When Capitol Hill pizzeria Dino’s Tomato Pie opened about four months ago, it generated a flurry of chatter. Which isn’t a surprise, as it’s a sibling to renowned upper Ballard pizzeria Delancey and neighborhood cocktail haven Essex. What is surprising (in a personal way) is that I wasn’t first in line, as I adore Delancey and love the drinks and personality at Essex. But I wanted to let things shake out a bit. Here are three impressions from my recent visit.
The Drinks: You might think pizza first, but no matter the pie, I’m thinking drinks. And the drink program at Dino’s is both fun and tasty – a fantastic combo. Chief barkeep Kenaniah Bystrom (who has long been a favorite) and the bar staff have a swell selection of spirits and liqueurs shelved, but the five cocktails on tap are the quick and refreshing route to take. The Sangria Valancia Blanca (with brandy, white wine, fresh citrus, orange Fanta, and Dino’s XXX – a house triple sec) was bubbly, tangy, and with a smooth brandy undertone. There was also a nice, dry ice-cold fashioned, with bourbon, sugar, and bitters, run through an reclaimed Jägermeister shot chiller and delivered bracing and with bright flavors. There are drink specials (the Paloma Herrera with Chinaco Blanco tequila, grapefruit, Meyer lemon, the apertivo Americano Gancia, and Dolin blanc vermouth was a balanced delight), and a solid draft beer and wine selection. But perhaps the perfect match for the space is the effervescent Riunite Lambrusco – an individual bottle which came in a stainless bowl over ice.
The Food: Folks are weighing in on the two pizza styles, round and square Sicilian, but I’d be hard-pressed to pick a fave. Let’s start with the crusts. The round mirrors Delancey more, though a little larger: thin crust with a little chew and a little crispy burn here and there (more traditional Italy). The square Sicilian is a thicker crust, with amazing chew. It’s baked twice, once with a special tomato sauce, then with regular sauce and extra grated cheese and sauce around the edge – this gets even more crispy and chewy, what’s called frico style. It’s amazing stuff. There are five suggested pizza choices, and some add-ons. I had the otherworldly white pie, with ricotta, parmesan, fresh and aged mozzarella, and garlic, and added braised leeks as a round (white pie is not available square), and then a cheese square Sicilian, but added pickled peppers that brought extra zing and pizzazz to the tomato, double mozz, parmesan, and basil. A tip: ask for the hot oil to drizzle with. There are two salads, and though they aren’t on the menu, slices of square Sicilian – which is good, cause it’s filling stuff. And, you can order take-out pizzas at DinosTomatoPie.com, with the ordering powered by ChowNow.
The Space: Really the space starts online, with the hilarious site mentioned above. Designed by “Sammy” (top Seattle designer and Neversink director Sam Schick), it’s a note-perfect send up of a late 1990s site. And the restaurant is channeling that, too – harkening to the New Jersey spots of owner and pizza genius Brandon Pettit’s youth. It has the red plastic water glasses, paper plates, wooden floors, squatty glass parmesan and pepper shakers, old family photos, and neon-colored drink and happy hour specials written on the tall bar mirrors. But the beautifully carved wooden back bar around the mirrors, and the long wooden bar itself, point to the craft that’s been instilled along with the flashback accoutrements. There are seven deep booths along one wall, and two bigger booths in back (one has a sweet chandelier above it), and a tall table and 10 seats along the window. But take my advice and grab one of the 20-ish Naugahyde barstools to get closer to the drinks – because while the pizza’s outstanding, having one of the fine drinks available alongside makes it even better.