December 10, 2013
Forgive me if I have a hard time getting excited about a new pizzeria. Urbanspoon.com lists more than 100 in Fort Myers and Cape Coral, along with about 75 Italian restaurants, many of which likely serve pies as well as pasta.
However, when a known pizza perfectionist not only recommends, but raves about, a particular pie place, my ears and appetite perk up. This paisano of mine has mastered the art of fermenting dough and baking off a pleasingly crisp crust at home, which is no small feat considering the temperature limits of conventional home ovens. So when this friend began extolling the virtues of Dante’s Coal Fired Pizza in Cape Coral, I decided to enlist his rarefied palate in reviewing the restaurant.
I had passed by the place every workday for months without giving it much thought; after all, I’ve got a pizza stone at home that gets frequent use. A quick check of restaurant-rating sites turned up some negative comments about service and food temperature, but the majority of reviews were favorable. Furthermore, my companion has become a repeat customer without experiencing any such problems.
We added sausage and fresh mozzarella to a traditional-style pizza. Left: Tiramisu is one of two choices for dessert at Dante’s.DREW STERWALD / FLORIDA WEEKLYDante’s opened its doors last spring in the Bonefish Grill Plaza on Pine Island Road. It’s at the opposite end of the center from the popular seafood restaurant, and you can avoid the inevitable traffic jam by following the access road behind the complex down to the east end.
Traffic can be an issue inside Dante’s as well; it’s not a large restaurant, and tables can be hard to come by on Friday and Saturday nights. But at 6 p.m. on a Thursday, we were seated immediately at a small table next to the bar. We had a good view of the men tossing pizza dough and the handsome stone façade of the coal-fired oven. The dining room has a casual, modern feel with golden pine walls sparingly decorated with oversized black-and-white pizzeria photographs. With rock music such as U2 playing in the background, Dante’s has more of a youthful vibe than a lot of homey mom-and-pop pizzerias.
The young staff can be touchy-feely, too. Conventional wisdom holds that a light touch on a man’s shoulder or arm can lead to a higher tip, but our waitress went overboard by patting my shoulder once or twice each time she came to the table. My pizza-expert companion was left untouched.
Dante’s does not have a terribly large menu, and half of it is devoted to wine and beer. The 35 wines favor California and Italy, while tap brews include some craft labels such as Abita, Sierra Nevada and Dogfish.
For starters, there are a few salads and a few appetizers. Although five panini variations offer an alternative if you’re not primed for pizza, you won’t find pasta or baked Italian dishes padding out the list. I like that Dante’s is focusing on a small repertoire of basics and perfecting them.
Take the coal-fired wings, for example ($9 for 10 pieces, $16 for 20). These are not your stereotypical buffalo wings. Instead of being tossed with hot sauce, they are marinated in a mouth-watering combination of olive oil, rosemary, garlic and lemon — Mediterranean flavors that tickle the taste buds instead of searing them. Roasted in the super-hot oven, they come out with crispy, charred skin that adds even more to the sensory enjoyment. Sweet caramelized onions are draped over the wings as a final flourish. I am not generally a chicken wing fanatic, but I would go back to Dante’s just for these.
You also can’t go wrong with a simple plate of polpette ($10), roasted meatballs laced with highly seasoned marinara and a dollop of herbed ricotta cheese. Like the wings, these moist, delicate orbs are served with housemade focaccia.
Getting to our main order of business, basic cheese pizzas are offered in 10- and 14-inch pies ($8 and $12 respectively, or $9 and $14 for white pizza). Extra toppings are $2 each, so that can add considerably to the bill, but it’s nice having nonstandard options such as prosciutto de Parma, arugula and gorgonzola.
Dante’s prepares eight signature 14-inch pies, but we decided to build two small pizzas of our own instead. With the traditional pie, we upgraded with crumbled Italian sausage and fresh mozzarella, which respectively added spicy-saltiness and creamy texture. We liked that the pie wasn’t over-sauced and the toppings were perfectly proportioned.
We topped a white pizza with prosciutto, which crisped up nicely in that fiery oven. Oftentimes, pizzerias spread so much ricotta on pizza bianca that it prevents the crust from getting completely baked through. Not the case here. We enjoyed the crisp, pillowy crust with each and every bite. It’s thin but not cracker-thin, with a good chew and yeasty tang.
By this time, we’d eaten enough pizza that the notion of dessert pizza was not appealing. (Actually, Dante’s calls its dessert pie a “beavertail,” apparently because the stretched-out dough resembles the shape of the critter’s appended paddle. Here the baked concoction is covered with fruit and chocolate-hazelnut sauce.) Instead, we shared a sublime serving of lush tiramisu ($7) — definitely worth saving room for.
Dante’s might leave some patrons asking for a more wide-ranging menu, but I will be happy to make it my go-to place just for pizza and wings.