Between the dog at my feet, the babies all around the long communal table and the smell of smoldering wood, a recent dinner at Nomad in Bella Vista could easily have been a springtime family gathering at my mother’s house. All that was missing was more yelling, and a bit of guilt for not calling home enough.
That’s the kind of warmth and fellow-feeling that Nomad elicits, especially this time of year, with the windows opening onto the street and the sweet smell of smoke from the wood-burning over wafting halfway down the block. It’s easily one of the more convivial pizza-centric spots to open recently, a sort of stylized rustic-urban space highlighted with warmly toned woods and old-school movie posters.
With its well-tailored casual decor and overall feeling of community, Nomad reminds me a bit of Arizona’s famed Pizzeria Bianco. And while that Phoenix classic—home to what is generally considered some of the best pizza in America—is difficult to compare anything to, Nomad does share a bit of DNA with it, especially when it comes to the care with which its ingredients have been selected.
Nomad, like so many restaurants in the region, espouses a seasonal, conscientious ethos. Artisanal or otherwise local products have been selected for the specific purpose of their inherent flavor, not only what they symbolically stand for.
This means, for example, that the soppressata (from a small butcher in Union, N.J.) on its eponymous pizza is more than just a conduit for a vaguely porky flavor. It’s deeply flavorful, palm-sized, and round-kissed with just enough spice to justify the drizzle of local honey applied to it prior to its stint in the oven. The mingling of the salty-spicy juices of the soppressata and the deeper notes of the olive oil create a far more complex and complete riff on a pepperoni pizza than this city has seen in some time.
Straightforward Margherita di Buffala pizza benefited from the palate-filling milkiness of the cheese. Against the simple, elegant San Marzano sauce and a gentle dusting of sea salt and pepper, this pizza worked on a deeply primal level: Simplicity done with care can be transporting. The topping for the clam pie, though it could have used more garlic, reminded me of a well-turned-out clams casino. Some will argue that they’d prefer whole clams on there, but the use of chopped ones results in a tighter, more compact crown of clams, as well as some delicate charring. The owners of Nomad used whole ones in the beginning, with soupy results.
All of the pizzas are framed by a dough that’s crafted in-house. At its best, it results in a crust that lends its toppings a yeasty-sweet and char-flecked depth. Sometimes, however, the pizzas would have benefited from a bit more crispiness. This was most apparent with moister constructs: A recent special asparagus pizza, with its ricotta-and-buffalo mozzarella base and rafters of oven-roasted asparagus and cherry tomatoes, was delicious from a flavor standpoint—earthy, springtime-sweet, subtly piquant—but would have been even better with a crispier base. The crust at the edges of all the pizzas, however, was across-the-board excellent, freckled black and blistered from the oven’s heat.
If there’s one complaint that guests may have, it’s that a meal here can add up. Pleasant arugula salad with a lemon thyme dressing seemed expensive at $10. Pizzas range from $11 to $19, and anyone with a decent appetite could easily demolish a single pie solo. Fortunately, the well-chosen drinks veer in the other direction, and you can easily get pizza-friendly wine or beer at pizza-friendly prices.
Make sure to save room for dessert. Nomad leans on New Jersey’s excellent Bent Spoon for its exuberantly fresh sorbet and ice cream, and makes a few key classics in-house. To that end, the tiramisu is a magnificent, coffee-and-Kahlua-buzzing beauty that ends a meal here perfectly.
Pizza, tiramisu, maybe a Nutella pizza with bananas, the family or dog alongside you and a nice drink in hand: This is as neighborhoody and pleasant as it gets, a charming oasis from the craziness of South Street a block away, and a great entry to the city’s ever-expanding pizza-stakes.
611 S. Seventh St. 215.238.0900. nomadpizzaco.com
Cuisine: Considerate, well-constructed pizza.
Hours: Tues.-Thurs., 6-10pm; Fri.-Sat., noon-11pm; Sun., noon-9pm.
Price range: $6-$19.
Atmosphere: Casual, urban-rustic.
Food: Casual, urban-rustic.
Service: Helpful and knowledgeable.