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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Beverly Ridge: The Flour Came All the Way from Rome...

Damasco's owner and the house pizza oven.

Let’s get this on the table right away: Damasco’s is a strip mall restaurant.

Despite the inauspicious location, Damasco’s Pizzeria and Spaghetteria in Belgrade is anything but cliché. Tucked in an stucco building moored in a blacktop sea, the brick-and-plaster interior of this quaint Italian eatery is suggestive of the neighborhood haunts in Chicago or New York. Rustic booths and terracotta tile create a cozy atmosphere, enhanced by the wood-fired pizza oven presiding over the open kitchen. On a recent weekend night, a cadre of friends and I made the short drive to Belgrade to sample what has been hailed as the valley’s best Italian cuisine.

We had made a reservation, following a recommendation that proved essential, as the small dining room was packed with people in addition to those milling about the entryway. Amber, our smiley server with three years of tenure at Damasco’s, was polite and likeable, even cracking jokes to our table of eight. She provided tantalizing descriptions of the evening’s wine specials and was helpful by describing some of her favorites dishes on the menu. Also attentive to our smaller needs and well versed in proper wine service, Amber was a delight and definitely belongs among the better servers I’ve encountered.

Our evening commenced with the arrival of two bottles of wine, both representing the evening’s featured offerings. Notably, much of the wine list is practically priced, ranging from $27 to $35. Complementing our fine wine, we had two orders of the Beef Carpaccio that came crowned with arugula, lemon, and Damasco's logo.Parmigiano Reggiano. The texture of the Carpaccio was superb and almost silky, nicely assisted by the piquant arugula and rich cheese, while the dressing hinted of lemon infusion. The culminating effect was a rather delicious appetizer.

For an entrée, I went with a favorite of mine, the Mare e Monti. I, like many of my dining companions, chose to upgrade to homemade pasta for an extra $3. As for my dish, which the server told me had a bit of kick from the red-pepper flake, I was slightly disappointed. It was bland, conspicuously lacking said kick, and not at all like the Mare e Monti I’ve relished on previous trips to Damasco’s. However, all the ingredients were noticeably fresh, from the zucchini to the tomatoes to the shrimp, and the homemade pasta was amazing. I realize that paying extra for homemade pasta may seem extravagant, but a little birdie told me the flour used at Damasco’s comes all the way from Rome. Trust me, it’s well worth the mill’s airfare.

Having so many dining companions not only spirits conversation, but also invites the pleasure of sampling bites from around the table. The blue crab and asparagus in white sauce had a delicate, but not overpowering, crab taste foiled nicely by the crisp spears. As with my dish, freshness was markedly apparent. The shining star of the table, however, was the prosciutto pasta, undeniably an Italian classic. The flavor was rich and full of depth, but the choice ingredients were perfectly complemented by the homemade pasta. For those with gluten allergies (two in our group), Damasco’s presents a number of pasta-free dishes, with chicken and veal as protein choices as well as options for vegetarians.

Pizza in Damasco's wood fired oven.We rounded out the evening with more wine, coffee, and an order of panna cotta for dessert. The panna cotta arrived drizzled half and half with two compotes, one of strawberry and one of blackberry. The texture and the creaminess of the dessert paired exceptionally with the slight tartness of the berry toppings. The coffee was not Folgers, either – it proved exceptionally robust for a cup of decaf.

Since the evening out together, our group has discussed at length our dining experience at Damasco’s. The New York and Chicago contingencies concurred that the restaurant deserves acclaim as the Gallatin Valley’s finest Italian offering. Speculation was offered that Damasco’s could even hold its own under those vaulted skylines, all at a fraction of big city prices. Most plates and oven-fired pizzas hover around the fifteen-dollar mark, quite equitable especially when considering the stellar quality of ingredients. In addition, the wine list was affordable and varied, something I find indicative of restaurants catering to the average diner and not only those with broad-shouldered pocketbooks.

While it might be the nearest I’ll get to Italy around Bozeman, I’m concerned about the hit-or-miss quality experienced and that others speak of as well. Word on the street is that when Tommaso (shown at top), the general manager, is cooking the food is exceptional. His nights off, however, seem to result in off nights for the kitchen. While at first blush this seems a detriment, for me it somehow adds to the allure. Simply knowing that with Tommaso at the sauté pan you’re in for a treat, and perhaps that swells the word-of-mouth mystique surrounding this quaint Tuscanesque gem. Offering atmosphere, exceptional service, and affordability, Damasco’s is the real article.  -BM

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