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Photography by Carissa Byers

We’re Crust Sayin’

by Michael Hiller | Modern Luxury Dallas magazine | September 27, 2011

Neapolitan pizza seems to be having its moment. Cheese, tomato, thin crust. Big deal, right? I know you think you get the best pizza at the little neighborhood joint down the street. But you don’t. Unless of course you happen to live near the strip center at the northwest corner of Preston and Forest. For the new best pizza in town comes from Dough Pizzeria Napoletana, a San Antonio import with Italian conceit. Dough makes a come-to-Jesus pizza.

Trust me: It’s hard not to become a fan of Dough, though the restaurant’s lack of airs and graces—hard chairs and bare tables, exposed black ceiling, schoolhouse light fixtures—is not to everyone’s tastes. Dough’s founders and owners, Doug and Lori Horn, have focused their attention on the essentials—good ingredients, impeccable technique, a well-trained staff and a hand-built brick oven custom made in Naples, Italy. That oven’s 800-degree maws are fueled solely by the embers of a post oak fire, and it churns out puffy, blistery, chewy pizzas in less than 90 seconds. The pizzas are simple constructions with few accessories, but they’ll linger in your thoughts well past your drive home.

Dallas residents Brad Liles and Keith Hall operate the Dallas Dough under license from the Horns, though I couldn’t help but notice Doug running the kitchen and Lori working up front on two of the nights I visited. The wait for a table can run up to an hour most nights. She has the more difficult job.
Dough’s pizzas are about balance and craftsmanship, deceptively simple yet transcendent. The first bite of the arugula and prosciutto pizza might change everything you think you know about pizza. Creamy, house-made mozzarella. Imported tomatoes. Impossibly thin slices of sweet, salty, air-dried ham that nearly melts on your tongue. A textured crust, charred in places, the result of intense heat and a long, slow, overnight fermentation so that it puffs up in tiny nooks and crannies and develops a crackling veneer. Great pizzas come from great bread bakers.

On a recent visit, I snagged one of the dozen short stools at the chef’s counter, near the back. From that vantage, peering over clay pots of herbs and bottles of green olive oil, I watched Horn and his crew gently stretch the dough until it was paper thin, glaze it with tomato sauce, toss on knobs of mozzarella cheese and plucks of fresh basil, then tend that same pie in a brutally hot oven. The whole process took less than three minutes. I can’t heat a Hot Pocket in three minutes.

The menu is a quick read, comprising just seven pizzas, twice again as many toppings, three simple salads and a smattering of antipasti ranging from assorted roasted olives and vegetables to three cheese offerings constructed from fresh mozzarella (made in-house from good quality mozzarella curds and cream) or imported mozzarella di bufala.

I loved Nonna’s Salad, with its crisp spears of romaine, beefy tomatoes, tangles of shaved red onions and big dollops of creamy ricotta. Small plates of plump, oven-roasted Calabrian chiles, cherry-size bombs of spicy tang, and marinated baby artichokes were equally appealing. But the highly touted burrata caprese fell short. Dough’s burrata arrives as a taut shell of mozzarella encasing a pasty mix of ricotta, mascarpone and truffle oil. Better to stick with the classic burrata recipe, which employs scraps of fresh mozzarella (leftover from all that mozz that Dough makes for its pizzas) and some heavy cream as the filling. And, for heaven’s sake, leave out the truffle oil.

For its pizzas, Dough adheres to the mantra of the Naples-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the VPN, which specifies, among other requirements, the precise ingredients and allowable techniques for producing dough, the temperature of the brick oven and how it is fueled and the maximum size of a pizza—11 inches. VPN aficionados find these constructs reassuring rather than restrictive, a sort of comfort that somebody who knows a thing or two about good pizza is minding the store. They’re probably right. As I sat at the counter watching dozens of pizzas fly in and out of the oven—75 seconds, 81 seconds, 70 seconds—each emerged as flawless as the next. Not once did I see the kitchen remake a pie or overhear that an unhappy customer returned one.

Dough’s crust is sturdy enough to be folded in half and eaten out of hand, no fork and knife required. Yet good pizza is more than just good crust. It’s also about well-chosen, quality ingredients that play well with each other. Pancetta, artichokes, olives and thin coins of fennel sausage made for an exceptional pizza. I’d wait in line for any of Dough’s pizzas, especially the one with fontina, roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions and Parmigiano-Reggiano, which makes as good and gooey a pie as you’ll find. Ditto the “pork love” pie, with its paper-thin shavings of salami, pancetta and speck; the edges curl and char in the oven before surrendering into bubbles of red sauce-tinged mozzarella. Dough’s cheeses are so well constructed and melt so perfectly that the centers of the pies don’t go limp from the melting cheese. Even the simplest pizza, little more than sauce, mozzarella and basil, was enormously satisfying.

The young staff is unfailingly kind, knowledgeable and attentive. Small things—a used sugar packet, an orphaned spoon—are spotted and promptly removed. I never felt rushed or chaperoned, yet the tables keep turning. The staff behind the small bar, where everyone clusters while waiting for a table, keeps an eye on you. You can get an excellent cocktail or a house-made Italian soda, but it’s the wine selection that really shines. The two-page list celebrates Northern Italy, with a few nods south. You can start with a glass of a pinot grigio from northernmost Friuli, say the 2009 Scarpetta, then move into the black cherries and spice in a glass of 2009 Cantine Barbera Nero d’Avola from Sicily. You can buy a bottle (most on the list are less than $40) but why would you, when you could instead explore nearly the entire, thoughtfully chosen list for less than $10 a glass?

You might be tempted to finish an entire pizza (or order another), but don’t. Instead, hold out for at least one of the desserts. Even if you don’t usually like sweets, the Nutella panini sandwich will leave you in a happy stupor. Dough slathers two slices of fresh bread with the chocolate hazelnut spread, then grills it on a panini press until the insides ooze out. The polenta cake is a close second, an Italian-inspired buttery pound cake with crisped edges from a quick pass through the wood oven. The vanilla-spiked panna cotta is a dreamy, creamy celebration of all that’s right in the world. And who doesn’t want more of that?

Dough Pizzeria Napoletana
11909 Preston Road, Ste. 1444, 972.788.4600

Tuesday-Saturday, “11am ’til the fresh mozzarella runs out” (usually around 9:30pm)

Where to Sit
If you’re sans kids or flying solo, request to sit at the chef’s counter, directly in front of the pizza oven, where you can talk to the guys stretching your dough.

The Vibe
The tables up front are sized for families, who flock to this North Dallas restaurant early but clear out by 8pm. Check out the bar, where you’ll find something appealing to sip, whether you’re in the mood for a frozen bellini or a glass of red.

Don’t Miss
The daily specials, which are posted on a chalkboard adjacent to the chef’s counter