Tony Gemignani is an uncompromising restaurateur. The award-winning pizza-maker from Fremont, California, refused to dumb down or even shrink down the vast menu of his Pizza Rock restaurant when he launched a Downtown Las Vegas location. It was the right move. It’s been packed since opening in October 2013, not to mention impressively consistent. When Gemignani uses “Respect the craft” as his tagline, he means it.
When he opened a second local Pizza Rock in March at Green Valley Ranch Resort, bringing his wondrous variation of pizza styles to the suburbs, it was simply more of the same deliciousness. But you might have missed Gemignani’s other, different restaurant opening this spring—Little Tony’s at Palace Station.
There are a handful of dishes and an assortment of pizzas on the menus at both Pizza Rock and Little Tony’s, including satisfying meatballs, hand-cut fries dressed in garlic and rosemary, spicy Calabrese-style calamari, and Chicago-style “cracker thin” or classic New York-style pies. Little Tony’s serves two of my go-to Pizza Rock pizzas, the Diavola, with spicy sopressata and hot pepper oil, and the spinach, garlic and ricotta-topped Frank Nitti.
But Little Tony’s is not Pizza Rock. At Little Tony’s, you can order most pizzas in 9-inch or 16-inch sizes. You can’t do “personal” pizzas at Pizza Rock. And Little Tony’s is almost certainly the only restaurant in Las Vegas serving Chicago cast-iron pizza, a crunchy, cheesy-buttery rim surrounding puffy, light, doughy, still substantial and delicious crust. It’s something else. The Dillinger ($35) is the one to try first, an award-winner with the works and then some—smoked vodka cream sauce, chicken, bacon, bell peppers, artichoke hearts, broccoli, garlic, crushed red pepper, mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, parsley and fresh lemon. You can do the Frank Nitti ($26) cast-iron style, too, or simplify with the cheese-and-pepperoni Michigan Ave. ($25).
There are other Little Tony’s exclusives, like the Big Kahuna with sliced pineapple rings, bacon and green onions, and the Bourbon BBQ, with house-made barbecue sauce, ground beef, bacon and red onion. These creations might seem like a compromise, but really, it’s more of a give-the-people-what-they-want thing, and when you bite that barbecue pizza, you’ll understand.
There’s more menu variation at Little Tony’s than at Pizza Rock, first evidenced by the complimentary cup of soup every diner receives. It’s tasty. From there, try the spinach artichoke crostini ($12), a blend of those veggies in a rich provolone and white wine cream sauce into which you dip toasty bread.
You can customize your own pasta dish, choosing your noodle, sauce and meat, or stick with traditional stuff like chicken Alfredo ($16) with shrimp, lasagna, house-made fennel sausage and peppers ($12) and chicken or eggplant Parmigiana ($13). Salsiccia ($13) is a hearty baked pasta with that sausage, ground beef and a tomato-cream sauce.
Another pleasing surprise: whiskey. Little Tony’s has whatever you want to drink, but its specialty is whiskey, in great cocktails like the happily un-sweet Grilled Pineapple Fizz ($10) or the build-your-own-Old-Fashioned feature, which is just genius. You might not think a comfy, red-booth Italian restaurant and a speakeasy-style whiskey bar can co-exist, but Tony Gemignani does. Again, he was right.
Little Tony's Palace Station, 702-898-2813. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.