When you think of true love, there are a few stories that stand the test of time. The Princess Bride, Romeo and Juliet, Keith Garcia and Pizza.
Oh, you haven’t heard that one? It’s a classic tale, boy meets Baxter’s by-the-slice, late night pizza and vows never to love another. Then on Halloween night in 2015, Baxter’s closed its doors – to be replaced by Burrito Envy. Mr. Garcia was, as you might imagine, despondent.
Known specifically for his mad pizza love, Garcia never did find a new slice to call his own. He dabbled, of course. A cheap takeout affair here, a frozen philandering there – but nothing filled the void. He’s a good enough guy, and I couldn’t let him go on this way. We set out to find the sickest slice Omaha’s plethora of pizzerias had to offer.
“Did you know that ‘Omaha Pizzeria’ returns 290 results?” I asked Garcia as we sat across from one another developing our battle plan. We decided not to bite off more than we could chew – literally. And with only so many words with which to divulge our findings, I’m simply not going to mention places that left a bad taste in our mouths. No word budget would have been enough to do justice to Omaha's strong pizza game, but a few of our winners more than earned a mention.
We had to cover some Omaha traditions, so LaCasa was obviously mentioned early on. Garcia remembered not liking it as a kid, which was funny to me, as I hated it as a child. The thin cracker crust and the texture of the finely crumbled meat on top was somehow off-putting to me then. I realize that I now have nostalgic bias and can’t mention to him just how much I grew to love it. He confirms my own feelings on the topic and says he really likes the sauce, the crunch of the crust, and the distribution of toppings. Yes, it’s still minced ground beef on top, but there is enough that you’re actually able to count it toward your protein allowance for the day.
The Verdict: Either Nostalgic or an Acquired Taste. Either Way, Thumbs Up
Weirdough Pizza is a pretty new kid on the block, but has already made several impressions and improvements. I mentioned the first time I stopped with my boys for lunch, they were utterly disappointed by it. My 2 and 3-year-old sons had a kid’s slice, and my older son’s slice was just crust and sauce. He informed me that if I called it sauce toast, it was ok, but if I called it pizza it was “pretty dumb”. We returned a few months later and ordered the kid’s slice and it was completely different, the same delicious crust, but this time included a generous amount of toppings.
Garcia echoes that the place has changed a great deal since it first opened last year. His favorite slice, “The Butcher”, now contains less of the well-seasoned meats that it originally held, but he still enjoys the sauce and the spicy pepperoni.
The Verdict: In Garcia’s words “it’s bomb! It’s my favorite ‘puffy’ crust.” Garcia isn’t shy about his loyalty to a New York slice, so this is a pretty big departure.
5021 Underwood in Dundee
Opened by Godfather’s founder Willy Theisen, Pitch has firmly established itself as the hangout for Omaha’s upwardly mobile. Young professionals congregate over a craft beer and a slice, while networking events and business meetings take place over a whole pie.
The coal-fired marsala pizza is the easy winner on the menu. Figs, goat cheese, pears, arugula, truffle oil, and mozzarella are a fun frolic of sweet, tangy, and savory.
The Verdict: Pitch seems to be popular more for the scene and less for the slice, but manages great things with interesting ingredients.
1108 S 10th st
At this point, I begin to worry that Garcia may be on the verge of burnout – but when he sees the oven parked just behind the counter, I lose him for a while. A man in white feeds delicate raw dough into a pasta press. Garcia watches, entranced as the burly chef gently stretches the dough that will become the pie we’ve ordered before throwing it into the white-hot oven. I explain to him the days long process the pizza dough takes to reach the chef’s hands, but it wasn’t until he lifted the first slice that the reason for the grueling process becomes clear. “Whoa – it’s like lifting paper! It feels like nothing” he marvels at the lightness of the crust. Our chatter about important matters like whether or not his niece is the cutest kid alive, and whether Tinder is the best or the worst thing to come out of the digital age instantly ends. We sit in silence for several moments, which was exactly how long it took for our pizza to disappear.
The Verdict: Incredible. Amazing selection, excellent toppings, impeccable crust.
After Via Farina, it seemed almost unnecessary to add another pizzeria to our adventure. As much as Garcia felt he had met his new love, I knew we needed to make one last stop. I had just the place in mind. I hadn’t actually heard much about Noli before we went, I only remembered it always lingering in my mind as a place I ought to try. Toppings are sourced locally when possible, and imported from Italy if local sourcing isn’t going to cut it. Even the water Noli’s uses is specially designed to bring you a light, chewy New York style crust. I stop at the counter on my way in and order a caprese [fresh tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, and balsamic] and a Filet Mignon pizza.
I knew the caprese would be a hit. It’s a proven profile, and it was good. Very good, actually. That’s not what I want to talk to you about. DiManzo -- The filet mignon. Guys – you need it in your life.
Gorgonzola white wine sauce, Portobello mushroom, fresh mozzarella, basil, caramelized onions, garlic oil, balsamic glaze. It’s hard to say who it was who mumbled obscenities after those first few bites, but I will say they were merited. Even The Reader’s mild-mannered [and much milder mouthed] photographer, Debra Kaplan, took a momentary break from vegetarianism to sample a slice. A scathing “Oh my!” escaped her lips before she sunk them into a second, and then a third slice.
It’s never easy losing your first love, and there will never be a day when Keith Garcia doesn’t miss Baxter’s. That’s not how love works. The world continues spinning, and one day we love again. As we walked out of Noli’s that day, I felt good about having been part of this successful matchmaking process. I know there have already been many nights since that I have gone to bed almost able to feel the heat of the wood burning pizza oven, and can almost smell the gorgonzola cream sauce. I can’t taste balsamic without thinking of leaving my salad behind and heading to The Blackstone District for one more taste. I know Garcia has found a new place to lay another little pizza his heart.
The Verdict: It’s a Love Connection