Desert Companion

The Dish: Pizza

The first rule of slice club

Some of the best pizza in town is tricky to find — but worth the search

The secret pizza's secret: sourdough starter and wild yeast

Pizza is the most subjective foodstuff of all. You love it. I love it. But I doubt we can agree on the best in town, or even what kind of crust to order. In Vegas it’s an even more complicated issue, because we don’t have a regional tradition to guide us. We come from all over the country and all over the world to live here, bringing our preferred pie styles with us — New York, Chicago, Detroit, California. We’ve got it all.

My problem is I can’t settle on a single discipline. I crave an old-school, greasy, fold-it-over New York slice, which you can get pretty much anywhere. Then again, can you really beat thin, crisp, Neapolitan perfection? You can find it in Henderson at Settebello or in Summerlin at Due Forni. With delicious options all over the valley, it’s tough to name a champion, let alone settle on just one way to eat pizza.

Which brings us to the Cosmopolitan. I know, you don’t wanna hear the best pizza is on the Strip. You don’t wanna hear the best of anything in your city can be found in one of those glittery, glossy megacasinos you avoid until your cousins hit town and want you to show them around. But look, local, if you’re ignoring Las Vegas Boulevard, you’re missing out on a whole lotta stuff that makes your city what it is. There’s something for everyone on the Strip, and I promise there’s something for you, too. Surely we can agree that great pizza is worth it, no? So take this advice: slide on down to the Strip. Heading south on Las Vegas Boulevard, don’t go to Harmon. Take a right immediately when Bellagio ends and squeeze into Cosmo’s tight little underground garage. Find a spot near the east elevator, and take that baby up to Level 3, bypassing the casino scene. And welcome to pizza wonderland.

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There’s a hidden hallway between restaurants Blue Ribbon and Jaleo. You’ll know it’s the right spot when you see old vinyl record covers on the walls. At the end of this corridor is Pizzeria, or Pizza Shop, or Secret Pizza. Call it what you want, because the Cosmopolitan doesn’t have a name for it, either. It’s a tiny, New York-style pizza kitchen where you can grab a slice or get a whole pie to take away, and it’s one of the most buzzed about eateries in town. Because it’s hip? Sorta. But mostly because it’s so good.

No matter how you slice it: Behind the counter at the Cosmopolitans hidden pizza shop

Brotherhood of the secret pizza

“If you’re out in a big city and you get done at the clubs, you know there are those hidden spots to grab a bite late at night. That’s what this is. Ours is just one floor above the club.” That’s the explanation from chef Chris Vaughn, who supervises this pizza place as well as the room service in the hotel. (And yes, they will deliver this pizza to hotel guest rooms.) After just a few months, it’s already being hailed by Vegas visitors and foodies alike as the best NY pizza around. Think charred, bubbly, chewy crust, topped with glistening cheese.

“We don’t serve ranch dressing. There’s no pineapple and no barbecue chicken,” Vaughn says. “People say credit for great New York pizza comes from New York water. We use filtered water, of course, but the secret here is a 5-year-old sourdough starter and a wild strain of yeast that adds a lot of flavor to the dough.”

There’s a popular white pizza with seasoned ricotta, Parmesan, garlic and olive oil. The sauces are made in-house, as are the spicy meatballs, and there are a couple of beers on tap to wash it all down. The staff seems mildly surprised this little gem has caught on so well, but it was always part of the Cosmo’s master plan.

“It’s more that we’re just flattered,” Vaughn said. “There was a lot of thought behind it, and there’s a lot of monitoring to make sure it’s a good product. It’s not as simple as it looks.” Or tastes.


Pulling down the dough


But wait, there’s more. Like me, you don’t have to settle for one style of pizza, not now, not ever, and certainly not on Level 3. D.O.C.G., a wine bar and eat00ery operated by celebrity chef Scott Conant, has been flying a bit under the radar when it comes to Cosmopolitan’s superb dining offerings, perhaps because it’s nestled right up against Conant’s famous, upscale Italian spot, Scarpetta. But it’s just as good as Scarpetta, and the terrific Neapolitan pizzas are just as good as any you’ll find across the valley.

“There are keys to a great authentic pizza,” chef de cuisine Stefano Chiarugi says, after apologizing for his English. (It’s not bad at all.) “The keys are mozzarella, tomato, and dough, and for us, all of those things come from Italy. That’s just to get the taste right.” His dough is simply flour, yeast and salt, but nowhere near as much yeast as you’re used to.

“Maybe there’s one gram per 40 pounds of flour,” he says. “American dough uses a lot of yeast. Our process is all about timing, getting it done the night before so it has at least 20 hours to get ready.” When it’s ready, it goes in the oven at more than 1,000 degrees for just 45 to 50 seconds, and comes out perfectly crisp and savory with a slight chew.

DOCGs namesake pie features fonduta and a soft-cooked egg.

Unlike the secret pizza place, D.O.C.G. is a full-service restaurant with a huge menu of appetizers and antipasti, salads, pasta, steak and more. The best thing about the restaurant — besides the pizza — is the way you could have a different experience every night; share wine and snacks at the bar with friends, or share a ribeye and creamy polenta with your spouse. But the pizza is still a favorite and there are six to choose from, all on that lovely crust.

“My favorite is the margherita, the most simple,” Chiarugi says. Of course, he’s tried the his neighbor’s stuff at the secret pizza place. He likes it. “It’s hard to compare because it’s a totally different pizza,” he says. “For American pizza, it’s very good. All the ingredients are totally different and the cooking process is totally different, so of course you’re going to get two results that are nothing alike.”

Ah, but they are alike, chef. They are both the best pizza. Everyone’s a winner here, especially me. And you, local, if you’re up for a quick trip to the Strip.

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