Here’s a fun fact: The Williamsburg Pizza in Omaha — the one that opened just two months ago — is now the single busiest location of the New York-based chain of pizza restaurants operating in Brooklyn, Manhattan and various other NYC boroughs.
Yep. You read that right.
“It is our busiest location in the whole country,” said co-owner Matt Hodges, who opened the Omaha location with Williamsburg Pizza founder and Omaha native Aaron McCann.
This is actually Hodges’ second time having the busiest location of any one single restaurant in the country at a given moment: He also owns the Jimmy John’s franchise near 72nd and Dodge and, at one time, that shop boasted the same success.
“It’s some kind of a track record,” McCann said.
Both Hodges and McCann knew when they planned to open Williamsburg Pizza here that the city had an already stacked lineup of pizza joints, including several New York-style spots, like Frank’s and Noli’s, among others.
Still, after visiting New York and trying a selection of the pizzas, Hughes said he thought there was a place for Williamsburg in the heart of the Midwest.
After my two recent visits, I can see what they mean: The pizza is New York style, but with a twist. Williamsburg has two styles of pie: a Brooklyn-style thicker thin crust, with a super crunchy edge, and an even thicker-crusted grandma style lineup of pies — the bulk of the pizza menu — with a crust so crispy it’s almost fried. In my book, those pies land somewhere between a thick pan style and a Detroit style.
I liked each of the three pizzas we tried. The cup-and-char pepperoni on the grandma style crust might have been my favorite, with its crisp-edge pepperoni bowls (who doesn’t love a tiny pepperoni curled up into a crisp bowl?) Like most of the Williamsburg pizzas, it also comes topped with high-quality Grana Padano cheese and a bunch of thinly cut, fresh basil, a touch I appreciate.
The Paesano in Omaha has one difference from the version in New York, and that’s the sausage, which in Nebraska, comes from a farm in Iowa, McCann said. So far, folks who have tried both prefer the Omaha version, he said, with its nicely spiced, loosely formed Italian sausage balls along with red peppers, cremini mushrooms, Grana Padano, fresh Mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil.
That load of toppings, a significant one, is probably why one night we noticed the center slice of the pie could get slightly doughy under all that weight. But for the most part, the crust seems to handle the toppings well.
The combination of Grana Padano and fresh Mozzarella shines on the simply topped Sophia Loren, where it’s joined by fresh basil; garlic; and marinated, sliced fresh tomato. Brooklyn-style crust performs better with fewer toppings, and the Sophia has the most toppings of any on the list. I liked the airy bubbles under a browned finish on the pizza’s edge.
There’s a distinct creaminess and richness that comes from the Sophia’s combination of cheeses, one McCann said comes from running the restaurants in New York, where most walk in customers order a “regular slice,” which comes topped with just cheese and tomato sauce and, on the Omaha menu, is called the Brooklyn.
“Here, the cheese pizza is what you get for kids,” Hodges said. “But when it’s done right, and has that quality, you get why people say if you can’t do the cheese pizza right, you can’t do anything else right, either.”
The menu has several appetizers, including some super buttery garlic knots that come four to an order with marinara for dipping, and an order of meatballs, which can include four or eight, topped with red sauce and a healthy sprinkle of melted cheese.
The only stumble we ran into was in the form of a kale salad, which had pieces of the green so large that it was hard to eat. The large leaves, paired with juicy marinated artichokes, led to a difficult salad to consume, and it needed more dressing and a sharp knife to make a go of it. McCann said later that the owners appreciate the constructive criticism, and he agreed that an uncut kale salad could be hard to eat.
Inside, Williamsburg is doing a brisk takeout business. The first night, we ordered our pizza to eat in the dining room, which is small, with just four booths, and mostly full of people waiting for takeout. Another day, a Saturday, when I ordered my pizza to go around 5 p.m, the employee told me I was looking at an hour and 20 minute wait before it was ready — good to know if you’re ordering on a busy weekend night. Also good to know: The Omaha store doesn’t have online ordering yet, so you should plan to make a phone call. Also, there’s no delivery, for now.
When I did arrive on that Saturday, I only waited about five additional minutes to get my full order. Hughes said the team is aiming for diners to get their food promptly at the time it’s promised.
McCann said the team worked hard to keep the recipe in Omaha the same as the one in New York while also making sure it had the capacity to travel, since most of the business is takeout.
“We want to create the same pizza using the same ingredients and the same level of artisanal curation at the nicest of sit-down restaurants, but in a takeout and delivery format,” he said.
Omaha has embraced Williamsburg enough that its owners said they’re already looking to open a second location, in either central or Northwest Omaha.
Even in a city like ours, with a packed pizza lineup and a vast array of styles of pie, there’s apparently always room for one more. When it’s made with quality ingredients and with its own signature flare, it becomes something worth waiting for.