Attached below is the review that will be printed in this Friday's DMN...online behind the paywall today. I'm thrilled we survived our first review and would like to thank all of the pizzaioli, servers, kitchen staff, bartenders, bussers, managers and hostesses that helped us pull this off. Most of all thanks to everyone who followed us around with our mobile oven and gave us the confidence to open up a brick-and-mortar space!
By Leslie Brenner - Food Critic
After a slice, then two, then three of a regina margherita pie at Cane Rosso, I’m hit by an epiphany. I’ve found my religion: I’m a pizzaist.
I’m serious, and here’s why. The Naples-style pizza that emerges from the wood-burning oven at Jay Jerrier’s 2-month-old Deep Ellum pizzeria is more than outstanding; it’s knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark excellent. When I think about what’s involved in its creation — flour, water, salt, yeast, milk and tomatoes plus chemistry, the human touch, heat and love — and that something so incredibly compelling comes from things so elemental, I’m overwhelmed by an oceanic feeling.
Jerrier’s regina margherita is not only the best pizza I’ve had in Dallas, it’s also one of the best I’ve had in the country. The crust, charred and blistered, is at once chewy, crisp and tender. Pick up a slice and it sags just a little toward its point; the crispness tiptoes to a decrescendo. The flavor of the crust is deep and nutty. The toppings — tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil — that melt with deep flavor into the crust are in perfect balance.
This slice speaks to my soul more loudly than a dish with 20 fabulous ingredients executed brilliantly by a pedigreed chef.
What elevates it to something transcendent is the human element. The kneading of the dough. The thought that goes into the pizzaiolo’s decision to give that dough a long, slow rise. His love of the craft, the passion that drives him to excellence. The eons of human history that culminate in the most basic and effective of ovens, as in the red-tiled, wood-burning beauty that’s not only the focal point, but also the heart of Cane Rosso (pronounced Cah-nay Roh-soh).
The cavernous space, with its high ceilings, exposed air ducts, and hard wooden benches that serve as banquettes, isn’t much of a dining room, but it has a nice feel. Whimsical pillows, some of them looking like giant green olives with pimentos, soften the benches. A high granite counter snakes around the oven; stools offer cat-bird perches to watch the pizzaiolos slide the pies into the flames and pull them out. Above the fiery mouth are the letters CANE ROSSO (“red dog” in Italian) spelled out in white tiles.
The menu’s simple: a few basic starters, sandwiches, a pasta of the day and those glorious pizzas.
Starters include a fine but undistinguished Caesar; a “mista” with good field greens, grape tomatoes, a too-sweet dressing and shaved Parmigiano; a salumi platter; and a few more. A brief list of mostly Italian wines offers a handful of whites and a modest selection of friendly reds, all between $25 and $40. There’s a small list of craft beers, some of them on tap.
I wish there were a more compelling salad, something as simple and Italian as the pizza, like arugula with shaved Parmigiano. I can’t help but wonder who orders focaccia or fried dough before pizza; something light fits the bill better. That said, I love the creamy Burrata with a little mound of nicely cooked rapini buried under it. A few leaves of baby arugula are scattered on top, and it’s dressed with just a little good olive oil and sea salt. A couple of griddled crostini lean against it, a perfect vehicle for a smear of Burrata and greens.
Pappardelle, one day’s pasta special, was drowned in way too much of a very good pork ragu. But a sandwich du jour was fabulous — slices of sausage from Jimmy’s Food Store, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, red sauce and mozzarella, all melted inside well-charred pizza bread.
Jerrier is one of several Dallas pizzaioli certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the organization that trains cooks to make authentic Naples-style pizza. The dough must include only imported double-zero flour, water, yeast and sea salt; tomatoes must be plum tomatoes from Italy. But he approaches his craft with a level of seriousness that goes beyond the requirements of ingredients and oven type. That long, slow rise he gives the dough, for instance, results in superior texture and flavor. And not only does he make his own mozzarella (known in pizza circles as fior di latte), but it’s fabulous. Though mozzarella is a simple cheese, it’s not easy to master. Jerrier’s has perfect texture, much softer in the middle than on the edges, and a lovely milky freshness.
Though Cane Rosso’s warm, friendly servers are eager to please, they’re not necessarily well-informed about the menu and ingredients. (No, pappardelle is not a “tiny bit wider” than linguini.)
When my friends and I couldn’t decide between the regular margherita pizza and the regina margherita, our server raved about the regina, going on and on about how the buffalo mozzarella made it a better pizza. I wish we hadn’t listened — while we did love the regina, after tasting Jerrier’s outstanding fior di latte, I would have preferred to order the classic. Next time.
When I asked about a wine, a 2007 Lamborghini Trescone from Umbria for $40 (I figured it was the closest I’d ever get to a Lambo), the server described it as “much drier” than the other Italian reds. Yes, it’s just a pizzeria, but when such incredible attention is paid to the pies, it would be nice if the staff had at least a basic understanding of the small, uncomplicated wine list.
Back to the pizzas. The “Motorino,” topped with Burrata spread thin, crumbles of Jimmy’s sausage, rapini and basil and spiced up pretty good with Calabrian chiles, did not disappoint. Like all the pies I tasted, it got the balance of ingredients just right, without getting too loaded down. It reminded me of the “Gus” I had tasted on a previous visit (mushrooms instead of chiles, mozzarella instead of Burrata). In fact, though there are 21 pizzas from which to choose, many of them are too similar. “Cassie” is like “Gus” but with hot soppressata instead of sausage; “Funghi” is “Gus” minus the sausage. One that does feel different is the “Prosciutto e rucola,” topped with arugula leaves and luxurious, thicker-than-usual slices of prosciutto from Salumeria Biellese in New Jersey, made from Berkshire pork. Wonderful.
The 14-inch pies are big enough to share, but everything sounds and looks and smells so great it’s hard not to over-order. Still, even if you’ve eaten too much pizza and a doughy dessert sounds insane, force yourself. The “Bella Mela” dessert pizza, topped with thick-cut caramelized apples that might have escaped from a tarte Tatin, plus a smidge of vanilla mascarpone, a good dose of caramel sauce and a touch of sea salt, rocks. I even loved the s’mores calzone, pizza dough folded over chocolate chips and marshmallow, charred in the oven and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It arrives sliced, all gooey and melty, big enough for three or four. Zeppole, balls of hot, crisp, not too sweet fried dough dusted with powdered sugar, come in a paper bag, with a pot of chocolate sauce for dipping. What a treat.
That Jerrier, who started Cane Rosso 21/2 years ago when he brought a just-purchased mobile pizza oven to his daughter’s school carnival, has put down roots in Deep Ellum is very good news. He still has the mobile oven, which blazes on Tuesdays at Green Spot Market in Dallas, Wednesdays at Times Ten Cellars in Dallas and Thursdays at Times Ten Cellars in Fort Worth. (He also uses it to cater private and corporate events.)
It will be interesting to see whether eventually Jerrier will pull the threads together to make his restaurant as completely compelling as his pizza. I’d start by offering more interesting antipasti, training the waitstaff and making the forlorn patio more appealing.
But with that massive, glowing red oven at its heart, the quirky new place on Commerce Street seems heaven sent. It is a true temple of pizza, a place where I, for one, will worship as often as I can — and fervently.
Cane Rosso (3 stars)
Price: $$ (starters $5 to $15, sandwiches, pasta and pizzas $10 to $15, desserts for sharing $10)
Service: Attentive and super-earnest, if not always well-informed about the ingredients and wine list
Ambience: The bright-red-tiled wood-burning pizza oven is the heart of the cavernous, rough-around-the-edges dining room; there’s a spacious, if not exactly alluring, patio on the side.
Location: 2612 Commerce St. (in Deep Ellum), Dallas; 214-741-1188; www.ilcanerosso.com
Hours: Lunch Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner Thursday-Saturday 5 to 11 p.m., or as late as there are still customers
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Smoking area: On the patio
Alcohol: Beer and wine only. The mostly Italian wine list offers a handful of whites, and a modest selection of friendly reds, all between $25 and $40.