Japanese gastropub delivers quality fare at reasonable prices.
A quick and unsolicited etymological lesson: Before iPhones and millennials reduced the English language to nothing but a series of acronyms, the phrase “cut to the chase” was coined by Hal Roach Sr., an Hollywood luminary in the days of silent and early “talkie” films who thought that movies shouldn’t be bogged down with extraneous details that take away from the exciting part of the film — often the chase scene.
Instead, today, some kid named Carter or Brooklyn might text with exasperation, TLDR — too long, didn’t read — because who can be bothered with actual words anymore? Pshaw.
These phrases are pertinent to this week’s column, because seemingly any time we take this show on the road outside of the city (let alone beyond the county line), before readers even want to hear about the food, they have one immediate query: Is it worth the drive?
So cutting to the — y’know — or to the TLDR answer, as pertaining to Dal Forno in North Huntington, it is an unequivocal yes. This pizza place, located in an odd little business park that’s tucked into a hollow a few twists off of Route 30, is absolutely worth the drive.
Or to paraphrase Elaine Benes, it is traversing the Squirrel Hill Tunnel-worthy.
Opened in February, Dal Forno is second full-service restaurant in the same complex from Steve and Jen Salvi, who started their burgeoning Italian empire with Fede Pasta, the fresh pasta business first borne from Mr. Salvi’s basement more than a decade ago. They opened Cenacolo in late 2013, with dishes featuring those pastas as well as imported meats and cheeses.
Neapolitan pizza was a next logical step. They purchased a pair of gorgeous, custom-built woodfired ovens from Naples and put them in what was originally an old Kellogg’s distribution warehouse. The Salvis trained and earned pizza-making certification in San Francisco under acclaimed pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani. They brought executive chef Eric Delliquadri on board from Gia Visto in Monroeville to quarterback the kitchen. And over the course of two visits last week, they turned out some outstanding pies.
Premium ingredients and obvious craftsmanship contribute to the $17-$23 price range for the eight-cut pizzas.
The tomato sauce-based “Meat & Spice” is topped with, ’nduja, which is kind of a spreadable Calabrian salami, along with hot soppressata, pepperoni, Calabrese peppers, and buffalo mozzarella for an as advertised bite of heft and heat.
The pancetta and spring onion pizza is a wonderfully balanced white pizza that hit nearly every possible note with the salty pancetta, sweet onions, earthy crimini mushrooms, creamy fior di latte, and smoky scamorza.
On both the crust was dead perfect: a light crisp underneath and a flaky, charred singe on the rim.
An order of the Calabrian “ribs” were a fun treat ($15). Actually pork shank lollipops, they’re slathered in a tangy Calabrian pepper sauce and topped with crunchy pistachios. They’re baked first then finished in the pizza oven to a juicy fall off the bone consistency (which literally happened — the entire hunk of meat fell right off one of the bones when picked up).
A second visit yielded my favorite pizza of the slate, the sausage and broccolini. The bright red tomato sauce and roasted red peppers with the green slightly bitter broccolini and the light pecorino and buffalo mozzarella put one in mind of the Italian flag. But the star was truly exceptional house-made sweet sausage that could be put on a pizza crust by itself with just a drizzle of oil.
The cauliflower pizza combined its cruciferous namesake with mozzarella, caramelized onions and fried leeks for a light and somewhat sweet taste.
Again, perfect crusts on both.
One dish that didn’t work so well was a baked mozzarella ($9). Clever in concept, it combined mozzarella and stracciatella with some tomatoes and basil in a cast-iron skillet that was cooked in the pizza oven and liquefied. The presentation was dramatic, but it was cumbersome to eat especially when the cheese started to re-coagulate.
Another minor kvetch — everything is served on plastic plates. The initial idea was for customers to simply eat their pizzas off the baking sheets — an interesting notion, but it doesn’t work for sides and apps and looks kind of chintzy for an otherwise cool place with quality fare.
Beer, wine and liquor are available at the full bar, and there’s a cigar bar behind closed doors in the back. Service on both visits was warm and enthusiastic — not in a put-on saccharine “we’re working for tips” kind of way, but rather in a “we are genuinely excited to get behind this product” manner.
So to cut to the chase, the TLDR? It’s good.
Dal Forno: 1061 Main St., North Huntington (in the Banco Business Park); 724-515-7012; dalfornorestaurant.com.
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412.