Dining

MTO Café and Pizza Rock Join the Downtown Dining Scene

In less than two years, Downtown has gone from dining desert to dining oasis. Here are two more worthy newcomers
MTO cafe

Mini doughnuts at MTO are drizzled with local honey. | Photo by Jon Estrada

Max’s menu picks for Pizza Rock

  • Fried string beans, $7.
  • Romana No. 1, $32.
  • Clam and garlic pizza, $25.
  • Mud pie, $9.

Max’s menu picks for MTO

  • MTO breakfast, $14.
  • Lemon poppy-seed pancakes, $11.
  • Queso carne, $12.

Food at MTO Café, a slick, new spacious breakfast-and-lunch spot, is from talented chef Johnny Church, who is also found manning the stoves at Rick Moonen’s Rx Boiler Room. But he should be knighted for his breakfasts alone, which include stellar ideas such as lemon poppy-seed pancakes topped with thick blueberry-ginger compote, and hash browns stuffed with mashed potatoes—an inspired, indulgent conceit.

They’ve spent serious money in making MTO, which stands for “made to order”—au courant. I-beam-style tables and a cement floor give it an industrial look, but these high ceilings and orange walls are strictly metro, with enormous pull-down shades that cover the panoramic windows during hours of extreme sunshine.

I couldn’t resist the grape Kool-Aid, and was happy the kitchen showed restraint, resulting in a retro drink that isn’t as cloyingly sweet as the one the kid down the street sells outside in the summer. MTO Breakfast, in spite of an ambitious price tag of $14, is positively stellar, with three eggs, a choice of meats that includes chicken sausage, turkey bacon, Hobbs bacon or Spam, plus toast and those terrific hash browns.

MTO cafe

MTO Café |Photo by Jon Estrada

All products here are organic and top shelf, from the Mary’s Chicken used in the chicken and waffles to the Harry’s Berries that come with house-made vanilla whipped cream. For lunch, wraps such as Celery Sucker (collard greens, quinoa, tzatziki, baba ghannoush, cucumbers and tomatoes) and sandwiches such as Queso Carne (think high-end Philly cheesesteak) do Downtown proud. At the finish, the mini doughnuts, drizzled with local honey, are served hot, fresh and sweet—three adjectives that describe this café’s so far dazzling debut.

While we’re on the subject of dough: Do you know Tony Gemignani? He’s chef/partner at Pizza Rock, a huge space next door to the newly opened Downtown Grand, and he’s an eight-time world champion of his craft. Pizza Rock, according to Tony’s partner, Trevor Hewitt, means “pizza infused with rock ’n’ roll energy.” And hey, isn’t that a Peterbilt truck cab in the dining room, with a DJ in the driver’s seat? Yes, it is, highlighting a complex layout with lots of brick, glass, metal and wood, plus four—count ’em, four—ovens, each of which does a different style of pizza.

The menu is also huge, from a pizza perspective. Napoletana means your pizza will be made in a 900-degree oven that burns enormous logs of oak. Gemignani’s Margherita—any pizza lover’s barometer for a great joint—won the World Pizza Cup in Naples, and has lots of a too-sweet San Marzano tomato sauce atop a yeasty, blackened crust.

My favorite here, though, is a long pizza called Romana, which serves four, divided into thirds, like Caesar’s Gaul. Each third has a different topping. (Try Romana No. 1: tomatoes and black olives; soppressata; and arugula, fig preserves, prosciutto and Gorgonzola.) This one’s made in a 700-degree brick oven, so the crust comes out nicely chewy.

Pizza Rock

Romana No. 1 at Pizza Rock. | Photo by Jon Estrada

I would’ve preferred my clams chopped instead of whole on my New York/New Haven-style 16-inch clam and garlic pizza, which doesn’t hold a candle to the one at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, but works reasonably well anyway thanks to lots of bacon and Pecorino. The bready meatballs could use a makeover, but don’t miss the fried string-bean appetizer.

For dessert, the house-made mud pie—with a dense Oreo crust and lots of thickly whipped cream—is the best version of this treat I’ve ever tasted. And the apple-filled, hot dessert calzone has the crunchiest dough you’ll eat here, a worthy rival to the mud pie. But if you’re in a hurry, the front kitchen does pizza by the slice from a walk-by window, and just about kills it every weekday at lunch. Pizza Rock may not be ready to rock anybody’s world, but it provides an electric buzz to the ever-booming Vegas pizza universe.

MTO

500 S. Main St., 380-8229. Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon-Fri, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat-Sun. Breakfast for two, $25-$33.

Pizza Rock

201 N. 3rd St., 385-0838. Open 11 a.m.-midnight Sun-Thu, 11 a.m.-4 a.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $43-$69.


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