Datsa Pizza offers downtown more than average takeout pie

Terry Kirts

"Datsa Pizza" came with mild Italian sausage, pepperoni and veggies on what turned out to be a nicely chewy crust brushed with plenty of garlic butter. Just about every day, I drive down Pennsylvania Street past the glittering, sky-high girders of what will, one of these days, be the newly renovated Central Library. Despite the nearly deserted streets here, a few ambitious restaurants persist, hoping that the neighborhood population — and the literate, hungry throngs who may eventually cram the sidewalks — will translate into a sustaining clientele. One of the places I watched for several weeks before it opened was Datsa Pizza, whose goofy but unforgettable name and scrolling sign with the promise of “great pizza coming soon” piqued my interest. Basically, I can’t help rubbernecking at flashing signs. Unfortunately, the dearth of activity around the place made me write it off as another lame takeout I’d never actually order from. But, lo and behold, pizza aficionados sniffed this one out and let me know that Datsa Pizza actually produced a decent, nothing-like-takeout pie. Thus it was that fate, or maybe an empty stomach, actually got me to stop my car for once and see what this place was all about. First off, Datsa Pizza is very small. Cramped even. You won’t be surprised to know the place recently served as the home to one of those “other” kind of pizza places this city is crawling with. No sitting at “those” places. Despite a coat of paint, including some yellow and red striped walls, an effect that’s almost too reminiscent of the cheese and sauce on your pizza, Datsa Pizza doesn’t yet have the kind of funky charm that might make it a local haunt. Some strands of ivy hung with plastic grapes and a few posters of Mediterranean scenes masquerade as charming décor, but you find that the pizza had better make this place worth the drive. It does. But that’s jumping ahead. The first time I ate here, the dining room was practically deserted, and though our waitress was friendly, she often disappeared, at least as much as she could in such a small place. Dishes took far longer to arrive than you’d ever expect in a place where you’re the only customer. Nonetheless, an order of spinach artichoke dip ($5.95), while a bit modest, proved quite tasty, with plenty of garlic, a slight crunch of chopped artichokes and some slices of good Ciabatta bread. A dinner Caesar salad had more iceberg than we might have hoped for but was actually a nice size for just $2.50. Pizzas for the night included a 10-inch “Datsa Pizza” and a 10-inch “Datsa Big Ugly” (both $9.95). The former came with mild Italian sausage, pepperoni and veggies on what turned out to be a nicely chewy crust brushed with plenty of garlic butter but not soupy with sauce as at some other places. So far so good. The “Big Ugly,” on the other hand, was a pizza to write home about, crowned with meaty Cajun shrimp, spicy sausage and a heavy hand of anchovies. It was salty, for sure, but it was delicious — and a great excuse to get another beer. A piled high Italian sub ($4.25 for 6-inch) had just about every meat and topping you could imagine, so much that the bread couldn’t exactly hold it all in. Our waitress had to check if they had any desserts, and we finally settled on the lone offering of a tiramisu “coppa” ($2.50), basically an individual, quite chocolate-rich round of the classic dessert. Unfortunately, it was still frozen solid, making it far from light. That first night got me thinking of who had cleaned up this little place and rolled the dice on such an unpredictable location. It turns out that lifelong pizza lover Harold Schwedler, a retired heating and air conditioning guy, opened the place with business partner Deana Smith, hoping he could have a fun second career and share some good pizza with the neighborhood. He’s looking forward to the spring when he can put out the awning, set up some outdoor tables and expand the hours. A second visit on the weekend showed that Schwedler’s and Smith’s experiment is, indeed, catching on. The place buzzed with hungry bohemian types who’d strolled in to try out the pies. For our appetizer, the “suicidal” hot wings were tempting, but we went for the “original” ($5.95), which, though absent any celery or bleu cheese dressing, delivered a classic Buffalo wing flavor. For pizzas, we chose even greater extremes: a 12-inch “Veggie” ($13.50) with a restrained, light combo of vegetables and a good hit of basil and the 12-inch Datsa “Meat” ($12.95), which, while tasty, had almost more meat than one crust could accommodate. Though you have to get yourself to Datsa Pizza to sample all it offers, it has more than delivered on bringing another respectable pizzeria to the heart of the city.

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