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First Bite

First Taste: Perfect Union Pizza Co.

Good vibes come to Highland Park Village.
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Meatball and garlic knot slider. Photo by Catherine Downes.

I have to say, first of all, that the crust at Perfect Union Pizza Co. is pretty extraordinary. I recently went to Nick Badovinus’s new spot in Highland Park Village, with its classic and simple philosophy, pizza with a light, modern twist.

I was with my simplicity-loving Italian friend from Bologna, whose own pizza crust is a work honed over a decade. He glanced at the pea tendrils that top some pies and summarily dismissed them. We opted for the Purist, a white pizza, of which there are many. And the crust was the first object of scrutiny. It bubbles from the heat of the deck oven. It has a slight crackle, a drizzle of olive oil, a dusting of semolina. “Behind the flavor is a 24-hour fermentation,” I told my friend. He nodded. “That’ll do it.”

The pizza ($16) came with a lovely base of mozzarella, slices of vine-ripened tomato, a scattering of red sorrel leaves, and a restrained sweep of salsa verde that added just the right verve. The result: a fine pie that’s not greasy, folds easily should you choose to eat it New York-style, and layers flavor judiciously over that crispy-but-still-supple crust.

Badovinus is a man who is, at heart, much like my Bolognese friend. I like the simplicity of the menu, with its philosophy of offering half of dozen each of red and white pies, and basta cosi. The red pies, with their tendency toward meats, layer Wagyu salami, sausage, domestic guanciale or spicy soppressata. The white pies have smart toppings of scamorza, zucchini, spiced yogurt, reduced cream, or escarole. You’ll find an egg and those pea tendrils.

Arugula and escarole salad.

The menu includes a few extras, like a chopped salad, chicken parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs with an upgrade: mushrooms in the sauce, a gremolata, and ricotta as well as grated grana Padano. There’s a dish of rigatoni with overnight Bolognese, ricotta, and fresh mozzarella. (Badovinus has me at overnight Bolognese.) No over-complication, just thoughtful preparations.

The salad of warm, roasted baby heirloom carrots lolls in housemade ricotta, with spiced yogurt and a tangle of radishes and baby greens that gained depth and richness from a toasted honey dressing. The ricotta is lovely, fresh and light. It’s a $10 salad, but I’d order it again.

It took an awfully long time for the food to come out on that boisterous Thursday night. (It is not a place for a quick to-go, though in this Highland Park neighborhood, I can’t think why people wouldn’t, just for Thursday night football, say.)

The white-tiled interior was lively. There is a beautiful vintage Ducati. Skateboards. The requisite American flag. Badovinus at the pass, his back to us and to the room, where people fit snugly into tables and booths, tucked in, communal, elbow-to-elbow. This is how he wanted it. At the bar, plants and quartz gravel form a pretty divider. A couple shared a pizza and salad at my left. A man devoured a bowlful of pasta solo across the bar. Campari and Lillet reigned at my right. Outside, people nibbled zucchini fritti. Leaving the jovial crowd, we walked happily through the parking lot afterwards, past the Village’s designer shops.

“Where is Perfect Union?” a man asked. We pointed to the happy enclave. And he thanked us.

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