By guest blogger Morgan Raymond

I do.Sam Bradley has been the cause of several small earthquakes in my corner of the world, none of them bad, but all causing my family, and me, to look at our lives in ways we never imagined.I doubt he realizes half of what he has done, but all of it has been good.This guest post is just another in a line of lovely experiences which can be directly traced back to him.

Julie Anne Rhodes, Lee Lindsey, Gene Simmons, and Sam Bradley

Almost two months ago, Sam linked this blog in a Tweet, sending myself and a bunch of my friends to check out the delicious recipes and delightful reminiscences of one amazing lady.Through reading “Jewels” from The Roving Stove and chatting with Julie Anne in comments, on Facebook and Twitter, I feel that I have made a new friend.Thanks, Sam!

At the beginning of August, Julie Anne posted that she would be cooking with Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr., a name I recognized from a recent cover story in a local area social activities guide.I mentioned to her that Chef Joe’s restaurant, SaZa, was in my city, but I had not eaten there.Jewels urged me to go, and then stunned me by asking me to share my experience in her blog.As an aspiring writer, and an adventurous diner, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

My husband, Terry, accompanied me on a humid Tuesday.The restaurant is located in a newly renovated area of downtown Montgomery known as The Alley.Several restaurants, shops and nightclubs are nestled together in a large city block and split by a paved brick alleyway, giving the area a faintly European air.

We arrived at SaZa about 6:30 in the evening.Tables set out on the sidewalk were already lively with diners.A woman listened to an artist busily explaining his design as he painted on an oversized fishing lure, his dog resting comfortably in a kennel nearby.We walked around them into the alley, and passed a long outdoor bar stretching towards the front door.Before we reached it, the door was thrown open.The hostess welcomed us in and allowed us a moment to look around.

Hardwood floors meeting brick walls covered in bold art by local artists

Hardwood floors and exposed brick walls are complimented by sleek black tables and bold works painted by local artists.It is very inviting.The kitchen is open, separated from the main area by a dining counter.I considered sitting there, but decided that we might be more comfortable at a table rather than on the high stools.Next time, I’ll take the counter, so I can watch the chefs construct this beautiful food!

Chef Joe Dee in action

I spotted Chef Joe in the kitchen as we were being seated and pointed him out to Terry.I intended to let him know that ‘Jewels sent us’, but by the time I asked our server about him, he had gone for the evening.Oh, well, guess I’ll just have to go back… darn!

SaZa features an intriguing array of pizzas and pasta dishes, along with some very interesting appetizers and salads.I originally planned to get Grandma’s Eggplant with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mint and grated Reggiano cheese for our appetizer, especially after I saw the photo of it on Jewels’ post.However, I had made some fried eggplant at home earlier in the week, so Terry and I decided to try something else.After all, we were being adventurous.

We started with the Creamy White Polenta & Wild Mushrooms with dry Marsala & artichoke ragout, demi glace and provolone.

I don’t know why, but I expected this to be a firm polenta, possibly served in slices.Instead, it resembled a hot dip.It came in a lovely handled bowl, garnished with a sprig of thyme and a hint of the provolone that was melted throughout.I pulled out my camera, snapped a couple of shots, our server brought us spoons, and we dug in.

I had to stop to send a tweet at that point, something about “swooning already from the appetizer.”It was delicious; hot, creamy and very cheesy, with plenty of mushrooms and chunks of artichoke.I briefly considered asking for some SaZa Garlic Styx for dunking, but I could have eaten a couple of baskets of those alone, and then I would have had no room for dinner.

I tried to take my time and really savor the polenta, but it was so good, and did I mention cheesy?It disappeared much too quickly.Terry gave me a funny look for trying to get the very last bit from the bottom of the bowl.I couldn’t help it.Oh, Chef Joe… you have turned me into a wanton woman.I’m wanton your polenta!

Shortly after our server wrestled the polenta bowl from me (not really), she returned with our entrees. Terry ordered the Chicken Piccata with Lemon Chardonnay Beurré Blanc, artichokes,mushrooms, and capers over lemon spaghettini.I had to have a taste.The chicken was juicy and flavorful, the sauce full of vegetables and so smooth.The lemon flavor was more pronounced than I expected.My idea of Italian fare leans towards tomato-based dishes rather than citrus.It was different, but still very good.It was a bit more lemon than I personally prefer, but Terry liked it, and all I got was that one bite.

I tried Grandma’s Pasta Fagioli , made with Tuscan beans, Prosciutto,exploded garlic, and escarole.To be honest, I wanted to try this to find out just what ‘exploded garlic’ was.Also, I had never had pasta fagioli before, and was surprised to discover that it was a soup.It was superbly seasoned, chunky with beans, garlic, prosciutto, and just enough pasta to slowly absorb the delicious broth.And apparently, ‘exploded garlic’ just means “a whole lotta garlic, chopped up and sautéed until it explodes”.Definitely my kind of dish!(I’m certain I was Italian in a previous life.)

I did bring home about half of my pasta fagioli, and then had to defend it from my teenage son who thinks all leftovers boxes are his by divine right.I shared a little with him, but not much.

The food was very good, the atmosphere was comfortable and we didn’t feel rushed at any time.I do intend to go back soon, probably for lunch.There are two kinds of lamb pizza I must try, as well as a rustic sausage sandwich with peppers and onions.

Morgan Raymond (@Bandmum1)


Thank you for the invitation to do this, Jewels!We had a wonderful time and I’ve enjoyed putting this post together. I promise to say “Hi” to Chef Joe for you the next time I’m there. Now where’s that menu?I need to ship some polenta to Sam…

Julie Anne Rhodes and Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr.

Massive thanks to Morgan Raymond for being my restaurant spy, and reporting back to us about my friend Joe DiMaggio’s restaurant SaZa Pizza in Montgomery, Alabama! If you would like to be a restaurant spy in your city and write a guest blog post for “Jewels” from The Roving Stove contact for more information.

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  • September 29, 2010
    5:54 am

    That sounded like such a meal! My stomach would have exploded happily, but I know that I would have to take half of my entree home as well. Not a big tummy to hold all that deliciousness. Still sticking to vegetarian fare for the most part. Found the almond milk I asked you about earlier. Only 60 calories in an 8 oz glass, not a source of protein, but has many nutrients in it. Really nice in regular tea, but I'm thinking a cup of chai tea would be even better. Happy that you're home safely in LA!

  • September 29, 2010
    11:52 am

    wow….sounds like one of those dining experiences that will live on in memory for years to come. I love those!

  • September 29, 2010
    1:06 pm

    Just started reading this blog. I'm really enjoying it. You have a very interesting perspective. This post sounded delicious! Now I want to go to Montgomery! Hope you get your laptop back (or at least the precious data!)Cheryl S.

  • September 29, 2010
    1:56 pm

    Thank You Morgan!!! What a great review. Well done, I'm honored you & Terry took the time and you are a fan of Jewels and her blog. She is an amazing Chef also. Now, next time you go to SA ZA ask for the Manager, there will be a $50.00 gift certificate waiting for you and Terry, to sit at the counter. My Corp. Chef Justin Gaines (who won $10K on Chopped) will hang out with you and feed you some more love.Bon Appetit,Chef Joe DiMaggio, Jr.

  • September 29, 2010
    3:57 pm

    You are very welcome, Jewels! Anytime!Morgan Raymond

  • September 29, 2010
    3:58 pm

    After reading this review I wanted to eat my way out of the Polenta. I thought that the photos and the review were very well done and now can only wish to go and eat here….thanks!

  • September 29, 2010
    4:00 pm

    Hey Ruthee – you tend to FIND room for Joes food, because it is that delish! The man is genius in the kitchen. Wish I could have gone to SaZa in person, but Morgan did a great job for me – don't you think? Glad you like the almond milk – I use an unsweetened one that is only 40 calories per 8oz. glass.

  • September 29, 2010
    4:43 pm

    I'm full of cold and off my food but I read this and I want to eat. Beam me to Montgomery Alabama Scotty!Jewels I'm hoping you'll have a pumkin soup recipie soon with October approaching, and as I am headed to LA in November I have fingers crossed you have some lovely restaurants to reccommend.

  • September 29, 2010
    5:53 pm

    Hey Bella, I have a gift certificate waiting for her and her husband Terry. Sitting at the Counter anytime she wants to come in, and feast with my crew… All The Best and Thank YOU!!!! Well Done Piece Chef Joe D

  • September 29, 2010
    5:54 pm

    great job sweetie can't wait until Nov. see you in DCCrystal Carrasco

  • September 29, 2010
    5:55 pm

    Aw, Chef Joe D! How sweet! Thank YOU for taking such care with your food and crew that we can't wait to come back. :DMorgan Raymond

  • September 29, 2010
    5:57 pm

    Wasn't she da bomb Crystal?Thanks for being so generous with Morgan and Terry, Chef – and I'm glad your not mad at me for sending in a spy. Hugs, Jewels xo

  • September 29, 2010
    6:20 pm

    My bad! I didn't think to thank Morgan for the review. She did such a great job that I was thinking it was you Julie Anne. Morgan, my apologies! Your writing style is wonderfully descriptive and I could almost taste each dish. Still thinking about the polenta . . . Might be something to try!Julie Anne, I'll have to look for the almond milk with less calories, the store I was in only carried the one type, but maybe if I ask about the other, they might get some in. 🙂

  • September 29, 2010
    6:55 pm

    My sweet darling angel Morgan! I've already told you how awesome this guest blog is and I do it here in public again! And again I am half a world away from the good stuff in life *sighs* but I am so happy that you enjoyed your evening. The food looks delish and your description of it was mouth-watering!At least I can blame Sam as well! For meeting you, my sister from another mother! xxx

  • September 29, 2010
    8:39 pm

    yes she was but I have always known she was now everyone else does ;)Crystal Carrasco

  • September 29, 2010
    8:43 pm

    LOL *blushes*Morgan Raymond

  • September 29, 2010
    8:43 pm

    Mmmmm. I wasn't even hungry for lunch until I read that write up. Now I guess I'll have to eat… 🙂 Good job Morgan!Kim Phillips Cuccia

  • September 29, 2010
    10:29 pm

    Strangely I had a dream about this column last night … probably because I read it shortly before going to bed. Anyway, I dreamed I'd ordered all this stuff knowing it had ingredients I didn't like — namely mushrooms. So then I was left trying to delicately "get away" without eating any of it. Honestly I woke up thinking, WTH was THAT all about?Lara Coker Hayes

  • September 29, 2010
    10:37 pm

    Hehehehe Lara, it was you subconscious telling you to try mushrooms again. If I could eat oysters in NYC (not as bad as I remember them to be), you can try a mushroom again madam. That or monitor your reading material before going to bed, but I love that you were reading the blog!

  • September 29, 2010
    10:38 pm

    Even this Aussie from Down Under is salivating at the deliciousness of Chef Joe's food. OMG…..gotta get to one of his restaurants in the US someday.Morgan, what a brilliant job with this blog. Loved it so much. Job well done.Aussie Mum

  • September 30, 2010
    1:12 am

    Morgan, thanks for the review. Wow, sounds sooo good. :-). We're just getting over 2 weeks of Whooping cough here (ie, quarantined…ugh…and going stir crazy), and so I've had no appetite as of late, but this actually made me hungry. mmmm. Pasta Fagioli is one of my faves…yum. I think I know what's for dinner tomorrow night.As I was reading this I had a desire to be a guest poster for you Jewels… but I don't think there are any swanky restaurants in central Michigan to review. 😉

  • September 30, 2010
    4:26 am

    This is my type of food., love it. Chef & restaurant sound great.., thanks for sharing.