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Say Cheese

With some additions and subtractions, Prince Pizza could find a formula for success



For a restaurant in midtown Tucson, competition for customers can be stiff—especially for a pizza joint. There are lots of established local favorites offering everything from deep-dish to Neapolitan-style pies, and if you don't have your pizza formula perfected, attracting a strong customer base will be difficult.

Prince Pizza and Family Restaurant, located in the shopping center at the northwest corner of Prince Road and Campbell Avenue, is the latest resident in a building that has housed a handful of restaurants over the last decade. The outside of Prince Pizza still has the signs and paint job of its predecessor, Pizzazz Pizza Bistro; the only distinguishing feature is a partially obscured banner that's difficult to see from Prince Road. The inside is warm and welcoming, with cushy booths and flat-screen TVs.

The menu has a large variety of offerings, including pizzas, burgers, salads, sandwiches, appetizers and calzones; the restaurant seems to suffer from a bit of an identity crisis, as it is part Italian pizza bistro, and part all-American burger joint. The service on both visits was quick and friendly, but each time, the restaurant was nearly empty.

On the first visit, we started with the spinach-artichoke dip appetizer, which comes with four small pieces of garlic bread ($5.99), and two large hefeweizens (a steal at $2.50 for 21 ounces). The beer was served in icy mugs with large orange slices, and the spinach dip was warm and satisfying, but we could have used a few more pieces of bread.

As soon as the appetizer plates were cleared, the pizza quickly arrived. All of the pizzas are available in 12 inches or 18 inches, with a choice of regular or wheat crust. We elected to go with two 12-inch pizzas on the traditional crust. The fresco mozzarella basil ($12.99), touted as the signature pizza, is a sauceless creation with Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella and garlic butter. It looked and smelled delicious, and was quite good—until the second or third bite, when the sheer amount of cheese became overwhelming.

The meat-lover's pizza ($14.99) suffered the same fate—the pizza was generously topped with pepperoni, meatballs, Canadian bacon, sausage and bacon, but after a few bites, the flavors were lost in gobs of mozzarella. Neither of us could finish a single slice.

I thought the restaurant might be busier on the second night, since there was a UA game on TV, and the draft-beer prices are absolutely killer, but there were only two or three other tables occupied. Prince Pizza and Family Restaurant offers a decent selection of bottled wine, so we tried out the 2008 Tangent Paragon Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($24), which was a nice crisp white from a Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certified vintner—but the wine was served near room-temperature.

The fried calamari appetizer ($7.99) and the dozen wings ($9.99) came out quickly and were the highlight of our visits. The calamari—which would have been perfected with the addition of a couple of juicy lemon wedges—was nicely seasoned and tender, and wasn't chewy or overdone. The house-made marinara sauce that accompanied it was served warm and had a lovely, rich tomato and herb flavor. The wings were crispy on the outside and doused in a not-too-spicy sauce that was slightly sweet and vinegary, which was a pleasant departure from a traditional wing sauce.

The variety of entrées at Prince Pizza is almost too varied, making it difficult to choose, but I finally settled on the beef lasagna ($8.95), and Ted decided on the chicken parmesan sub sandwich ($7.99). For the price of the entrées, the portions are very generous, but the resulting food was not particularly exciting. The lasagna, like the pizzas on the previous visit, was swimming in cheese, and was quite greasy. I made it through about a third of the dish before feeling like a cheese brick had landed in my stomach, and I only found one thin noodle in those bites.

Fortunately, Ted's sandwich was better than my lasagna, but it was still underwhelming. The chicken was battered and fried, and then topped with melted mozzarella, served on a hoagie-style roll with marinara sauce on the side. The sandwich seemed to be the only thing in the restaurant that wasn't drowning in cheese—and it actually could have used a touch more, since it was a bit dry.

With its welcoming atmosphere, friendly service, and low food and drink prices, Prince Pizza and Family Restaurant could be a bustling addition to the midtown restaurant scene. With a more streamlined menu, a lighter hand on the cheese station in the kitchen, and a little more attention to detail, they would have a recipe for success.

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