Having raised the bar on pizza with his Neapolitan-style pizzeria Il Cane Rosso, restaurateur Jay Jerrier could sit back and ride the gravy train. His original branch in Deep Ellum, featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, has done so well that he had to double the space. A second branch near White Rock Lake, with its scenic patio and penny-lined fountain, quickly became an East Dallas hot spot. This fall, he’ll open a third Cane Rosso on Fort Worth’s Magnolia Avenue, in the old Ryan’s Fine Grocer space.
But Jerrier had to tackle the Moby Dick of pizza: New York-style. And just as he showed how it’s done at Il Cane Rosso, he has set a new standard for New York-style pizza at Zoli’s, where he offers not just one version of pizza but three, plus a fun, informal atmosphere that feels like a visit to Brooklyn.
In the world of pizza, New York-style provokes the fiercest debates. Technically speaking, all it need be is large and round, with a flattened center and puffed rim. It should come with a symmetrical dusting of cheese and a limited number of toppings. The center is floppy, though not droopy like the Neapolitan-style pizza at Il Cane Rosso. New York-style lets you eat it as-is or improvise and give it a fold.
Many pizzerias across Dallas-Fort Worth call their pizza New York-style. But what makes Zoli’s stand out is the tangy flavor and resilient texture of its crust. Jerrier and pizzaiolo partner Dino Santonicola make that happen by letting the dough age. It gives the crust an appealingly salty sourness and allows for air bubbles to rise.
After it bakes, the crust emerges with puffy air pockets in the rim and a crisp browned crust. As you crunch down, you get bombarded with all sorts of unexpected flavor notes: toast, coffee, tobacco, yeast, popcorn. With crust this flavorful, who needs toppings or cheese?
In addition to the traditional round pie, Zoli’s features two other types of pizza. The “Grandma” is moderately thick, based on a focaccia-style square pie common in Rome. It’s a moist, filling pie with lots of cheese and toppings.
The Sicilian, whose roots are in Sicily, is baked in a squared-off pan and is taller and puffier than the Grandma. A tart tomato sauce and streaks of cheese are doled out with a discreet hand. With more air in the center, the Sicilian feels lighter and crunchier than its siblings.
All pizzas are sold by the slice, priced $3-$5, begging you to order one of each to compare and contrast. Toppings change daily. There’s always a meat-lover’s selection with spicy salami, house-made meatballs or artisan sausage by Dallas chef Brian Luscher. There is usually a veggie option such as the recent Grandma topped with spinach, artichokes and cherry tomatoes. Toppings are fresh and top-of-the-line.
Don’t miss Jay Jerrier’s first podcast appearance! Eats Beat’s Bud Kennedy sits down with Il Cane Rosso owner Jay Jerrier at Zoli's to talk about pies, expansion and more.
Starters and sides are few. Garlic knots ($6) were irresistible bread bites baked with olive oil, garlic and herbs. Angioletti ($5) were basically strips of dough served with a sassy marinara — sort of like pizza without the cheese. The bestseller is the zucchini fries ($8), long strips of zucchini with a shaggy breading, hot and crunchy, served with spicy jalapeño ranch.
A romaine salad ($5 small, $9 large) and a Caesar ($6 small, $10 large) fill out the greens category; at lunch, you can get a slice with a salad and garlic knot for $10. A cooler holds artisan sodas and craft beers, including cans by Fort Worth brewer Martin House. You get in line, gazing down at the pizzas spread before you on pans. Your order is brought to your table, which consists of high stools, communal seating or a narrow, funky patio in front.
Any other by-the-slice joint would be just another by-the-slice joint. The casual excellence of Zoli’s makes it positively divine.