Good Pizza Makes Good Neighbors at Urbino on Henderson.
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."
"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.
But Pedack isn't really going for authenticity. He's not what you'd call an aficionado of regional cuisines, but he seems willing to educate himself. He has recently busied himself learning the basics of burrata cheese, and before opening Urbino, he tested pizza dough with well-known pastry chef Katherine Clapner almost every day for a month. He also queued up several consulting chefs to help him sort out kitchen design and source ingredients. What Pedack fully comprehends is food service, and the way a restaurant should operate.
And that means patience. "People come here, they come back," he says. "It's a slow build—and if you're able to sustain that [as a restaurant], you'll be there forever."
Urbino Pizza e Pasta is a cool, low-key hang out. Those who order delivery get to see the ZAP car putter up their driveway, but they miss out on service so instinctively friendly our waitress on my first visit posed the "is everything OK" question even before the appetizers arrived. The delivered will also miss out on flatbreads, which Pedack realizes don't travel well, because its sauce will soak through the thin crust. With that kind of consideration, Urbino's neighboring restaurant should never have to worry again.
Because, dude, you're living next to a quality place.
Urbino Pizza e Pasta 2323 N. Henderson Ave., 214-821-0044. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday. $$
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