By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
When David Pedack fires up his rickety ZAP car—a three-wheeled all-electric bug assembled in Hong Kong—and clatters down the street on a pizza delivery run, it may be the only time he feels real solitude. The pressure of opening Urbino Pizza e Pasta, his second restaurant, eases just a bit as the tiny vehicle whirs around corners. I've seen him smile as he bounces past the patios along Henderson, mashing the horn to generate an odd metallic honk, which, strangely enough, momentarily slows the car.
He makes delivery runs all day, switching over to his personal car when the ZAP's power runs low (he carries a 100-foot extension cord, just in case). Between runs, he trains waitstaff hired more for their personality than service experience. Every so often, he walks down to Blue Collar Bar, his first restaurant, returning when people begin to trickle into Urbino. It hasn't been easy, getting his new place up to speed, a fact he readily acknowledges. Not only did he step into a space vacated by a failed pizza and pasta spot—one perceived as scarred in the public mind—he also opened under the watchful eye of a concerned neighbor.
Brooks and Bradley Anderson, owners of Veritas wine bar, saw Pedack surveying the property shortly after he signed a lease. They were fed up with garbage collecting in the empty doorway of the vacant space, driving their customers away. They also were frustrated by the sorry performance of the previous occupant, Pulcinella. Brooks walked over, extended his hand and said, "Dude, you gotta do a quality place."
2323 N. Henderson Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206-8378
Region: East Dallas & Lakewood
"I mean, geez," says Pedack, who now laughs as he recalls the not-so-warm welcome.
Stop by any evening and you'll understand why the laughter. Veritas encourages its guests to bring their own food or to order out. This left a big opening for Urbino, whose young waitstaff hustles back and forth between its pizza kitchen and the wine bar, delivering pies, toting silverware and even busing tables next door. The first night Pedack was open for business, he sold more pizzas at Veritas than in his own dining room. After a month, Urbino averaged 11 deliveries each day to its next-door neighbor.
Many of the wine bar's guests have stopped ordering from Campania and Piggie Pies—for good reason. Urbino's wood-fired flatbreads sit on a nicely baked thin crust: not too crisp, not too chewy and with just the slightest hint of natural smoke. Every other day, line cooks prepare the sauce in-house from boxes of tomatoes. And each morning, Pedack rushes over to Tom Spicer's store to grab fresh herbs and greens. "Spicer sells to a lot of restaurants," Pedack points out. "You have to get there early and fight people for arugula." But this pays off for his menu in notable bursts of flavor. Urbino's carni flatbread, for example, includes Italian sausage, American pepperoni and salametti. What stands out, however, is the hit of roasted red pepper and the strong herbal influences.
Yes, the arugula does get a bit lost in an otherwise excellent panini, which is spread with figs and brie to counter the distinct taste of prosciutto. All Pedack's efforts, the hand-made sauce and daily rush to buy fresh greens, become more obvious when you move to the salads—the panzanilla in particular. Fennel fronds and strips of basil fight it out over a combination of bitter greens, mellow almond bits, the muted sharpness of local feta and an oil-vinegar dressing—lashing the whole with bright mint and subtle licorice. It's an intense salad.
Urbino's menu is smart because Pedack keeps it simple: seven pizza options (not counting the "build your own" list), four salads, four paninis and four pasta selections—though only three appetizers. Not sure what happened to the fourth. "My goal was to work really hard on getting three or four things right, rather than having a menu of 10 pastas," he explains. "I'm really trying to deliver quality."
During the process of gutting the old restaurant and building out the new one, Pedack transformed the walk-in freezer into a second refrigerator, enabling him to rely more on fresh ingredients. He and his kitchen staff worked hard learning to bake with bufala mozzarella, settling on a two-stage process so the milky cheese wouldn't weaken his precious thin-crust pizzas. As he tells the story, some local purveyors of Italian-style ingredients tried to convince him that profit margin matters more than homemade sauce and fresh cheese. They made their pitch while scarfing down one Urbino pizza after another.
"There's thought put into the menu," Pedack says. "I hope people see that."
The cheese and salumi board could use a little more study. Smoked Gouda seems a little out of place on an Italian salumi plate, though the restaurant nicely arranges its different flavors and textures—right down to a spread of locally produced honey, complete with wax. Tiramisu emphasizes creaminess (and size), rather than the sweet melding of bitter and rich characters. In fact, there's hardly any cake in there. Whether one appreciates the Diablo pasta is probably a matter of perspective. If you are the sort of person who enjoys popping stuffed jalapeños and orders meat-lovers pizza, then you'll find the hot smoky Diablo, with its spicy meats and thin sauce spiked with onions and chipotle, appealing. Not so much for fans of simple, ordinary Italian fare—though there are three other, less beastly options.