calamari. When it arrived, the breading on almost all of the pieces had fallen off and was greasy, a sure sign that the oil wasn't hot enough. The calamari itself was tough, and the decent sauce couldn't save it.

The pizza, which arrived a little later, wasn't cooked enough, and too much sauce made the cheese soupy. The bottom of the crust was undercooked, and there was very little pepperoni--not even one piece per slice.

I'm afraid the answer to that question--"Was Pizazz! worth the wait?"--as it stands now is a definite "no." Let's hope that with tweaks here and there, the answer will one day become a resounding "yes."

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