A pizza is removed from one of the coal-burning ovens at Dante's Coal Fired Pizza in Cape Coral. / Special to news-press.com
Dante's Coal Fired Pizza opened in June on Pine Island Road in Cape Coral. / Special to The News-Press
Dante’s Coal Fired Pizza
900 S.W. Pine Island Road, Cape Coral
• Price: $-$$$
• Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
• Call: 800-2112
• Noise level: Moderate
• Etc.: Beer and wine only, with an interesting wine list where bottles top out at $45; takeout available; reservations accepted; recommended dessert: the Beavertail, a soft pizza topped with Nutella and fresh fruit.
• Polpette (meatballs), $10
• Caprese salad, $9
• Coal-fired wings (10), $9
• Sausage and peppers panino, $9
• Italian grinder, $10
• 14-inch pizza bianca, $14
• 14-inch pizza Amartice, $15
To get to Dante’s Coal Fired Pizza on a Friday night you must first wend your way through the Bonefish Grill parking lot.
That involves a lot of brake tapping as folks battle for premium spots. And plenty of waiting as couples emerge from between vehicles, then cross at a pace so leisurely the man two cars behind you lays on his horn as motivation.
Near the east end of the plaza the crowds have cleared. You find a spot facing Pine Island Road in this bustling section of north Cape Coral, then exit your car only to be smacked in the face by the summer’s soggy heat.
Nerves frayed and brow sweaty, you enter Dante’s.
Its modern sleekness fails to register at first. The bright greeting from the young hostess filters slowly to your ears as your eyes take in the walls lined in wide planks of honey-hued wood, and the spacious, rust-colored booths. They scan to the open kitchen at the rear, where chefs ply dough into large circles, then top them and set them to bake in brick ovens glowing with coal.
In this city teeming with pizza places, there is nothing like the month-old Dante’s.
From servers seemingly ordered from a J. Crew catalog, to that swanky dining room, to the concise menu – three salads, four appetizers, sandwiches, pizzas – Dante’s isn’t what you expect on a road better-known for chains and homey mom-and-pops.
Nor is its food. Meals here ought to start with a platter of antipasto loaded with rosy sheets of prosciutto, strips of mozzarella, house-roasted peppers and a pile of good olives colored black, purple and dull green.
There are vaguely round meatballs slathered in red sauce and crowned with a melting dollop of herb-flecked ricotta. Garbanzo beans, candied walnuts and wisps of Parmesan set Dante’s Italian salad apart from its often-boring brethren.
Chicken wings come to the table in a towering stack. Like Dante’s pizzas, they’re cooked in the blistering heat of the coal ovens till the skin is crisp and just slightly molten. There is no Buffalo sauce, just a garlicky marinade of herbs and lemon. Caramelized onions cling here and there, imparting their faint sweetness.
But pizzas are Dante’s reason for being, and, at their best, these softly charred pies are a thing of beauty. Take the Amartice scattered with a salty rubble of bacon and split-grape tomatoes that burst with each bite. Or the San Daniele, a white pizza topped with prosciutto and (more) bacon, fresh garlic and leaves of arugula just starting to wilt.
Not that Dante’s is always at its best. The kitchen seems to be figuring out the timing of those ovens still. Crusts varied from perfect, chewy and just lightly charred, to covered in black blisters and acrid tasting – sometimes within the same night.
Service too can be awkward. A waitress struggled (painfully) to uncork a bottle of cabernet tableside one evening, almost bending the wine key in the process. Food came out in the blink of an eye one meal, on another each course stretched on (and on) as the kitchen struggled to keep pace.
It left me plenty of time to plot a Bonefish escape route. And to soak in more of this out-of-place restaurant that does so much right.
Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).