I’ve been a Panino’s customer for many years …
… through all the iterations: the tiny place on Central Street with the great panini; the bigger place at Dodge and Dempster with table service; the same place with no table service… and the food has always been dependable, though largely the same.
But earlier this year, Panino’s decided to get back into the table service arena and updated their menu along the way, winnowing down to their best and most popular selections, adding a few more upscale items, and most importantly, bringing in a fabulous Artisan Neapolitan-Style Pizza.
The specialty pizza can only be ordered in the restaurant; it is not available for delivery. It’s a delicate pizza with a thin, crispy crust that’s best served by immediate consumption. And believe me… you will consume it immediately. The only caveat is that they make a limited batch of the crust, and they do run out, as happened to us on a recent visit. Such disappointment!
But never fear, because there’s a lot to keep you occupied on the menu, from the Grigliata appetizer ($12) of grilled, marinated shrimp and calamari on a bed of warm Tuscan beans and sautéed rapini to the Antipasto Misto ($11), a lovely composed plate of fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, grilled zucchini and artichokes, Castelvetrano and Kalamata olives and fresh shaved Parmesan cheese. Pair that with the fresh Italian bread and a little olive oil and you don’t need much else.
Unless, of course, you’re in the mood for pasta. In my experience, Panino’s are always tasty, not particularly inventive, but dependable. Case in point: the Tortellini Al Fresco ($12), toothsome cheese tortellini tossed in a light garlic-olive oil sauce with artichoke hearts, fresh basil, diced tomatoes and Parmesan shavings. The Cavatelli alla Vodka ($12), doused in a creamy tomato-vodka sauce, is straight up Italian comfort food and my teens’ personal fave.
Tender Chicken Vesuvio ($15) was moist and flavorful; the peas and roasted red peppers add a needed pop of color. Nothing was over-salted, which in my recent dining experiences is something of a miracle.
Naples: The Mother of All Pizza
But the main event: those Neapolitan-style pizzas, 12” blistered crust beauties made with Italian Molino “San Felice” flour from Naples and a yeast starter strain that also hails from the mother country. The natural yeast ferments over 24 hours and creates a tangy, unique flavor and texture in the crust.
If you’re a fan of broccoli di rabe (rapini), you’ll love the Barese pizza ($13) with fresh mozzarella, rapini and fennel sausage. The bitterness of the greens is offset by the sweet richness of the sausage. Delicioso!
Also fabuloso: the Rustica ($14), dotted with more fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, roasted cremini mushrooms, caramelized onions and chunks of smoky bacon. Now that’s a tasty pizza.
But Wait… There’s More!
Always a glutton for punishment, I couldn’t resist the fresh homemade gelato ($4). We especially loved the coconut and dulce de leche (caramel) gelatos and the watermelon sorbet.
The wine list is limited, but extremely reasonable. On our last visit we ordered a bottle of Ruffino Chianti for $16. That is not a typo! And their “regular” pizza is always available, as is the deep dish, but it’s the Artisan Pizza that will get you in the restaurant anew.
1968 Dempster St.
28 S. Fairview
3 out of 5 stars