18200 Georgia Ave., Olney
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through
Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday,
1 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Most items $4 to $6.
Cards: American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.
We reviewed the original Zio's in Gaithersburg about a year ago and found it a pleasant, inexpensive Italian restaurant-carryout with some dishes good enough to make us want to go back.
So when we heard that an outpost of Zio's had opened a couple of months ago in Olney, we were eager to try it out.
What we found was the same spare, modern, brightly lit look as the original Zio's, but perhaps a little more stark. You dine a little less comfortably amid the starkness, too, carrying your own food to the table and eating with plastic utensils.
We also found a somewhat more limited menu than the original, with a couple of the best dishes at Gaithersburg missing in Olney. And among those items that are served in the new place, a few serious problems need to be worked out. Still, you can eat well at this outpost -- and very reasonably, because some of the prices here are remarkably low -- provided you understand its limitations and stick to what it does well.
You won't go wrong with the regular pizza, for example. It has a good, yeasty crust, properly crisp and chewy. The topping is made with high-quality canned tomatoes, bright and chunky, and plenty of good mozzarella. A couple of topping options are noteworthy: good, garlicky meatballs and mild, fennel-flavored Italian sausage, both made in-house. The immense antipasto, spied at an adjacent table, looks like another winner, big enough for two and fairly priced at $6.50.
But panzanella, an extra rich version of white pizza, misses the whole point of white pizza. Instead of a light, thin crust with a touch of fontina, this version has a heavy crust and a far too thick layer of cheese, with a salty taste and puddles of oil underneath. If you want white pizza, Zio's ordinary version is a better bet.
Another dish that misses the point is calzone, whose dough wrapper ought to have the quality of a good, homemade Italian bread but here is limp and oily. Too bad, because the otherwise good vegetable-filled version would be a nice vegetarian dish.
We were disappointed that cimbata, a heavenly sausage and linguine dish at the original Zio's, isn't served here. Nor is the homemade ravioli. It does have the excellent linguine with white clam sauce, a gargantuan mound of nicely chewy pasta with a very generous portion of good canned clams and a first-class oil-garlic-parsley sauce. At $4.25, it's a bargain. (There is also a lasagna so mushy it can almost be poured.)
A knockout of a dessert at the original Zio's is zeppole, balls of wonderfully light deep-fried dough, sugar dusted, that taste like fine homemade doughnuts. At the Olney outpost, unfortunately, we found them very heavy and raw-tasting in the middle. These kinks probably will be ironed out with time.