Slices of fried eggplant top pasta and are then smothered with cheese and sauce.

SAZA: Great Italian Eatery in Montgomery, Alabama

Move over, chain restaurants who claim to serve Italian dishes. “Serious Italian Food” is more than a slogan at SAZA in Montgomery, Alabama.

Location: SAZA, 130 Commerce Street, Suite 101, Montgomery, Alabama

Menu: All of the pizzas are 18-inches in diameter and have 30 different toppings from which to choose. A couple of the most popular are Grandma’s Smashed Best Meatballs Pizza and Pizza in Purgatory with oven poached eggs and spicy chili oil.

Unexpected appetizers include Mozzarella Stuffed Arancini and Prince Edward Island Mussels, and the salads go way beyond merely garden or Caesar varieties. Five different vinaigrette dressings are offered in addition to Blue Mountain gorgonzola.

Spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, manicotti and various parmigiana dishes are featured as entrees along with Braised Short Ribs and Chicken prepared as Paillard, Marsala, Piccata, Francaise or Scarpariello. A tantalizing and creative array of martinis and cocktails are also welcome sights on the menu.

The lunch menu is similar to the dinner menu but includes sandwiches and pizza by the slice.

Thoughts: The location, inside The Alley, is a huge plus for SAZA. The repurposed buildings of The Alley lend a vintage feel while the interior decor is more minimalist with the focus on the amazing aromas and tastes. With brick walls and hardwood floors, SAZA also incorporates artwork and splashes of bright colors. The Alley is next door to the Heritage Museum, a key site on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail and across the street from newly-opened Springhill Suites by Marriott. It is also within a few blocks of the Alabama State Capitol and all of the government-related offices associated with it.

If you happen to be seated at the Chef’s Counter, consider yourself lucky. From that vantage point, you can watch as the pizza dough is tossed, as artful pizza creations emerge from the ovens and as pasta, cheese and sauces topped with fresh herbs become dishes that are delicious and visually appealing.

Chef Joe Dimaggio, Jr. – NOT the son of the American baseball legend – brings an impressive resume to Montgomery’s SAZA. Growing up, he spent half of each year in New York and the other half in Italy. His family owned a hotel in Bologna, Italy, and Joe worked from dishwasher to apprentice under the chef at the hotel. He knows the secrets of great Italian cooking. He is also a painter, which explains his flair for imaginative and appealing dishes. He has helped design restaurants and kitchens all over the world, yet he has a passion for Montgomery, Alabama.

Chef Joe insists on ingredients that he believes make his dishes stand out. Those include San Marzano tomatoes, pizza dough from Dioro’s Bakery in New York, salmon from Norway and Ireland, and scallops from Massachusetts, to name a few. All of these combined with the atmosphere lead to a dining experience that truly exceeds what you’d have in a chain restaurant.

Just a tip for those dining with young children. The cheese pizza is outstanding and kid-approved.

Price range: Specialty drinks are $8-12. Appetizers and salads are $7-13. Pizzas are $15-26, and entrees are $15-24.

Disclosure: The reviewer received a complimentary meal as part of a press trip sponsored by Alabama Tourism.

Connie Pearson

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