Tasty Omaha: Dante's Pizzeria Napoletana
Over the years, my affection for pizza has grown exponentially. I'm not sure how old I was when I first tasted this culinary masterpiece, but despite my indecisive Libran nature, it has remained one of my top five favorite foods of all time. Recently, I dined at Dante's Pizzeria Napoletana, and if you're a TL;DR sort of person, the punchline is this: run, don't walk, to one of its two locations in Legacy or Blackstone.
My dining companions (my parents) and I headed to the Legacy location for an early dinner. The interior is a minimalism at its max: concrete floors, dark wood, lots and lots of windows for plenty of natural light. The setting is not distracting, which is great, because all the focus should be on its food and drinks.
We began, as we tend to do, with drinks. My go-to cocktail is a New York Sour, which I was impressed to see on the menu. Despite the enduring popularity of this pre-Prohibition cocktail, I often have to order it off the menu and then explain to a perplexed bartender or server what it is -- a basic whiskey sour with a red wine float, in the simplest of terms. So whenever I dine at a place that has it on the menu, I make a beeline for it to see how well they do one of the classics. And speaking of, the other cocktail that got a lot of interest from me (and was ultimately ordered by my mom and finished off by my dad) was the Luca Brasi. Any nod to or mention of The Godfather gets about a billion bonus points, IMHO (fun fact: I share my birthday with Mario Puzo. I, too, get about a billion bonus points for that). Their cocktail menu is truly impressive, with whiskey-, scotch-, gin-, rum-, vodka-, tequila/mezcal-, brandy-, amaro- and liqueur-based concoctions. It is so vast, I've decided my new New Year's Resolution will be to sample four new Dante's cocktails per month, because, my God. Yes.
For our appetizer, we ordered from the specials menu -- fried zucchini chips. They were more like flakes, served in a bowl, fried to a perfectly crisp finish and salted, that practically melts in your mouth when it hits your tongue. They were light enough to not fill us before dinner, but packed with so much flavor we were content to wait patiently for our pizzas ("waiting" and "patiently" are not generally two words I choose to stick together when discussing food).
After we placed our main order, we discussed wine with our all-knowing and most gracious waiter, Dumaha. His knowledge of Italian wines was, he admitted, still in the process of growing; however, it far surpasses that of any server I've discussed regional wines with before, and certainly, it blows my own out of the water. During our appetizer-munching and our chat with Dumaha, my parents opted to purchase a couple bottles of wine (encouraged, perhaps, by the Luca Brasi they ended up sharing), the Benedic Rosso made by the sisters of Monastero Suore Cistercensi.
Then, it was time for the really good stuff.
We ordered three pies: the Margherita D.O.P. (similar to the regular Margherita, but the mozzarella used is of a higher quality with a creamier texture), the Oma-Za, and the Funghi Bianco.
Dante's places great emphasis on its use of farm-to-table ingredients sourced from local produce partners, all of which are listed on their website and also their menu. They are so devoted to that, in fact, that when we requested tomatoes be added to our Margherita D.O.P. (standard toppings are olive oil, mozzarella, and basil), we were informed that since tomatoes were out of season, they would not be able to accommodate our request. For some diners, this might have presented an annoyance, but to me, this merely highlighted their devotion to using only the freshest, locally sourced ingredients to make as fine a product as possible, and they are unwilling to do anything which might potentially destroy the integrity of that product. They did add their house marinara to the pizza, which was delightfully bright and zesty and more than made up for the lack of the chunky tomatoes we requested. That said, I can't wait to return when tomatoes are in season, so I can have my Margherita D.O.P. the way I prefer it.
It should be noted that the meat used on the featured, as-is Dante's pizzas are exclusively pork, in the forms of "Papa's Sausage," soppressata (a type of Italian salami), link sausage, mortadella and prosciutto. Other meats that can be added on but are not featured on the menued pizzas are meatballs and braised chicken. I typically abstain from pork products, but when in Rome – er, Napoli, in this case – I did as was done. The Oma-Za has Papa's Sausage on it, and whatever secret ingredients and spices Papa uses to flavor said sausage is right on the mark. It wasn't heavy on spicy, but had a slight kick and tons of flavor, as well as a tender, crumbly texture.
Despite the incredible, flavorful toppings and sauces, the crust had to be the standout feature of each pizza. Truly wood-fired, rustic pizza crust in approximately round shapes, the outer layer of the crust was delicately crispy and beautifully charred in places, but the meat of the crust was the perfect chewy consistency. It was so fine, in fact, my father commented on it about 1,700 times throughout the meal. It is a masterpiece unto itself, and exactly the way pizza crust should taste and look.
We were talked (rather easily, I might add) into dessert, and at Dumaha's suggestion, we opted for the butterscotch budini, essentially a butterscotch pudding (as is what budini means) but heavier, thicker, denser, and the butterscotch is made in-house with the traditional browned butter and also real scotch, according to Dumaha. Though the rest of the dessert menu was impressive, I have #noragrets about ordering this scrumptious sweet treat.
To cap off our meal, we also enjoyed three small glasses of Frangelico, a sweet, heavy, after-dinner liqueur. And how cute are these glasses?
I've never met a pizza I didn't like, and that runs the gamut of Little Caesar's to top-end, innovative, unusual pizzas. But if you're craving the good stuff, the rustic, wood-fired, char-bubble, thin, chewy good stuff, alongside an excellent craft cocktail or a perfectly paired glass of wine, look no further than Dante's for the ultimate Omaha pizza experience.