The family behind the iconic Dragnetti's Restaurant in Eau Claire, opened Za51 just a few years ago in an at the time still brand new River Prairie development in Altoona. Much like the development, at first the draw was more the potential of what could be as opposed to what was and as we've seen River Prairie mature over five years so too has Za51.
Ordered: Gigante Meatball and Large Godfather Pizza
Entrée: This is not an old-school Italian eatery akin to Draganetti's but instead a sleek interior design with shine all over the place, even if the soft outside decor hints at a more traditional trattoria. The restaurant lay out is nice, with a bar along with inside and outside dining options. Brightness fills the dining room thanks to a well lit backbar and a few TVs hanging in the corners. There is definitely a high-energy feel to the place.
Our server was outstanding with prompt attention throughout the service and with an ever-present smile and outgoing personality. When Za51 first opened, slow food prep and poor service was a reputation that spread quickly. It was a common complaint along with inconsistent food quality, both of which the Hungry Italian experienced on initial visits. Yet, while many restaurants have increasingly struggled in these areas in recent months due to Covid-19, it seems Za51 has fixed their issues.
As an appetizer, the Hungry Italian shared the "Gigante Meatball" appetizer. A softball-sized meatball served with a couple toast points and very sweet, yet still savory sauce. On it's own, the meatball could be an entree as it was perfectly cooked and the sauce tempts a diner to want to lift up the plate to drink it.
Za51 has sandwiches and pasta dishes, but pizza is supposed to be the drawing card and the people behind this place are the first ones to want to brag about their pies.
The pizza selected was the Godfather, a pizza featuring pepperoni, sausage and diced onion. The pizza is a thin crust, cut "party-style" into numerous tiny squares.
The crust that came out was a let down in that it was flavorless. Like a saltine cracker, but without any resistance either. No crunch. There was no bottom char and nothing to distinguish the crust. As for the toppings, the sauce was again the highlight. The pepperoni and sausage were good but the cheese blend didn't come with much taste to it.
The "party-style" cut is also a dissapointment and one the Hungry Italian doesn't like. Frankly, it's probably 99% as to why the pizza doesn't score higher. It feels like you've had the pizza cut up for you like an old grandmas would've done when you were a child. You just end up tossing pieces into your mouth since every square was bite size. A pizza DOES NOT have to be folded or anything like that, it can still come in squares, but slices should take two bites minimum and preferably 3-4 average size chomps.
It would be nice if Za51 (or most pizza places for that matter) would outwardly offer up slicing options. It's very likely Za51 would be willing to cut up you pie in a different way (or maintain the party-cut if you prefer that) if one asks, but having your server ask during the ordering process (like a steakhouse does with doneness) would be a nice added touch of hospitality.
Second Helping? The decor, the service and the meatball were outstanding. Though the pizza seemed to lack, it wasn't a terrible experience and Za51 is one the Hungry Italian looks forward to trying again. Likely with a different type of pizza and asking for a triangle cut.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 cheese curds