Overall impression: South Florida has a serious pizza-maker in Pizzeria Oceano owner Dak Kerprich. The meat-filled, excessively topped, chewy-crusted pizzas of the chains and our childhoods don't hold a candle to his new wave pies. All that said, Oceano is more food truck than restaurant. As it says on the menu: "No frills, great food, get it!"
Background: Kerprich, a Pennsylvania native with a business degree from Temple University, is self-taught, having started at his parents' ice cream and deli shop back in Hershey, Pa. His first South Florida job was at Max's Grille in >Boca Raton. He also owned a more traditional pizza spot in Singer Island called Miss Marsha's.
Ambience: What ambience? A tiny wooden bungalow houses a wood-burning oven, a working kitchen and a counter with a half-dozen stools. Most of the seating is on the front outdoor deck, enough room for two dozen diners. A covered awning is on order and should be installed any day now. This time of year, prepare to perspire and swat away the bugs, whether you sit inside or out. One last thing: A note on the menu board asks diners to not wear so much cologne that the staff catches a whiff.
The menu: It's all about quality ingredients. So Kerprich uses as many locally sourced items as possible, listing them on his daily changing menu. On Saturday, the menu read: "Today's food is brought to you by: Farmhouse Tomatoes, Lake Worth; Bradley Stewart and his bees, Lantana; Studer Dairy, Switzerland, and Wild Ocean Seafood Market, Titusville." Generally, speaking, there are four pizzas and four "not pizza" items that make for great shareable appetizers.
Starters: Those big green Castelvetrano olives ($7) have never tasted better than when they're tossed with garlic, chilies and cumin and heated — very briefly — in the wood-burning oven. The heat softened the flesh of the olives, which are served with thin slices of crusty bread made in-house. Baby arugula ($9) gets tossed with lemon honey crème dressing, toasted pine nuts and pecorino shavings in a salad that hits all of the right acidic-to-sweet notes. You'll think it's breakfast when the ramekin of chorizo and roasted pepper hash ($12) arrives. The hash shares the ramekin with a soft cooked egg and sharp Scharfe Maxx cheese made by Switzerland's Studer Dairy.
Entree excellence: I'm not sure I've ever had such incredible crust. Thin and crispy and with just the right amount of salt, it's blistered in spots, charred in others. Each pie is cut into six pieces. While some might describe this as Neapolitan-style pizza, I think Kerprich has a different understanding of toppings than other pizza-makers. Call it restraint. I've had Neapolitan pizzas where all of the toppings were a soupy mess that slid off the crust. At Oceano, Our Basic ($13), as his Margherita is called, contains just the right proportions of house-made mozzarella, pecorino, tomato and basil. Each slice gets a basil leaf. Red Shrimp ($20) is scattered with pieces of Florida Royal Red shrimp, slivered shallots, mozzarella, ricotta, chili oil, lemon and an herb called nepitella — a cross between oregano and mint. Black & White ($18) is a study in proportion: Scharfe Maxx and Taleggio cheese, garlic and black pepper. In a less skillful pizza-maker's hands, this could turn into an oily mess. A cured sausage and olive pie ($18) comes with carpaccio-thin slices of salami, onion and jalapeno pepper as well as tomato sauce, pecorino and oregano. Let me know if you find better pizza in South Florida.
Sweet!: None offered.
Service: Despite the no-frills ambience, service is top-notch. Our friendly waitress expertly delivered pizzas to our cramped spot at the counter.
Insider tip: Kerprich only makes enough crust for the day. If he runs out, he closes his doors. Get there early. He opens "around 5:30 p.m." Just after 7 p.m. on a hot Saturday night, the outside deck was packed. When it started to drizzle, one diner simply opened her umbrella and continued eating.
Liquid assets: The beer list is as carefully chosen as the pizza ingredients. Among them: Narragansett Lager from Rhode Island, Monk in the Trunk amber ale from Jupiter and Avery ale from Colorado.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun