Zito! Pizzeria and Grill: How heartbreak led to perseverance
By: Jennifer Zeleski
On Nov. 9, 2018, the Winston-Salem community mourned the loss of Evangelos Manginas of Zito! Pizzeria and Grill, located at 3030 Healy Dr. in Winston-Salem.
Well-known for his commitment to faith, family and friends alike, the 60-year-old business owner left the restaurant’s kitchen to cross the street for a quick errand and never returned.
Evangelo was tragically struck by a vehicle on Healy Drive, just a few short months after recovering from severe burns sustained in the Zito kitchen, where he spent hours doing what he loved—serving others.
He instilled the qualities of his servant’s heart in his 22-year-old daughter, Victoria Manginas, who trusted that they were going to reopen the restaurant in her father’s honor even when they shut the doors temporarily after the loss.
“My father really had a tough year before he passed away. I prayed so much for him this past year that I could help him get more rest. God blessed me in a way I never saw coming,” Victoria said. “When my father got burnt and couldn’t work, I had to jump in the kitchen to help. Somehow, I learned the whole [kitchen] line in four days. Side by side every morning, my father showed me his most important recipes.”
She took time off after her father’s death to make changes to the dining room, create honorary T-shirts celebrating Zito’s fifth anniversary in February and to revamp the menu. Thankfully, she had many of Evangelo’s recipes written down after the summer, and after a soft re-opening in late February, Zito is back up and running with Victoria at the helm.
“Alongside my mother, it feels like an honor to be able to lead a successful restaurant with such a high reputation,” Victoria said. “Even with my father not physically being here, I still feel very close to him when I am in the kitchen doing what he used to do. I say a prayer to him every morning before I start cooking.”
Just a few weeks after the restaurant got back into its rhythm, a weekend pizza craving led my boyfriend and me into the doors of the casual, welcoming restaurant.
The pizzas remain the same. You can create your own from a small to an extra-large, or take a chance with one of the specialty pizzas.
The newest addition to that list might come as a surprise to the average North Carolinian— the Poutine Pizza. That’s right, a combination of both Italian and Canadian, and two of Zito’s signature dishes. A pizza crust topped with a homemade brown gravy base, fresh-cut fries and cheese curds, otherwise known as the ultimate indulgence.
We weren’t ready for all of that quite yet, but we welcomed an order of the traditional poutine. It came out on a large plate, steaming and ready to be devoured. The signature hand-cut fries were soft and savory, many with their crisp skin still intact, and soaking up enough of the brown gravy to be smothered but not soggy.
The gravy wasn’t too salty, nor clumpy or chalky, and had the bacon-like flavor you might not expect, but definitely want. The cheese curds were almost my favorite part of the dish, adding a slight squeakiness, creaminess and texture, but the fries truly had my heart. If it weren’t for their underlying potato flavor mixed with the saltiness of the homemade gravy, the dish wouldn’t sing quite as much, and it demonstrated the priority Zito has for making sure the details of their dishes are accounted for, and delicious.
“I have done my best to create the same authentic taste,” Victoria said. “This is all through prayers that I have managed to keep all food the same, as well as add my own modern twist on a few dishes.”
Upon the reopening, she decided the menu could benefit from being more inclusive to those with dietary restrictions. This idea led to the “vegan vibes” section, including a riff on the famous poutine, minus the meat and dairy-based ingredients.
Instead, the traditional vegan poutine starts with their hand-cut fries, topped with vegan brown gravy and vegan cheese curds. It’s an impressive concept that should pique the interest of those looking for vegan options in the Winston-Salem area. There’s also a plant-based burger, a veggie pita and veggie club, as well as a gluten-free pizza crust by request.
Now, back to the pizza.
You didn’t think we could stop by Zito and only order poutine, did you? Well, almost all of the poutine was gone by the time our server took back the plate, even though the portion was enough for four to share. But we also ordered two small, 10-inch pizzas, one White Italian and one Angelo’s Zito House Special.
The first (and my preferred choice) was a base of ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, sautéed spinach, sweet red peppers and garlic. The pizza was picture-perfect, but it was also well-balanced, light, and one of the best and unexpected flavor combinations I’ve had on a pizza.
The three kinds of cheese together were not the slightest bit greasy, the sautéed spinach crisped up, the sweet red peppers were sliced thin enough to be soft with a bite of flavor in each (rather than too-thick, raw or overpowering), and it all just worked.
The crust was a thicker style, but nowhere close to deep-dish or thin enough to be flimsy. It was the Goldilocks of pizza crust.
Our other choice was the exact opposite flavor profile: meat — pepperoni, sausage, gyros, bacon, mushrooms, green peppers and onions. We made a personal choice to forgo the green peppers based on preference, but their addition would easily be an extra bite of freshness to those who don’t mind them.
Our first impression was that each slice was physically heavy, and therefore filling, even in the small size. If you’re looking to keep this one as a personal-pan, beware that it’s tiny but mighty (and by tiny, it’s still 10 inches).
The sauce was light and tart, and the bacon and onions gave various bites a more aromatic flavor. The gyros made it unique, especially in addition to the already well-seasoned and typical pizza-topping meats. It didn’t weigh heavily on your stomach, and it is a must-try for any meat lovers looking to go beyond their normal expectations.
We were much too full to order dessert, such as the baklava cheesecake, but instead, I noticed how full I felt otherwise. The atmosphere at Zito was like coming home to a house full of family members, with food in the oven and wine on the table.
That’s how Victoria hopes it will feel to everyone.
“If I can continue to bring people together through memories of the restaurant, through our food, through our service, whatever it may be, my duty to my father is fulfilled,” she said.
Guests are surrounded by families both big and small sharing meals, but also by the presence of Evangelos and the Manginas family. Just as Evangelos was a testament to Zito’s success, their family is a testament to the spirit of local business in Winston-Salem.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support and love. I feel this deeply in my heart that this community has been God sent,” Victoria said. “I can’t picture being anywhere else to have a business. And none of it would be possible without this wonderful community.”
Jennifer Zeleski is a senior Communication major at High Point University, who is always eager to cook, eat and listen. Her many food adventures can be followed on Instagram @jayz_eats.
Zito! Pizzeria and Grill is located at 3030 Healy Dr., Winston-Salem. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday – Saturday, and closed on Sundays.