If you don't leave a tip at Ragazzi's, a new pizza place in Ralston, nobody will blink.
In fact, they won't expect you to leave one, because the restaurant has a no-tipping policy.
Co-owner Jeff Daley and his business partner, Greg Waldron, opened the pizza place in June after both spent more than 30 years working for Old Chicago.
Daley said the partners wanted a family-centric restaurant with a focus on customer service — hence the no-tipping policy. After taking his family out to eat for years and adding a 20 percent tip for what he deemed “average” service, Daley said he was fed up.
“I'd rather just give great service and make it part of the regular dining experience,” he said.
After diners at Ragazzi's place their order at the front counter and make their way to a seat, they see a tabletop number that includes the “rules”: Don't clean up, that is our job; no tipping required; and eat.
Excellent service stood out on two recent visits. The prices were more than reasonable. And the thin-crust pizza, made with some special ingredients, satisfied.
Ragazzi's dining room has nearly a dozen tables for four in the middle and large booths along the 72nd Street side of the restaurant.
A huge mural along the back wall features images of events that will take place at the new Ralston Sports and Event Center, which will be just west of 72nd and Q Streets, near the restaurant.
Images of the Lancers hockey team, the Omaha Beef football team, the UNO Mavericks basketball team and live concerts fill the floor-to-ceiling mural. Black-and-white photos of Ralston and several flat-screen televisions fill the rest of the space. You can see a TV from any seat in the house.
Ragazzi's is a fast-casual pizza place focused on the basics.
On each visit, we were immediately seated and had appetizers in minutes and entrees shortly after.
The young wait staff stopped by often to see if we needed anything and to clear our extra plates
Thin-crust pizza comes topped with smoked provolone, the only cheese choice. That cheese deepens the flavor of the pie, similar to what roasting a pepper does for its flavor.
The crust is made with a fast-rising dough and hot water, then cooked in a convection oven, which allows the dough to be made fresh throughout the day. Some barley is mixed in with the flour.
On our first trip, we ordered the Ragazzi's Traditional ($18.99), a 16-inch pie with roasted garlic, pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms. The first thing we noticed was how thick the pepperoni was sliced and the generous amount of cheese.
I am normally a huge fan of garlic, but it was a little too much for me. When you lift the cheese, the roasted garlic is in abundance. I liked my first piece but I didn't finish my second.
Daley said a garlicky pie is the restaurant's standard.
Ragazzi's calls its pizza “simply thin crust,” and it's not New York style (thin and foldable crust) in the traditional sense.
I prefer New York style pizza — think the New York style at Frank's, in west Omaha.
Instead, Ragazzi's crust is thin but not floppy. I could taste the freshness of the dough and the sweet fennel in the sausage.
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We also tried pepperoni knots ($6.99) and an onion loaf ($5.99).
The knots were similar to a stromboli, with a cheesy interior surrounded by pizza dough. The knots were cut into round slices filled with Asiago cheese and pepperoni. The bread got a tang from the addition of ranch dressing in the dough. Everyone at the table loved the knots; even the kids couldn't get enough of them.
The onion loaf is made to order. A sliced whole onion is coated with egg white and breaded with flour, then molded into a loaf and deep fried. It's seasoned with salt and pepper. As a guy with a soft spot for homemade onion rings, I claimed these for myself and fought off any aggressors at the table. The rings are tender and sliced thin. I just loved them.
We also ordered a meatball sandwich to share. Three surprisingly large meatballs were made with onion, parsley, Parmesan cheese and fresh tomatoes. The meatballs were covered in sauce and melted smoked provolone and stuffed inside a toasted roll.
It was easy to taste the freshness of the marinara, which Daley said included whole peeled tomatoes blended smooth with tomato paste.
The sauce is seasoned using Ragazzi's house blend of oregano, garlic, salt, pepper and sugar, mixed fresh daily.
Highlights of our second visit included the bruschetta appetizer and a Margherita pizza.
The bruschetta ($4.99) is a must if you like fresh tomatoes. It's made daily with chopped roma tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese and is served with small slices of garlic toast. When the server tried to take the dish away, I poured the remaining tomato mix on a slice of my son's garlic cheese bread. It was that delicious.
The crust on the 16-inch Margherita pizza ($16.99) is a little thinner than the traditional pie and is topped with roma tomatoes, fresh basil and smoked provolone.
Again, the freshness of the ingredients stood out. There was a real division of flavors, and the basil and the smokiness of the cheese were striking. We polished off the whole thing.
Ragazzi's serves homemade cupcakes and peanut butter pie. At first, an outside baker made the desserts, but the owners thought they could make higher quality desserts for less money. After moving the baking in house, they dropped the price of the cupcakes from $2.39 to $1.99.
My wife tried both the old and new cupcakes. Kris said the biggest difference was the freshness and the frosting. The new cupcakes have a much lighter frosting. I tried the strawberry lemonade cupcake, a great mixture of sweet and sour.
The cupcake flavors change seasonally, and some on the fall menu include pumpkin spice, peanut butter cup and Butterfinger chocolate chip.
Kris loved the peanut butter pie, which had a rich peanut butter flavor with a chocolate crust. It's big enough to share, but I don't eat peanut butter so she had it all to herself. She said that pie is reason enough to return to Ragazzi's.
The owners of Ragazzi's dreamed up their family-focused restaurant around a dinner table, and it shows.
The food is good and fairly priced, and the service is good enough that you may just want to leave a tip after all.
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