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700 degrees of separation 

Skirted Heifer's owners score again downtown, with Bambino's Urban Pizzeria

click to enlarge Construct whatever pizza you desire, for only $8.50. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Construct whatever pizza you desire, for only $8.50.

Guy Fieri was in town recently, but you knew that already. And you've heard that Skirted Heifer was one of the handful of local spots that'll soon be on his TV show. Which says something, considering it's been open for less than two years.

But of greater significance, as I see it, is that Skirted Heifer has proven a model of sustainability inside a saturated marketplace, serving grass-fed-and-finished beef with eco-accoutrements at every turn, for dollars less than many competitors. The owners deployed the best parts of their Bambino's Eatery and Sports Bar business — for instance, making garlic focaccia buns baked out of house pizza dough — into a modern, mindful hamburger hub.

What they've now done with Bambino's Urban Pizzeria stands as no less impressive and paradigm-challenging. Yes, it's just pizza for the most part, and pretty damn good pizza at that. But explain how they can serve 11½-inch pies with unlimited toppings for only $8.50? And that's with options like house-made mozzarella, vegan cheese and sausage, and that same quality beef, some local vegetables, and generally gourmet ingredients. Co-owner Suzette Megyeri says the decision to import Italian Caputo flour alone cost her almost three times what she'd paid in the past.

Yet she's coming in under the price of specialty pizzas from the likes of Duca's, Pizzeria Rustica (by a wide margin) and Il Vicino. For a different perspective, look at the chain competition, whose economies of scale often yield significantly lower prices. At the Springs' first MOD Pizza, which opened just weeks ago, similar fast-casual-inspired, build-your-own-pizza service runs $7.47 for an 11-inch pie — only a dollar away.

Sure, every business model acts a little differently. But as someone who's heard for years why it can't be done, I find it inspiring to see green-gourmet executed affordably, stylishly and in plenty good taste. With all due respect to the sports bar's 33 years on Platte Avenue, perhaps this bold reinvention will be the family's real, lasting legacy.

But if you care about none of that, just know Bambino's can fire a pizza in about four minutes out of its "really badass" (in Megyeri's words) dual wood-gas stone oven, which runs around 700 degrees. In other words, you will make your after-lunch appointment on time.

Adjacent to a seasonally open bay door, you walk in and file down a service counter, separated from the dining room by a half wall constructed out of ornately carved old church doors. You can carry along a paper menu as you order directly with pie assemblers — never mind the awkward small talk when one customer briefly holds up the next. That line eventually spits you out, number in hand, past a register into a drink-and-bus-tub area, just beyond a living herb wall that contrasts nicely with the Waldo and Black Forest burn woods and reclaimed barn boards that act as interior siding.

We sample one custom pie and three of Bambino's "no brainers," all with generously applied house sauces and baked just over blondness. The custom turns out beautiful, with potent pesto, mozzarella and feta, Genoa salami, roasted garlic, arugula, Roma tomatoes, mushrooms and artichoke hearts.

On the Sweet Bourbon Barbecue, onion bite and jalapeño heat help keep the pie from being one-note. The Hot Chick, with spicy buffalo sauce, chicken and Gorgonzola, will please fans of wings. And the spinach-mushroom-garlic Green Hippy better suits mild palates, led by a creamy Alfredo sauce — we craved an acid offset, probably just tomatoes.

Pizza's only half the action, so we start one meal with a meatball appetizer and find soft, Thanksgiving-stuffing-channeling spheres under a tomato-paste-strong San Marzano sauce; the dish could use more seasoning. Both Arkansas Valley Beet and Caprese salads arrive overly wet with house vinaigrette that's amplified by a tangy, sweet Balsamic reduction garnish. Still, the beets and pistachios are bountiful in the first, and basil sings with the firm mozzarella in the Caprese. A mac-n-cheese Farmers Pasta sports ample veggies, but the broccolini dominates the flavor, and simple peppering and salting is needed.

Chilled or room-temperature Vino Salida wines perform perfectly with the savory fare. Among dessert options, the cloying and chewy caramel-apple pizza with cinnamon streusel will appeal to the kids, while parents can indulge in a wonderful house cheesecake — on our visit, a baking-spice-balanced pumpkin flavor.

Yes, you can get a gluten-free crust, or Boylan's craft soda, or beer, frozen custard and even a Greek pizza salad we didn't prioritize. And the math on potential pizza combos means Fieri's likely to return to town before you'd ever exhaust all the options.

Bambino's doesn't necessarily tread new territory amid the modern Neapolitan obsession, but its little tweaks amount to ample personality. It can still tighten things up, but the new Bambino's is better than its predecessor, using higher-quality ingredients than much of the competition, while proving admirably affordable, with class intact.

That's more than enough for this guy's support.

  • Skirted Heifer's owners score again downtown, with Bambino's Urban Pizzeria

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