Alibi V.28 No.49 • Dec 5-11, 2019 

Restaurant Review

Andiamo!

Da Vinci’s is full of surprises

pizza
When the moon hits your eye and all that.
Eric Williams Photography

At the heart of Leonardo da Vinci's many innovations was curiosity. So it goes without saying that a pizza joint named after the Renaissance man should probably have hefty helpings of both if it hopes to stand out. Hidden from most major traffic off Indian School Road and Girard Boulevard, the former auto shop is the kind of spot you'll likely have to seek out instead of simply happening upon. And you should. Da Vinci's has carved out a humble yet tasty place in Albuquerque's pizza scene by going beyond typical ingredients and daring to push their creative pies beyond the traditional lunch and dinner.

The long, thin bones of a former service-station remain, but the cozy space is brightened up by big windows, notice of some local charity work, and mucho pop culture takes on the old master's Vitruvian Man. Depending on what time you catch it, Da Vinci’s can be perfect for reading and eating, or a passing conversation with a fellow curious cohort. The feel outside just after sundown is almost that of a hidden New York neighborhood pie shop, and it seems business is just steady enough without feeling overwhelming, something that suggests a balance of regulars and newbies that feels cozy.

I started with a couple appetizers, both generous and tasty while pretty straightforward. The chicken bites ($10.49 per pound) are boneless, well-seasoned, breaded and baked while staying moist. There are different dunking sauces to consider. Their ranch is fresh and milky, and their red sauce is a hearty, thick marinara. The silky golden BBQ sauce is a surprise both in color and flavor—luscious with a hint of sweet. There's also an addictive Tabasco-like hot sauce, so I have no hesitation in recommending any of them. With the ingredient stockpiles in the kitchen, there might be a lost opportunity to jazz the wings up a touch, depending on the flavor profile you're after. It's something I'll ask about next time I go. So too with the excellent bread knots (half $3.69/full $6.29). A large bowl of fresh-baked and piping hot "breadsticks tied in knots," each is the size of a large roll and, again, with the meats and cheeses onsite, could easily be offered as a simple charcuterie, making them a meal unto themselves. Still, as served, I have zero complaints, and would even go so far as to suggest grabbing some after work even if you're just cooking Italian at home. Half an order was six knots, and a full order was 12 and they're lightly buttery, with a hint of flour and grated cheese—perfect on their own or when mopping up extra sauces.

As for the pizza, there are many pre-built options that looked worth trying, but I opted for a build-your-own to take full advantage of the intriguing toppings on offer. It ended up being a red sauce on whole-wheat crust, topped with chunks of roasted chicken, bacon crumbles, grilled onions, Gruyere, and insanely fresh and fragrant ribbons of chopped basil ($26.16 after tax). The squares of roasted chicken were moist and smoky, the Gruyere salty and creamy, holding the silky onions and crunch of bacon to the slice. The pop of fresh herbs brought it all together and while each topping was generous without overpowering the pie, all worked well as a combined bite. It takes extra work to offer some of these toppings, but it's exactly that kind of detail to attention that will quickly turn a first-time customer into a regular, and the small but friendly and committed staff each seemed to be proud to do their part.

As for dessert, man oh man, the tiramisu ($4.49) is legit! Confession: I ate the whole thing while waiting for my pizza and I'd do it again! Rich layers and the sumptuous balance between the soaked ladyfingers and the whipped mascarpone, all dusted with cocoa—it's one of the most balanced and approachable I've had. They have a fine brownie and offer up gelato and sorbet by fellow locals the Van Rixel Bros. as well, but if there is tiramisu in the case, don't miss it!

As for taking pizza beyond lunch and dinner, Da Vinci's shocked me by offering a breakfast version of both their pizza ($13.95 for 12 inch/$17.95 for 14 inch/20.95 for 16 inch and $21.95 for 18 inch) and calzone ($5.95). Sounds crazy right? I had to find out. Call it a diner breakfast on a pizza crust, there's fluffy scrambled eggs, lightly roasted pepitas, bacon crumbles and/or hunks of sausage, a white sauce and cheese plus the chile of your choice (green, red or Xmas, of course). I'm a breakfast lover and a purist, but by god, this thing works as a sturdy start to the day. As with everything on offer, the portions were generous, making each enough for multiple diners and/or multiple meals, so there's better value than initial costs might suggest. The calzone too is like an elevated Italian breakfast burrito. I took the sausage with red chile, and it was packed full, crispy-crusted and well executed. I ordered breakfast via their service before they were even open, and had just a short wait once I arrived.

Their website claims "every pizza is a work of art" and I'd have to agree. They do their level best to offset the pricey menu items with a terrific assortment of quality ingredients and portions that all but guarantee leftovers. They offer delivery, but as with many local joints, I suspect you'll need to live close. So if you're on the hunt for an artisan pizza with toppings beyond the standard fare, give Da Vinci's a chance to surprise you.

Da Vinci's Pizza Café
2904 Indian School Rd. NE
505-275-2722
dvgp.com
Hours: Sun - Thu 8am - 10pm; Fri & Sat 8am - 11pm
Alibi Recommends: Build-your-own with your choice of terrific toppings or just wait until breakfast!
Vibe: Small, off-the-beaten-path, with that hidden New York neighborhood pie shop feel