Lyle’s is one of those neighborhood spots that dot the city of Omaha: No matter how long it’s been open, it feels like it’s always been there.
The locally owned New York-style joint, which opened off 52nd and Leavenworth streets in April, has all the trappings of a comfortable, worn-in pizza joint, including a long bar, lots of white subway tile, vintage black-and-white photographs of Omaha and a large, powerful pizza oven.
During my two recent weeknight visits, our experiences were mostly positive: I liked more dishes than not on Lyle’s petite menu, and I found service friendly and prompt and the atmosphere comfortable and welcoming.
I’d heard about Lyle’s potato pesto pie from several friends before our first visit, and it was on the top of my list of things to try. It’s among a shortlist of six pizzas (we tried four), two salads, a few appetizers and one dessert.
I have a fondness for potato pizza — the Atlantic at Yia Yia’s topped with white sauce, mozzarella, broccoli, potato, bacon and grilled chicken is a long-time favorite; as is Dante’s Monterosso, with fingerling potatoes, garlic, rosemary, olive oil and mozzarella.
Lyle’s pesto and potato comes simply topped with thinly sliced salt and vinegar potatoes, roasted garlic, verdant basil pesto and a layer of mozzarella. It arrived searing hot, and on my first slice, the oil from the pesto had turned absolutely molten. I gave it a few minutes to sit, and the pesto came back together on its own. Though I didn’t get much of the salt and vinegar from the potatoes, I liked the pizza with its bright basil and roasted garlic flavors.
We tried two of Lyle’s meat pizzas: the sausage and the tres carne. The first came topped with chunks of fennel sausage, tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy pepperoncini, dollops of goat cheese and a healthy drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey, the pizza ingredient of the moment.
The pie packed a decent amount of spice between the hot honey, the pepperoncini and the sausage itself. Goat cheese was an interesting choice — one I hadn’t expected.
Even better was the tres carne, a sort of high-end meat lovers situation. The tomato-sauced pizza comes topped with the same fennel sausage along with pepperoni, mozzarella, oregano and thinly sliced prosciutto draped over the top of everything.
I like the dramatic presentation of the draped prosciutto, but it is rather hard to eat and, on the slice I tried, came off in one hunk in the first bite. It’s salty, savory finish in the one bite I did have added much to the pizza, and it might be worth slicing smaller to make eating easier.
The Funghi is one of Lyle’s simplest pizzas, and perhaps one of the best: deeply roasted mushrooms bring a lovely earthiness, and, paired with salty fontina, mozzarella and rich Parmigiano Reggiano. I could have eaten several slices.
Where Lyle’s really shines, and where it also stands out from the pizza pack, is its sourdough crust. On each pizza, it arrived with plenty of flavor from that sourdough starter, a thin but sturdy base layer that stood up to toppings (even heavy meats like sausage) and an absolutely delicious edge, dotted with brown bubbles and finishing with a crunch both airy and satisfying.
I didn’t get the chance to speak to co-owner Jeanette George before my deadline, but I do know from watching some other interviews she’s done that Lyle’s, as I suspected, is named after a former family dog that crossed the rainbow bridge. Lyle is included in the colorful mural on the restaurant’s east exterior wall, and his majestic profile graces the front of each menu against a graphic backdrop of a pepperoni pizza.
We tried one appetizer on Lyle’s menu, an array of green and black marinated olives served with plenty of warm pita for dipping in the fragrant, garlicky oil. I’d order it again.
The one clunker we encountered was the Caesar salad, which looks great when it arrives: a veritable mountain of romaine mixed with shaved Brussels sprouts, scallion, hazelnut breadcrumbs and finely shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, all of it tossed in an anchovy dressing.
In spite of its appearance, it lacked any zing, and badly needed salt, acid or both. I expected that flavor to come from the dressing, but the amount of anchovy in the dressing was too subtle to fill that gap.
Lyle’s has some fun cocktails on its shortlist — the San Jose Sidewinder is a summery hit — and on Wednesdays the restaurant offers half price bottles of wine. We tried a lovely Italian red that clocked in at just $18, and we took home what we didn’t finish.
The stretch of Leavenworth that Lyle’s calls home is, of course, next door to the former home of J. Coco. It’s nice to see a new, locally owned spot fill the gap left by the exit of that spot. Though Lyle’s has a different look and feel and a totally different menu, it’s small, vibrant presence brings impact. I know I’ll be back.
5213 Leavenworth St.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.