People have been talking about the “rebirth” of Main Street for several years now. But with the recent arrival of Piro Brick Oven & Barroom to the south side of Main, (if you haven’t already) it may be time to accept that it’s actually happening. Some of the city’s most popular restaurants and bars now dot this stretch of road…and I’m confident there will be more to come. Piro opened its doors to the public last Wednesday, and while the initial opening day influx of customers was slightly dampened by the weather, the kitchen and bar were firing on all cylinders, ready to greet hungry Little Rock diners. I stopped in with a group of co-workers last Thursday to scope things out.
First off, the space is beautifully done. We’d been in before, so this was no surprise, but seeing the place full of guests, it was an even more immersive view of the restaurant. The spacious and comfortable sitting area was perfect for our group and any others waiting on a table to open. The staff were attentive and friendly from the second we stepped in the door. Drink orders were quickly filled, and while we had a short wait for our table, we were constantly reassured that the crew was working on getting our seats ready as soon as possible. The entire dining space and bar is vibrant and roomy—there’s no tripping over other guests to get to your seats, and even at near capacity, it never becomes so loud that you’re unable to hear your companion across the table.
We started with a duo of appetizers—the meatball plate and the burrata, both of which came highly recommended by our server. Meatballs come in a small ceramic crock with around a half-dozen to an order. They’re simple but good…smothered in marinara, with a sprinkle of parmesan, and served with a few slices of bread. I was particularly fond of the marinara, which was not overly salty or oily, but simple, fresh, with slightly sweet and acidic tomato. The burrata, however, definitely deserves your attention…in fact it was probably the best bite at our table. It’s essentially a big ball of mozzarella, with a more creamy, softer mozzarella center, dressed with a drizzle of balsamic, olive oil, and a few slices of sourdough. It’s a basic recipe, but they do it right at Piro…and I don’t imagine eating here again and this not being on my table.
Then there’s the pizza. It’s probably best viewed as a hybrid between traditional Neapolitan style (soft to wet crust, charred and chewy) and a New York-style slice (hand-tossed, thin crust, soft and pliable, but still crisp). Piro’s crust is thin, but quite crispy with a good bit of chew, requiring a bit of effort to get through. When a slice is held horizontally, it’s relatively firm, there is little to no “tip sag”. It’s got a nice char to it, but it’s not overwhelmingly burnt. Of the many pies sampled, I found the “Salsiccia” to be most successful. The combination of salty housemade fennel sausage and slightly sweet peppadew really made the pie shine. The “H.A.M.cetta” was also popular at our table. It’s crowned by three soft-cooked farm eggs, pancetta from Hillcrest Artisan Meats, and smoked chiles. H.A.M., of course, did a fine job with their product, but I felt the pie may have benefited from one less egg, as it’s definitely a dominant component to the pizza, especially given its smaller size.
We’ve got a lot more to sample at Piro (we didn’t even crack the dessert menu), and I look forward to my next visit. Bart Barlogie and Jason Neidhardt are seasoned restaurateurs at this point, and they know how to run a successful operation. We can only expect this young pizza joint and bar to improve with time.