Judging from the steady hum of a packed dining room on a recent Saturday night, Tazza Kitchen's recent arrival in Raleigh's Cameron Village was anticipated and welcome.
Open since February in the heavily revamped space that previously housed Café Caturra, Tazza touts its food as coastal Mediterranean and Baja inspired. That translates into a line-up of pizzas plus several interesting non-pizza options.
Regardless of which menu path you take, start with the Cast Iron Goat Cheese. The creamy blend of goat cheese (from Prodigal Farm in Rougemont), marinara and parsley arrives in a rectangular piece of, you guessed it, cast iron that looks like a blue-collar gravy boat. Small chunks of bread accompany it for dipping. You may find yourself torn though. The cheese is too good to pass up but the bread—with just the right amount of char on the crust, pillowy interior, flakes of salt and drizzle of olive oil—tempts on its own. Indecisiveness led to alternating between dipped and undipped bites, proving that a lack of conviction can be rewarding.
A popular choice among the pizza selections is the Spicy Sausage & Black Pepper Honey. Like all of the pies at Tazza, it is prepared in a wood-burning oven imported from Naples. The pie appears at your table with a crisp perimeter of crust, blackened in spots. Bits of sausage dot the cheesy bed of provolone and mozzarella. The sausage didn't really live up to its "spicy" billing but it is a satisfying Neapolitan pie.
If you're not in the mood for pizza, choose from such dishes as scallops, chicken stuffed with prosciutto or tacos featuring either "five spice chicken" or braised pork. If doing the tacos, opt for the pork. Its flavor shines through the tomato jam and pickled red onions that it's wrapped with whereas the chicken seems to get a little lost among the seasonings. Both versions come with a side of earthy collard greens.
You could do quite well at Tazza even if you're not the least bit hungry. Its beverage selections are well curated. Draft choices include Crank Arm's White Wall Wit, Hi-Wire lager, Full Steam Lemuria and Green Man Scotch Ale. The wine list is populated by artisan choices from Northern Italy, Spain, Greece and the Americas.
More ripe for discovery is the cocktail menu. There are classics such as a Mezcal Mule or Hemingway Daiquiri, but playing in the "originals" section is where you will really have fun. Tazza offers a blackberry mojito with aged rum, lime, sugar, mint and a handful of fresh blackberries. It made an excellent liquid dessert.
On the agenda for future visits are the Lawn Dart with its gin, tequila, agave and bell pepper; and the Southern Belle, with vodka, St. Germaine, dry vermouth and lavender bitters. They have a high standard to surpass though thanks to the best of the cocktails sampled so far, the Rocket Spritzer. It contains aperol, limoncello, Rocket Science IPA and Hella Citrus bitters stirred and served on the rocks. Smooth and citrusy, the Rocket Spritzer is a perfect summer drink for the coming months. Go, grab some food to go with it, and see if you don't agree.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Jazzed about tazza"