What do dinosaurs, pizza and Israel have it common?
Trick question. The city of Vernal is close to Dinosaur National Monument, located in the little visited corner of northeastern Utah, the state with the most bang for the National Park Service buck. The monument has 1,500 dinosaur bone fossils on display in situ, making it a destination for paleontologists and tourists. Vernal also attracted the talents of chef Israel Hernandez, who learned the art of Neapolitan pizza-making in New York City under the tutelage of masters Don Antonio Starita, a third-generation pizzaiolo from Naples, and Roberto Caporuscio (Keste Pizza & Vino). In 2015, Hernandez even won third place in the USA Caputo Cup, the pizza world’s annual cook-off. Somehow, he was lured out of NYC to open Antica Forma (with a business partner Jody), a Neapolitan pizzeria in Vernal (population 10,000).
To have such a place in town, let alone a few blocks from the motel, was totally unexpected for me and my wife. A quick look at TripAdvisor and Yelp made me aware of it.
We started off with an arugula salad mixed with house-grown grape tomatoes, micro-planed Parmesan and a balsamic vinaigrette glaze. Excellent.
The pistacchio pizza impressed us with its masterful crust, thin, chewy, crispy on the outside, nicely blistered in spots. This is a hallmark of an excellent dough, likely “00” flour, and mastery over a blisteringly hot pizza oven. The pistachio pesto was a sleight of hand; it was hard to tell the ground nuts from the finely ground Italian sausage. A cream sauce with house-made mozzarella cheese, basil and EVOO completed the delicious surprise (top image).
We were ready to pay the bill when the waitress mentioned that one of the dessert specials was peach pie. Fond memories of Marie Callendar danced in our heads. What arrived was a fresh peach pie with the lightest, barely sweet glaze, topped with whipped cream. And, oh, that crust—so incredibly light. The desserts, it turns out, is made by Jody, the business partner. He also makes gelati. The waitress encouraged us to try the banana cream pie the next time we come back. Come back? Now, that’s a thought.
Our return. How could we not enjoy one last meal here? For the second night in a row, we ate at Antica Forma.
Salad: the Primavera—baby mixed greens, candied pecans, sliced Granny Smith apples, shredded Havarti, roasted tomato vinaigrette. Very good.
Pizza: the Funghi—tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, minced mushrooms, basil, EVOO. The same superb crust, a fresh tomato sauce. Excellent.
Our waitress last night informed us that Antica Forma will be opening a branch in Moab (in February 2018). Edward Abbey fans, rejoice.
Antica Forma Pizzeria
251 E Main St
Vernal, UT 84078