Restaurant Review: Unit-D Pizzeria
Simple, almost sublime, pizza
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Dec. 4, 2015
Mon., Wed.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri., 5-11pm; Sat., 11:30am-2:30pm, 5-11pm; Sun., 11:30am-2:30pm, 5-10pm
When Shalou and Eric Barth redeveloped a run-down Manor Road office building and leased three of the spaces to popular Austin businesses, they saved one of the units for themselves. As residents of the nearby Cherrywood neighborhood, the Barths wanted to bring pizza back to the area, and have done so in fine style with Unit-D Pizzeria. They encouraged chef Chris Turgeon to study the pizzamaking trade and develop the menu, and imported an Acunto Mario pizza oven from Naples to turn out his Neapolitan-style pies. Response from the neighborhood has been very enthusiastic. So enthusiastic on some nights, in fact, that potential diners at all three eateries in the building end up competing for parking spaces. No wonder Unit-D offers a two-dollar discount on pizzas to guests who arrive on bikes.
There's no secret to Unit-D's popularity – the simple menu is appealing and well-executed, complemented by a rotating roster of locally produced craft beers and a selection of food-friendly wines. The attractive indoor and outdoor dining spaces are comfortable, and the pleasant staff is knowledgeable about the food. Happy hour runs from 5-6:30pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with some bargains on appetizers and drinks. We chose some small plates and salads to whet our appetites for pizza and were rewarded with noshes of wood-fired olives ($4), buttery nocellara olives warm from the oven, spiked with smoky paprika and sherry vinegar, plus an antipasti plate with pitted olives, Marcona almonds, and sweety drop peppers. The tiny, teardrop-shaped peppers were the revelation of the evening, and I couldn't wait to research them after dinner. Turns out they are a new import from Peru and currently the hottest specialty food item at international fancy-food shows. Their sweet-tangy pop of flavor makes them a perfect accompaniment to olives and pizza fixings. Be sure to try them here. The Unit-D Caesar salad ($8) is made with tender young hearts of romaine lettuce dressed with lemon juice, anchovies, black pepper, and grated egg yolk, with the added crunch of sourdough croutons, while the house kale salad ($9) that is such a big favorite among Yelpers is resplendent with cashews, puffed millet, golden raisins, and pickled peaches. Both salads inspired us to clean our plates, but left ample room for the main event.
The 16-inch, six-slice pizzas emerge from the wood-fired oven here with a hint of smoky char on the bottom of the toothsome crust and a tasty balance of toppings. We chose four different pizzas to share around the table: the basic tomato ($15) garnished with fresh basil leaves, and the simple four cheese ($13) sporting the house-made mozzarella; the crowd-pleasing pepperoni ($16) with a dose of dried chile flakes; and the more sophisticated mushroom ($16) with white sauce, chopped portobellos and cauliflower florets dusted with earthy porcini powder and truffles, doused with a tangy spike of sherry vinegar. Each pie had its own distinctive appeal – flavorful Roma tomatoes and fragrant fresh basil, good-quality cheeses melting in harmony, pepperoni and bresaola combining for meaty heft, and the elegance of mushrooms enhanced with the sweetness of roasted cauliflower.
The desserts offered that evening included the mascarpone sundae ($5), which was our server's hearty recommendation, chocolate gelato ($4), and mango rice pudding ($5). We ordered all three with plenty of spoons and circulated them around the table for serious study. Ultimately, we agreed with our server that the mascarpone sundae – a scoop of mascarpone ice cream with peanuts in a pool of salted caramel and melted marshmallow – was the unqualified winner. However, the chocolate gelato in a pool of cherry syrup was straightforward and delightful, while the mango rice pudding with raisins, Marcona almonds, and hints of cardamom and cinnamon was comfort food personified. We're sold on this new pizza joint in our neighborhood – even if arrival by bicycle or Uber seems like it might be the best possible approach.
Unit-D Pizzeria2406-D Manor Rd., 512/524-1922
Sun.-Mon. & Wed.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm