Monday, March 20, 2023

Prince of pizza

When Saif Dari arrived in Italy in 1992, he had a major problem: he didn’t speak a word of the boot’s mother tongue. His saving grace? Pizza.

Dari took to pizza like, well, any person tasting a pizzeria pie for the first time: immediately. He was fresh off a plane from Jordan, a teenager whose only experiences with the mozzarella-topped masterpieces were his mom’s homemade versions. Twenty two years later he’s reminiscing in his newest restaurant, ZaZa’s Wood-Fired Pizza, outfitted in a crisp white chef’s jacket and sipping from a glass bottle of Sprite marked with the words “No Retornable.”

During his time in Italy, Dari became an expert at making pizzas, working during the tourist seasons in pizzerias and at 22 opening his own shop in that country called Non Solo Pizza (Not Only Pizza — he sold panini, too). He discovered a great love: cooking.

After arriving in Toledo and trying the thick crusts and conventional toppings of franchise pizza spots (a business he was in himself, for a time), he opened ZaZa’s Wood-Fired Pizza in an effort to expose American audiences to the authentic Italian pies he loves so much. (He left Italy to be near his family in Ann Arbor and explore new opportunities.) The restaurant debuted in mid-June in a plaza on Executive Parkway at Secor Rd., a completely refurbished spot with a menu of 23 unique creations. The project is a passion for Dari, who also owns Einstein Montessori School.

Pizzas range from the traditional margherita to more inventive offerings, all with paper-thin crusts. There’s the “ricotta spinachi,” a sauce-less pie of ricotta, spinach, garlic and cheese. Dari’s favorite, the “pollo arrosto,” is topped with wood-roasted chicken, fresh sliced tomatoes, oregano and garlic olive oil. And he’s even named a pizza for the city where he lived in Italy, the “Padova,” covered in gorgonzola, onions and black olives.  

“This is what I love to do,” Dari says. “I want to make real Italian pizza and bring whatever I had in Italy here.”

ZaZa’s Wood-Fired Pizza makes for two authentic Italian pizzerias in our area; like Perrysburg’s 5th Street Pub, ZaZa’s features a wood-fired oven imported from Italy. There are differences, though, in crust, toppings and menu. ZaZa’s has embellished its offerings with a range of Mediterranean dishes from Dari’s childhood, like lentil soup, fattoush, and falafel. (He’s coached on that part of the menu by his wife, who grew up around her father’s Ann Arbor mainstay Ali Baba’s Restaurant.) And ZaZa’s brand of pizza comes from the north of Italy, while 5th Street’s focuses on the region of Naples.

“I think one of the things that makes my business successful is the time and attention to details,” Dari says. He’s kept the initial two months of his opening low-key — a perfectionist, he wanted to make sure he’d worked out all the kinks — but he plans to offer delivery in the future and expand ZaZa’s, should his unique type of pizza find a following.

“In general I love food,” Dari says. “And I have a passion for pizza.”

ZaZa’s Wood-Fired Pizza, 3550
Executive Pkwy. (off Secor Rd. next to the
UPS store). Open Mon. thru Sat., 11am-11pm;
Sunday noon-9pm. 419-531-2400.

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