Pizzana, a Neapolitan-style pizza chain newly arrived on Knox Street, is serious about its crust. I knew this a few ways before walking into the door: because the chain’s founder, Daniele Uditi, prefers to use a slow-rising 48-hour ferment for his dough, because the legendary Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold was a huge fan of the original location, and because one of Dallas’ most renowned pizza makers told me over the phone how excited he was to try Uditi’s work.
That crust may make the restaurant’s reputation, but the rest of the Pizzana experience spins off to less traditional directions. The toppings themselves are often quite creative. The menu design incorporates a stylized map of Naples. The dining room is a small, slick, modern cube, and, because of its size and a bright spotlight of press coverage, you’d be wise to book a reservation.
During Pizzana’s third week in Dallas—it opened on Nov. 15—I stopped in to try the pies behind the hype. The early verdict: this is a winning blend of Neapolitan and American styles, with terrific crust but a few tweaks to be made.
Uditi deliberately firms up his crusts, knowing that Americans often call Neapolitan dough “squishy” or “floppy.” If you keep wanting to like, say, Cane Rosso, but wish it was crisp all the way through, this could be your spot. (I’m not picking on Cane Rosso. I just know they deal with Yelpers who don’t understand Neapolitan tradition.) Everything about this crust is fabulous: the long-fermented flavor, the crisp bottom, the airy bubbles, the leopard-spotted char around the edges.
Uditi, by the way, has a fascinating backstory. He honed his craft in Italy and moved to Los Angeles assuming that restaurants and acclaim would soon follow. They didn’t. He wound up living in a van until a chance encounter led him to cater a series of private pizza parties for Chris O’Donnell, the Hollywood Chris I always forget about because I don’t watch NCIS. (O’Donnell was Robin when George Clooney was Batman.) Pizzana is part-owned by O’Donnell and the folks behind Sprinkles Cupcakes.
We enjoyed our two appetizers: grilled broccolini with roasted garlic and a generous drizzle of spicy Calabrian chile oil, and a Caesar salad that also featured a splash of the same oil. The “pizza croutons” on the salad, it’s worth pointing out, are discarded bits of pizza dough. They are not pizza-flavored.
The pizzas were the best part of the experience. Despite its name, the vodka sauce is the least noticeable part of the “Vodka” pie, which stars curlicues of smoked coppa ham and delightful dollops of herby Italian salsa verde. The cacio e pepe is one of Dallas’ most interesting pizzas, a cheese pie with lumps of parmesan cream sauce on each slice, plus a very generous shower of just-cracked black pepper. It’s spot-on. Although it has a greasy shine, it doesn’t taste oily, either.
I wish that were true of the spinach pizza, which suffers from its star ingredient giving off so much liquid. The flavors were lovely, though: whole roasted garlic cloves, pesto, more dollops of parmesan cream. Each pizza is cut into six slices; with appetizers, three is a good serving. Pizzas range from $21-26, which may raise eyebrows in Dallas (Partenope’s equally good offerings are $15-19).
You’ll remember Pizzana after you visit as the place with the interesting tower that holds all your pizzas over the table. It’s modular, with perfectly pizza-sized rings that fit into a peg on the table and stack on top of each other. Order enough pizzas and your space will look like one of those weird car display towers. It’s pretty great for sharing and photo-taking—as the pictures in this article prove—but with one notable drawback. Customers, inclined to create more space, are swinging the little pizza towers out over the edges of their tables, where servers and other diners can walk into them. Someone’s gonna commit a party foul.
I have one big gripe about the Pizzana experience. (And a little one, but our gritty, coarse panna cotta was probably a one-time mistake.) The restaurant has put almost no effort into its drink menu. There are just three beers, Peroni and two mass-market California offerings. The all-organic wine list doesn’t bother listing vintages, suggesting either carelessness or cynicism. Just six spirits form the base of every specialty cocktail, including Campari, Tito’s vodka, and Casamigos, an abysmal brand of tequila best known for being founded, then sold for $1 billion, by George Clooney. That’s the guy who was Batman when Chris O’Donnell was Robin.
We sprung for a bottle of prosecco, and it was fine. But there’s an easy way to enjoy Pizzana’s great crusts and clever toppings with your own bottles of booze. We watched Knox Street locals pop in for takeout boxes—which, by the way, are also stylish and fun to look at. (They say “Pizza” on one side and “Na” around the corner.) For takeout customers with a home oven, the restaurant offers a “take and slice” option with clear instructions for reheating at home, making it possible to get near the restaurant-quality experience.
As this newcomer settles into its spot and shakes off the first-month hype, it will definitely deserve a second look. I don’t know if I agree yet with Jonathan Gold, who felt the product was worth standing in line for an hour. Partenope offers similar pies, lower prices, and better wines without the wait.
But if you showed up to my party with a stack of Pizzana boxes, we would definitely become friends.
Pizzana, 3219 Knox St., Ste. 150