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Omaha World-Herald: Review: Blackstone Dante has same terrific pizza, but a smaller, focused menu

Omaha World-Herald Review of Dante Pizzeria Napoletana

April 25, 2018 | By Sarah Baker Hansen

Things are different at the new Dante, in the Blackstone District.

There’s no full table service, no extensive wine list and a much more succinct food menu.

But that’s OK, and here’s why: The focus on quality and seasonal, local ingredients remains the same.

The new Dante is an excellent translation of the original west Omaha location’s delicious pasta and Neapolitan pizza into a more casual midtown setting. And on top of that, the prices are almost criminally affordable.

The prices were, in fact, one of the first things I noticed. Peroni beer, Negroni cocktails and prosecco are available on tap for $6 a pop. There’s a new $10 “pick two”-style lunch special. And the best of all is a $32 dinner for two that includes a half bottle of wine, a pizza and a pasta.

On a recent snowy spring night I expected the dining room to be mostly empty; to my surprise, it was packed. Apparently unseasonable snow isn’t enough to deter midtowners from pizza.

That pizza, coming out of a wood-fired oven painted Ferrari red, is excellent. I noticed virtually no difference between this pizza and the countless pies I’ve eaten at the west Dante. Thin, flavorful crust held up miraculously well under a topping mostly of meat on the amore di carne pizza. It comes with big dots of locally made mozzarella along with house-made “papa’s sausage,” soppressata, mortadella and big, thin pieces of 600-day aged prosciutto draped over the top. It’s salty, spicy and satisfying.

The prosciutto isn’t cut with the slices, so we tore it a bit to ensure it stayed evenly distributed over the pizza. Chef and owner Nick Strawhecker told me later that’s how prosciutto is supposed to be served; some diners might find it a touch inconvenient, but the flavor is good enough to make up for it.

Another night, we tried the funghi rosso pizza, and again, the crust, with its slight funk, knocked it out of the park. This meatless pizza comes covered with tons of beefy mushrooms, which get wood roasted in the oven, along with a hearty dose of fresh rosemary, calabrian chili, garlic and mozzarella.

Strawhecker calls the setup at the Blackstone location “fast fine.” It’s the classic fast-casual style operation. Diners grab a menu, order at the counter and then take a seat. Staff delivers the food to the table. Water, silverware and napkins are grab-it-yourself style.

The restaurant’s interior is much more casual, and red neon signs guide the diner through the ordering process. The interior is clean and modern, and a big, burnt-orange booth on the west side has been backed with a carefully arranged wall of logs. It’s striking.

Strawhecker said he’s refined and narrowed the Blackstone menu since the location opened in December.

“People are demanding to pay less, and they don’t want to sit for three hours,” he said. “This is high-quality food at a lower price point. It’s more accessible.”

The rigatoni and chicken puttanesca pasta is new to the midtown location, and it’s great. It’s also a good example of the high quality at a lower price point, sitting at just $15, but still packed with tasty ingredients.

The kitchen didn’t skimp on hunks of tender, flavorful chicken thigh, from locally owned Plum Creek Farms. Salty olives and capers are scattered among the house-made pieces of pasta, and I appreciate that the kitchen handled such salty ingredients with the right hand. Though anchovy isn’t listed on the menu’s ingredients, its umami provided the backbone of the sauce. The dish hit all the right notes.

We really liked the flavors of the pressed salumi sandwich — the menu also has a meatball version — but its construction wasn’t quite right. It comes with spicy giardiniera inside, a blend of peppers and cauliflower, and the juice from the condiment seeped into the bread, making a good portion of the sandwich soggy. If I had it to do over, I’d have ordered a pizza or pasta instead, simply because they’re so good. I felt like it was a missed opportunity.

I couldn’t review Dante without making mention of my favorite dessert in the city, the butterscotch budino. It’s just the same at the midtown location, though its served in a larger bowl, so the presentation doesn’t pack quite the same punch. I still love it, though: It’s creamy and rich, and the hearty sprinkle of salt at its top makes the whole thing pop in just the right way. If you haven’t tried it yet, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Had it been socially appropriate, I would have licked the bowl.

Strawhecker said this new more pizza-centric midtown location will allow him to stretch his legs out west. He plans more refined service, and a menu more focused on true fine dining.

“It will only get more refined,” he said of the original location.

Without fail, each dish we tried during our two visits was chock full of high-quality ingredients. Each dish packed vibrant flavor. The second location of a restaurant can be difficult, especially on opposite sides of the city. Dante Pizzeria Napoletana in Blackstone proves that, with focus and refinement, it can be done, and done well.