Eastside Eats

Aaron May's third Tucson restaurant The Heist produces solid pizza featuring quality ingredients

While a significant percentage of Tucson's population lives east of Swan and south of River in the somewhat made up zone someone at the Weekly decided is the eastside of Tucson ages ago, it's a generally identity-less part of town. Downtown gets to be the subject of Rio Nuevo and streetcar arguments and the general center of nightlife and culture, the University area speaks for itself, the northwest side is where most of the working class has fled these days, the foothills gets to peer down on the less affluent population in the valley below, etc. I've gone to social functions where someone will ask "What neighborhood do you live in?" but answering "I represent Dietz, sucka" usually leads to just a confused stare.

But, still, while a new restaurant seemingly opens every few hours at the other end of the Aviation, deciding where to go for dinner can still be a bit of a challenge. Sure, I'm thankful for BZ's, Brushfire, Beyond Bread and the amazing New Mexican cuisine of Poco and Mom's, but a new place to throw into the mix is always appreciated.

The Heist Pizza Parlour, a creation of Aaron May of May's Counter and Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen in Tucson and a bunch of places in the greater Phoenix area, took over a spot previously occupied by one of the Big Fat Greek places at Broadway and Kolb in late September and while you won't confuse the pies with Chris Bianco's eventual output on Congress, it's a solid, recommendable restaurant, especially for those on the Eastside.

Yes, there's a bunch of stuff that is not pizza on Heist's menu, including some salads (my wife tried the Roast Chicken & Beet) [$11], which featured a nice mix of sweetness provided by dried cranberries to go with tart green apple and the aforementioned beets), sandwiches (I had the large portioned sausage, peppers and onion [$9.49] which was exactly what you'd expect based on the name and tasty) and a variety of pasta dishes (we tried the nightly special [$14], a seafood and cream sauce combo which was fine, although nothing spectacular).

Let's get serious, though. The place has pizza in its name, they have a wood oven, they make their own mozzarella ... the main thing we should be discussing here are the pizzas. Thankfully, they're good, cooked at temperatures hot enough to allow for a crispy crust without a pool of liquid collecting in the center making a mess of everything. You can build your own creation from a list of 23 ingredients, but most customers should be able to pick something from the list of 12 pre-selected options ranging in price from $11 to $15.

We enjoyed all of the options we tried, from the simple pepperoni and cheese of the Do the Right Thing ($11), the Brussels sprouts and pancetta of Everyday I'm Brusselin' ($13) and the yes-that's-sort-of-weird-but-let's-go-with-it collision of prosciutto, honey, arugula and cherries on the Sweet Italian ($14.49). The pizzas fill the Heist's large plates and if you're trying to save a few bucks, two people could certainly split one, especially if you share an appetizer first. I'd suggest the Korean fried wings ($5.49) or the Finger Licking Fried Chickpeas ($7), both of which disappeared quickly from our table.

The service was universally helpful and professional each time we went, making a few little missteps forgivable. Someone we dined with asked if a side dish of risotto was gluten-free (we assumed it would be, because it generally is, but you never know), were told it was, only to find out they used orzo instead of rice. Not the biggest deal (even if they probably shouldn't label the dish "risotto"), but a bit frustrating for our wheat-sensitive friend. Otherwise, each experience was really pleasant, with drinks quickly refilled and dishes arriving to the table hot and properly timed.

Speaking of gluten-free, Heist offers crusts in that format for a three-dollar upcharge. Our so-inclined friend mentioned it was probably the best she'd eaten and while I'd stick to the better-tasting gluten-laden option, the slice I tried was good and not far behind the standard version.

You might be recoiling at the idea of paying $20 a person for a pizza-centric dinner (it's the eastside, after all), but Heist provides a bunch of cheaper options to try their wares. Lunch is a decent deal with pizzas priced as $9 across the board Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The pizzas aren't discounted during the daily 3 to 6 p.m. happy hour, but there are some salads and appetizers discounted plus $3 beers and $4 house wine. Happy hour runs all day Sunday, which is a nice touch.

Heist won't likely blow you away, leading you to grab friends by the lapels demanding they go immediately, but you can count on a solid meal in a welcoming environment anchored by quality service. For eastsiders, that's definitely enough to make Heist a welcome addition to the area's dining options.