Tuesday, April 29, 2008

*** CLOSED *** Bacio Mia ~ Southlake, Texas

11/29/08 note: Bacio Mia is no longer in business. Too bad, as they were a unique Italian restaurant in an area all too dominated with the same recipes and formulas.

So we've already talked about, in past postings, the Albanian / Yugoslavian heritage of most of the Northeast Tarrant county Italian restaurants. Bacio Mia is one of the rare exceptions. We first ran into Rocky, who is from New Yawk, when he was a partner in a restaurant called Joe's (the most overused named in DFW, but this one was not related to any other) in Farmers Branch. Farmers Branch (or FB as many call it) is near where Mr. RJG grew up, so it was a natural place for Mrs. RJG and I to take Mr. RJG's parents. FB is another tough place to secure a liquor license, so the restaurant was always BYOB. Even better, especially in my Dad's view, is they offered free glasses of red wine (the law doesn't say you can't give it away, just that you can't sell it). Eventually the owners sold out to raise enough cash to start Michael Anthony's, a high end steakhouse in the high end suburb of Southlake. And now, perhaps not surprisingly, Rocky (who also runs Sofio Grill in Flower Mound) has opened an Italian restaurant down the road, in a pretty swanky strip mall, taking over the former Classic Cafe and Red Sage spot.

Despite the obvious expensive overhead, prices are very reasonable, and Rocky has eschewed a liquor license in favor of BYOB. In other words, Bacio Mia is a great deal, especially given the locale!

Everything at Bacio Mia is different from just about any other Italian restaurant in NE Tarrant. From the soft bread, to the tangy vinaigrette to the entrees, rest assured you will experience a unique Italian meal. We did notice there were differences in flavor from one visit to the next. The bolognese sauce on one visit had a strong wine flavor, while on another it was too salty. The chicken parm is good, though it's not as crisp as I'd like - but Mr. Jose understands what he likes in chicken parm is not the norm. The baked dishes could use a little more sauce as well (and we're into dry - but not BONE dry). So a little inconsistent, but we'll chalk that up to being a relatively new place, and getting the chefs to master the recipes at hand.

The Star-Telepoop made a big deal of how great it is that there's a daycare right across the sidewalk. In a peculiar way, I kind of agree. Nothing funnier than watching a bunch of "pretender" Mom's drive up in their Hummers and yak on the cell phone while dropping off the precious ones. It does provide entertainment, if you subscribe to Mr. RJG's warped view of life.

ANYWAY, Bacio Mia is definitely worth a visit. If they can make any kind of margin, given their low prices, then this place will be around awhile. Maybe the best deal in Southlake.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Recently closed: Keller Pizza

There was nothing spectacular about Keller Pizza. In fact, I only went once a couple of years ago, to reminisce about the way Texas pizza buffets were in the 1970s and 80s. My college Sunday afternoons in the mid 1980s were dominated by trips to Pizza Inn. When else can you eat 21 slices and still not be full? Or where else really. 21 slices of cracker crust equals about 4 slices of a large gooey NY pizza. So with college nostalgia on the brain I waltzed into Keller Pizza and had a go at their buffet. I rarely do buffets anymore. I would rather have a specifically cooked meal (though realizing that doesn't always happen anyway) and buffets are a sure fire way to overeat. Not to mention the germs being thrown around at a public feast. Pizza is one area I'll make an exception, though I rarely go to a buffet more than once a year.

The nostalgia of my youth was furthered by the fact that Keller Pizza was an ex-Pizza Inn. Well I don't know that for a fact, but it had the exact look on the outside and inside of the 1970s era Pizza Inn (still based in Dallas I believe). It sat in a strip mall next to a convenience store / gas station. While ubiquitous only 10 years ago, these kind of brown brick strip malls seem somewhat antiquated in their cheapness. Since the arrival of Cici's, most of these type of pizza buffet places quite simply can't make a profit. I think the lunch plus a drink was less than 5 bucks. And for that I could eat all the pizza and salad I wanted. Trouble was, for the place to have any chance at a margin, they weren't about to put out the freshest greens for the salad bar. And, funny, but I don't remember waiting around for a new pizza to come out of the oven in the 1980s. So if there was one slice sitting there at the bacteria bar, then somebody better eat it if you want to see a new pie. And with that, I knew it was only a matter of time. "For Lease".

*** CLOSED *** Oggi Italia Cafe (fka Dal Italia) ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Ugh. Closed. This was our favorite neighborhood spot for Italian.

Also note that the old Dal Italia is now Oggi Italia. New owner, but same cooks, recipes and menu. They changed the look and feel of the restaurant (for the better), but otherwise the below review still applies.

North Richland Hills is NE Tarrant County's largest and most diverse suburb. Stretching from the working class areas near Haltom City to the south, through the ostensibly middle class of Hurst and onto the McMansions of Colleyville and Keller that make its northern border. There is no similar theme that runs through NRH, nor do they sport an authentic, or even made-up, old town (though I suspect the area where the Cottonbelt BBQ stands will one day be just that, and with any luck at all, a stop on the proposed railway from DFW airport to Ft. Worth). The utmost northern reaches of NRH is where you'll find Oggi Italia Cafe, sitting quietly in a new, but small strip mall, overlooked by the gargantuan Super Wal-Mart and Super Target (yes, regrettably, they built them back to back).
Me and Mrs. RJG frequent Oggi Italia Cafe often, probably more than any other local Italian haunt. Some of this has to do with convenience, but more than that, Oggi Italia Cafe is a consistently good place to get Regular Joe style EYE-talian food. Oggi Italia Cafe is not the first restaurant owned by the couple (who names I've forgotten - and they have since sold this restaurant as well), and they once owned the Cafe Sicilia restaurant in Bedford. Oggi Italia Cafe are clearly an offshoot of the Moni's empire, right down to the similar menus and tomato based vinaigrette salad dressing. While there are no surprises at Oggi Italia Cafe, we've found it to be one of the more consistent of this particular breed of Italian restaurant. After sampling a variety of their dishes, I personally feel they excel at baked dishes. The food is uniformly hot, the ingredients fresh and the taste excellent. Service can be inconsistent, though there is at least one waitress there who is always prompt and friendly. Also recommended is their pizza, which is a NY style thin crust. It's fold down the middle style, with gooey cheese and a tasty sauce.