Clint Elmore’s neighborhood pizza joint hits all the right notes
by Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
Recently, my husband had a routine medical procedure that required a full day of fasting (OK, it was a colonoscopy, but that’s not polite dinner conversation). Ravenous afterward, his first request was for a 40 North pizza. And a 40 North fried-chicken sandwich. And a 40 North salad. With his hospital gown barely shed and his Propofol barely worn off, I drove him straight to the midtown restaurant. It just has that kind of pull. Their crave-worthy Italian food and comfy ambiance will linger in your culinary subconscious and call you back again and again.
But 40 North wasn’t always so alluring. Back in 2014, it was just a modest South Austin trailer with a cluster of picnic tables, offering a small selection of pizzas and side dishes. But it gained a loyal following and eventually graduated to a full-fledged brick-and-mortar last May, moving into a quaint Central Austin bungalow that offered patrons an expanded menu, a bar and indoor seating more refined than picnic tables (although those still exist on the funky outdoor patio).
Named after the latitude coordinate for Naples, Italy, 40 North specializes in Neapolitan-style pizza but now also offers Italian-inspired items like hot sandwiches, salads, vegetable-focused small plates, desserts, plus beer and wine. It’s all great. But the pizza is the star. Thin and chewy and blistered with a crispy char, it does Naples proud. There are about a dozen choices now, but the classic Margherita is simple perfection, with tomato sauce, fresh basil and creamy mozzarella. There’s a tasty white pizza topped with three cheeses, dandelion greens, pancetta and onion jam. But the pie that put 40 North on the map is the Hot Honey, a ribald combination of tomato sauce, spicy coppa and Fresno chiles, drizzled with chile-infused honey, then dotted with creamy ricotta to tame the heat.
If you can tear yourself away from the pizza, their fried-chicken sandwich competes with June’s All Day’s for the best in town. All-white meat chicken breast is lightly battered and fried, then dressed with a crunchy cabbage slaw, house pickles, Fresno chiles and buttermilk dressing on a soft seeded bun. Insider’s tip: It’s a steal at $7 during happy hour. There’s also an in-house roasted porchetta sammie and an Angus beef burger.
Their greens also deserve top billing. The farro salad has been on 40 North’s menu since its trailer days, with the toothsome grain sharing the plate with peppery arugula, sweet red onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and kalamata olives with a white balsamic dressing. But it’s the delicate Bibb version that really knocks me out: tender Bibb lettuce scattered with slivered shallots, radishes, olives and hazelnuts; dusted with pecorino cheese; and tossed in a lip-smacking citrus vinaigrette that deserves to be bottled and sold. It’s a lesson in restraint that allows the garden-fresh ingredients to shine through.
For nibbling, there are a few thoughtful veggie side dishes, like fried cauliflower and crispy fingerling potatoes. And for dessert, there are homemade sweets like panna cotta. The wine list offers some interesting domestic and Italian varietals, and the beer choices range from classic imports to local crafts to good ol’ Coors Banquet on draft.
Chef Clint Elmore left a successful legal career in New York City to pursue his love for pizza, training under legendary master Enzo Coccia in Naples, then apprenticing at Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn. He describes 40 North as a “neighborhood pizza joint,” which is spot-on. The charming 1930s cottage is comfortable and welcoming, where the friendly staff greets the regulars by name. Young families walk over with strollers for early dinners, and hipster couples with their dogs swing by later to dine on the patio. Clutches of friends huddle in the bay window seats, catching up over pizza and wine. It’s the kind of local place that satisfies your hunger with exceptional food and graciously welcomes you, whether you’re coming from home, the office or even the doctor’s office.