I’ll admit, one of those Internet top food lists is what drew me through the doors of Lighthouse Pizza.
The Food Network named a Lighthouse slice as one of the country’s top 50 takeout pies. I searched around The World-Herald archive for a review of the locally owned spot, which opened in 2012 off 72nd and Pacific Streets, and came up short. I decided to remedy that, and I’m glad I did.
Pizza in Omaha is a divisive topic, and it’s my guess that most of you reading this already have a favorite. I’m urging you, though, to break form and give this place a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I wasn’t. In fact, I left pleasantly surprised, already plotting a return visit.
The restaurant has a “pies and fries” concept that includes a handful of signature pizzas — most with refreshingly unusual topping combinations — and a handful of french fry-based dishes that come with a variety of toppings, some more intense than others. We tried a handful of the house pizzas and, aside from one that was slightly too greasy, liked them all.
The first thing to note is that the slices at Lighthouse are huge. A slice, which runs just shy of $6, is actually a fourth of a pizza. I cut mine easily into two or three smaller slices. For the price, it’s a pretty incredible deal.
It’s also worth noting that the restaurant has both delivery and a drive-thru, and that on weekends it stays open until 3 a.m.
During my visits, I really liked the bright green, herbaceous pesto on a meatless slice, and the nicely roasted fresh mushrooms stood out among the veggies, which also included green peppers, onions and spinach.
The mac and cheese pizza at Lighthouse is perhaps the best version of the pasta-meets-crust combination that I’ve had. The key here is restraint, and instead of coating the crust in a thick layer of elbow noodles, it’s instead coated mostly with cheese. In just a few spots, bits of browned, crisp-top macaroni sat atop the cheese. Roast chicken and salty bacon bits cut the richness of the cheesy Alfredo base.
El Classico was a surprise. Below the flavors of chopped onion, tomato and green peppers, a basic ranch spiked with cilantro and lime added a surprising brightness. Roast chicken added flavor. I’d order this one again, no doubt.
The Sparky is probably the restaurant’s signature pie, and it’s the one I read about on the Food Network website.
Co-owner Matt Egermayer, who runs the restaurant with his brother Scott, said the Sparky’s sauce, which is made by a Grand Island-based fire captain named Todd Morgan, was the inspiration for the pizza.
“It’s got a cult following,” Egermayer said. “So we reached out to Todd and told him that we loved his sauce and wanted to put it on a pizza.”
The spicy sauce, originally designed for Buffalo wings, gets balanced with bits of cooling cream cheese and lots of meat, including a hefty amount of sausage and pepperoni. We liked it, especially its spiciness, but the pepperoni rounds on our slice were a bit too greasy.
The restaurant offers a classic crust and a honey wheat version, which we tried with the El Classico pie; it had a slight yeastiness that the original didn’t and just a hint of sweetness. All the crust at Lighthouse is New York-style thin, with a breadier edge, but still hefty. Each slice, no matter the toppings, had an exceptionally crispy bottom — no soggy slices here — and I especially liked dipping the back edge in the cup of house-made Lighthouse sauce that comes with each slice.
The sauce, like a sweeter version of Russian dressing, was the winning sauce of the more than 30 potential contenders the Egermayers’ cousin, chef Rob Mattoch, developed for Lighthouse. Matt Egermayer describes it as a ranch-based sweet chile sauce.
We tried one batch of the house fries and, as soon as I saw “truffle” on the menu, my decision for another batch was easy.
The thin, skin-on fries had decent potato flavor and a good amount of salt. A truffle-spiked sauce met shredded Parmesan cheese on top of the basket, and though the truffle itself was rather subtle, I liked it.
Egermayer said the fries aren’t yet made in-house, but he hopes that they will be as soon as this fall. They are still working to figure out how to make the hand-cut fries sturdy enough to stand up to the toppings.
“We have to get the fresh-cut fries going,” he said. “Because fries are such a big portion of our menu, we should be doing it.”
He said he hopes the new fries will launch around the same time the restaurant debuts a remodeled dining room later this year.
The Egermayer brothers have wanted to open a pizza restaurant since they were 10 or 12 years old, Matt Egermayer said.
“We always wanted to create a pizza place that had all the things we wanted to see in a pizza place. It didn’t exist,” he said.
Four years later, and after their fair share of bumps in the road, Egermayer said, they’re making progress toward that childhood vision.
There’s effort in what the restaurant is producing, and any time I encounter food with creativity, like that served by Lighthouse, I appreciate it. I think you might, too.
Address: 1004 S. 74th Plaza
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Hits: a vegetarian slice with verdant pesto and lots of flavorful veggies; an El Classico slice with chicken and a cilantro-lime ranch sauce; and a mac and cheese slice that was just carby enough
Misses: We liked the signature Sparky slice, especially the sauce, but the pepperoni on top was greasy.
Drinks: beers, including a rotating selection of local choices; soft drinks; and tea
Service: quick and friendly
Prices: a large 9-inch slice is just under $6; a whole pie is $20.99
Noise level: mid-level noise, though it gets louder during busy times