Deb's Pizza, Pasta is a Poplarville winner

TAMMY SMITH/SUN HERALDDeb's Pizza & Pasta in Poplarville has a pizza and salad buffet as well as several menu offerings.
TAMMY SMITH/SUN HERALDDeb's Pizza & Pasta in Poplarville has a pizza and salad buffet as well as several menu offerings.

Poplarville is a charming, pretty town in Pearl River County. I don't often find myself that far afield for work, but since a recent story assignment took me there, I added a local restaurant for Eats purposes to my agenda.

Deb's Pizza & Pasta is at 950 South Main St., truly the "main drag" of Poplarville. Sources tell me it's popular with the college crowd from nearby Pearl River Community College; at noon on this weekday, the patrons mostly were folks on their lunch breaks.

I had scoped out the menu ahead of my visit and knew Deb's serves more than just pizza and pasta, although the pizza offerings looked mighty tasty. Because I was in the middle of a reduced-carb diet makeover, I wasn't sure pizza and I would get along. Behold: a section of the menu features "healthier" choices. In addition to Lemon Pepper Tilapia with Sauteed Veggies ($6.95), Sauteed Veggies with Chicken ($4.95) and other offerings, there was Bunless Cheesesteak ($4.25).

A lot of people were opting for the lunch buffet, pizza and salad. I got the cheesesteak with the salad bar.

Pizza topping offerings are the ever-popular pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, ham, grilled chicken, bacon, plus onions, green peppers, olives both black and green, spinach, pineapple, roasted garlic, roasted veggies and cheddar cheese. Sauce options are house pizza sauce, Alfredo, olive oil, barbecue and buffalo. Sizes and prices range from 8-inch cheese at $6.10 to a 10-topping 18-inch pie at $23.85. The menu lists topping suggestions to create specialty pizzas such as Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza, Chicken Feta Pizza and Bacon Cheeseburger.

Craving some pasta? Deb's offers Fettucine Alfredo ($5.55, more to add chicken or shrimp), Fresh Veggie Pasta ($5.55, more to add chicken or shrimp), Homemade Lasagna ($6.75) and Crawfish Confetti Pasta ($8.25), which combines spicy cream sauce and crawfish atop fettuccini, as well as spaghetti with or without meatballs ($5.15 to $7.10).

While my main event was being cooked, I helped myself to the salad bar and was happy to see the dressing offerings included extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar, a good way to let the flavors of the salad veggies shine through.

A Bunless Cheesesteak is what it sounds like: the delicious, filling, comforting innards of a Philly cheesesteak sandwich minus the bread. I dug happily into the juicy, savory meat, peppers, onions and stringing cheese.

Of course, Deb's offers desserts, too. Heavenly Brownie with Ice Cream, drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce, is $4.75, and Irresistible Apple Tart with Ice Cream is $5.95. They sounded good, but what got my attention was Chocolate Chip Pizza, which ranges from the 8-inch at $7.35 to the 18-inch at $16.35. I got the smallest one to go, to take back to my co-workers and yes, sample the tiniest piece myself.

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Fast-forward to back in the office and my co-workers trying out my gift. Chocolate Chip Pizza is like a well-made bias-cut dress. You see it hanging in the store and think, "Meh, that's OK, but nothing special." Try it on, though, and what looks like a limp laundry bag on the hanger turns into the most amazing frock you've ever slipped on, accenting all your assets. Chocolate Chip Pizza is sprinkled with some chocolate chips on what looks like a plain but friendly puffy pizza crust. Bite into it. The best way to describe it is warm chocolate chip cookie dough with melting chocolate chips, or maybe a chocolate chip cookie that's just a tad underbaked. It's rich, buttery and sweet, so rich you might wonder if you'll be fitting into a bias-cut dress the next day.

Chocolate Chip Pizza, it turns out, is one of the most popular menu items at Deb's, owner Deb Anderson said. Since 1997, she's had the business, formerly known as Four-Star Pizza, and she moved into the current building in September 2000.

"Chicken Bacon Ranch is our No. 1 pizza," she said. "Everyone loves it. Even people who have eaten only cheese on their pizzas all their life."

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