Sa Za in Newnan is serious about their food

From left are owner Joe DiMaggio Jr., sous chef Frazier Bagwell and executive chef Jason Siegel. Photo/Michael Boylan.

Joe DiMaggio Jr., the owner of Sa Za in Newnan (yes, he’s related - he’s Joltin’ Joe’s cousin), has always loved history and archaeology. With a baseball legend in his family tree and ancestors in both northern and southern Italy, it’s easy to see how the stories that were passed down from generation to generation sparked an interest in him and led him to travel all over the world. His ancestors also passed on a love of great food and some terrific family recipes that form the basis of the menu at Sa Za, which proclaims itself as “serious Italian food.” The taste of the dishes is seriously exquisite and the diners who have found their way to the restaurant (11 Jefferson St. in downtown Newnan) are serious in their praise of DiMaggio’s menu.

“The difference between a one star restaurant and a four star restaurant is attitude,” DiMaggio said in a recent interview, and like the Yankee great, this Joe knew he had the talent to back up the swagger. “We use the best ingredients and we give our customers the best possible price.”

Many of the dishes on Sa Za’s menu come from his grandmothers - one of whom lived in the northern part of Italy, while the other was from the southern part of the country. Northern dishes tend to feature more cream and are lighter, while the heavier red sauces come from the south. Where Sa Za differentiates itself from other restaurants is that DiMaggio stresses simplicity with his chefs. Many of the dishes only feature a few ingredients and nothing is pre-made or heated up and served. The attention to detail and passion for the food is evident and DiMaggio and his staff take great pleasure in seeing the enjoyment on the diner’s faces as they taste the food.

Italian restaurants all tend to feature the same items with the same sauces. DiMaggio would not be content offering up the standard fare. He decided that his menu would feature some items that were rarely found on other menus but were family favorites for generations. Dishes like Eggs in Purgatory, which features fresh organic eggs poached in marinara with extra virgin olive oil, chilies, reggiano cheese and fresh herbs served with the SaZa garlic styx for dipping, Grandma’s Eggplant or the Stuffed Hot Peppers with the Bolognese meat blend (veal, beef and pork that cooks for six hours), fresh mozzarella and arrabiata sauce.

DiMaggio also offers dishes like the OxTail, which he explains was the only cut of meat that many could afford in the old days, and yet because of the careful preparation and the use of fresh ingredients it became something of a delicacy. The dishes could be considered peasant dishes, but great food is great food.

DiMaggio learned about cuisine by working with chefs in kitchens around the world. He studied under acclaimed master Chef & Michelin Star recipient Jacque Maximan at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France and at the Hotel Les Palmiers in Saint-Raphael Beach for 2 years. He has also studied in Austria, Belgium and Japan, under Tokyo’s famous Chef Kumagai Kihachi. Later he joined Culinary Design Associates in Rome under the guidance of Bruno Taglia, Mario Penne and Aldo Del Bianco. His career soared while designing restaurants, menus and kitchens throughout Europe, the Middle East, China and Japan.

After designing restaurants and opening others, like the Wet Paint Cafe in Toronto, he founded Food Innovations, a direct supplier of high end perishable food with over 5,000 exclusive items. These products are delivered from the boat, farm and ranch directly to chefs in America’s finest restaurants all within 24 hours of an order. In 2006, he started working on Sa Za full time and has a location in Montgomery, Alabama as well as the Newnan location with plans for others in the works.

Since opening in May, diners around the Southern Crescent have found their way to Sa Za and spread the word. Whether they are passionate about items like the chopped salads (house, caesar or antipasto) or the pizzas, which range from traditional fare to the Kafka Lamb, which features ground lamb with cardamom curry, feta cheese, mint oil and curried yogurt sauce, one thing everyone can agree on is the taste. Sa Za is careful about not drowning any of their dishes in sauce or having certain flavors overpower others. This makes every bite worth savoring and every trip to Sa Za special.

The restaurant was even designed to look like something hip and bohemian, an eatery that wouldn’t look out of place in New York. DiMaggio used set builders from Hollywood to create the atmosphere. Passers-by on the street can also look into the restaurant and see the chefs at work.

Sa Za takes their Italian food seriously, but they have fun too. Be sure to check out the list of owners on the front window and ask your server for Frankie Bumps. As for the name of the restaurant, it harkens back to when DiMaggio’s grandfather would ask him if he wanted to go for a slice of pizza. It is just another way for DiMaggio to forge a connection with his past, one which is helping him write a delicious future.

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