Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana makes downtown Las Cruces pie town.
Until recently, Las Cruces was home to mostly bad locally produced pizza, with the exception of the yummy pie served at Tiffany's Greek Caf. But now Las Crucens enjoy several good choices, including a new small chain, Red Brick; pizza with a New York attitude at Eddie's Done Deal Pizza; and, best of the best, Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana, which finally gives one reason to go downtown.
Located and nicely remodeled into the Popular Dry Goods store, one of the last to go belly-up in downtown, Zeffiro has struck a chord with many Las Crucens. Owner Gary Ebert and his very attentive and efficient staff serve up gourmet-style pizza on hand-tossed crusts. I've been there several times, and returned recently with friends Michael and Jodi Walsh for still another try at the pie.
Arriving before noon allowed for immediate seating, and a chance to dip fresh baguette-style bread in olive oil while perusing the menu. Zeffiro has a nice variety of beverages; a good way to start is the Passion Iced Tea, a smooth, flavorful citrusy drink that is refilled without question.
Zeffiro does not serve beer and wine, which so many restaurant owners believe are key to their success. Thus far, Zeffiro proves that good food and service with reasonable prices trump booze.
There were several lunch specials, one being a pizza with prosciutto, feta, onion, garlic and lemon. Yes, lemon. Always one for new adventures, I ordered this, sans the prosciutto, due to my vegetarian inclinations.
The special salad featured spinach, pecans, strawberries and feta cheese.
It came quickly and didn't last long, as the flavors melded so well, and the presentation was charming and demanded immediate attention.
The Walshes ordered a different salad to accompany Jodi's choice of a turkey sandwich, served with provolone and organic greens, and Michael's selection of a pizza with fresh artichokes and olives, both of which they shared.
The sandwich was announced as merely adequate, but the other two dishes were well received. I can vouch for the pizza, as I swiped a slice when they weren't looking.
The lemon on my pizza made a pleasant impact on the pie, and offered a unique way of enhancing the other flavors. Wafer thin, the lemon was hardly recognizable until you came upon a small slice of it.
Another unique thing about Zeffiro's pizza is the crust. The thin crusts it uses are made from four ingredients and are gently charred on purpose, from the quick baking time at high temperature. This is not a flaw, but rather an enhancement, and it does not taste burnt at all. Pizza prices average $12 for large and $8 for small.
By noon, the place was full, and the wait list started — a daily occurrence each time I have gone to Zeffiro at lunch.
Desserts are plentiful and looked great, but at lunch, I was satiated by the great salad and pizza. Only one slice of the smaller version of the pie went home.
Zeffiro and its adjacent Popular Artisan Bread Bakery (see accompanying story) are certainly the best business combo to open in years in downtown Las Cruces, a part of town that remains sleepy and suitable for open-air bowling. Zeffiro just might be the place that will convince other business people to take a chance in downtown.
— Jeff Berg
Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana, 136 N. Water St., Las Cruces, www.popular-zeffiro.com, 525–6757. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch (bakery doors open earlier for bread purchases) and 5-8 p.m. for dinner. Closed Sunday. Note that there is no carry-out service for pizza; it's strictly in-house dining.