Friday, October 22, 2010

Thai Sayarm ~ Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

I think us folks in NE Tarrant are pretty spoiled when it comes to Thai food. We have a triumvirate of Hall of Fame places: Bangkok Cuisine in Haltom City, Sweet Basil Thai over in Hurst, and lastly the great Sea Siam in Keller. We've fawned over these places in the past, and continue to do so. And that doesn't even cover the second tier places, that were they in other cities, would probably be our favorites. Like Thai Chili of Southlake, Nipa's Kitchen and Thai Belknap down in Haltom City, The Magic Springroll over in Watuaga, and Thai Riverside in Grapevine.

It's not like this everywhere though. My first experience with Thai food came in San Francisco in the early 90s, and it was love at first taste. But on returning home to Denver, I couldn't find anything close to that good. As you know, the RJG now also resides in Denver part time, and the wife and I still can't find decent Thai food there. I won't say we tried them all, but a good many. They have a tendency to Chinafy (is that word? It should be...) their food, by adding sweeter and thicker sauces and throwing a pile of backyard vegetables on top of everything. And so it goes as you travel the country. Some cities get it, and others don't. And DFW is fortunately one of the areas where the Thai food is uniformly good with few exceptions.

Psst! But there's even one that's better. I have no idea if it's city wide, or we just lucked out on the first try. Head north to Oklahoma City, and put a face full of Thai Sayarm into your system. The RJG doesn't like to say "best ever", since we cannot make that claim. But we can say "Best we ever had". This phenomenal place, in a completely run down strip mall near Del City, is hard to find and has quirky hours. Apparently, as we rudely found out one Saturday night, all the Thai restaurants in that area (and there are a few) are closed for the entire weekend.

We first went to Thai Sayarm on a trip from Denver to DFW back in 2003. It was pure luck we ended up there. The wife had a hankering for Thai food (and you know how Mrs. RJG gets when she wants her Thai food). We just happened to be staying at a roadside motel (La Quinta I think) off of I-35 in SE OKC. I pulled out the Yellow Pages and looked for restaurants beginning with the word Thai. And then looked for one that might be close. How's that for deep research? I returned a year later for business. I took a group of unsuspecting employees there who were currently working for the State of Oklahoma. I can be a mean boss... (actually they loved the place). And now, after 6 years, we have returned triumphant. Nothing has changed. Same owner, same great food, same dilapidated surroundings.

I'll never forget the first time we went. I was feeling confident and bold about my tolerance for spicy food. After all, this is someone who can stomach Da Bomb (in VERY light doses of course), but it's not like any restaurant would cook with it (as far as I know anyway). And when I (mister blond hair, blue eyes white guy) go to Thai restaurants, as noted before, I have to practically beg them to truly make it "Thai Hot". Generally, on the first try, they won't. But once the owners get to know me, they get to the right level. I didn't have that problem at Thai Sayarm. The owner said quite simply: "we have Hot. We have Hot Hot. And we have And Up". Oooh, "And Up" sounded perfect to my ears. Ay-chee-wah-wah. Took me an hour to eat a normal portion of Thai style basil/mint chicken. Hottest meal I've ever had. Even now. And was it tasty!! I was sold. The wife, in between making fun of me crying and sweating, took a far more safe route on the heat level. And she also loved every bite. On my next visit I went for "Hot Hot" and that's just about perfect. And now 6 years later, same experience - great taste, great heat, great owner.

After 3 visits here, Thai Sayarm right now is our favorite Thai restaurant.

Thai Sayarm is on SE 44th St, about 10 minutes east of I-35. Look for it in the run down shopping center on your right (just past Sunnylane).

Thai Sayarm on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 1, 2010

Denver's Old School Italian Restaurants

I know, I know... I haven't posted anything in 6 months. You were checking back every week, then every month and now I've fallen completely off your radar. Sorry about that.

My only lame excuse is that I've been "saving up" for a good one. I've been wanting to write about Denver's Italian restaurants since we returned part-time last year. And you all know how the RJG feels about this style of restaurant. As someone who grew up in Dallas, perhaps I've been more drawn to cities that embrace their history rather than completely demolish it. Only recently has Dallas become more acutely aware of their past. Previously, any buildings not in use have been razed as fast as possible, to make way for the next brand new shopping center - all in the latest architecture naturally.

Contrarily you have cities like St. Louis that are 19th and 20th century industrial ghost towns - places frozen in time because for most everyone who could, they just up and left to the 'burbs (for various reasons including employment, flawed government initiatives, schools, etc...). Just as places like Bruges in Europe are today considered World Heritage Sites - places that haven't changed since 1600, until it was realized how unusual and cool that really is - well, St. Louis and other Midwestern US cities may begin a similar Renaissance. I'm already in line.

Then again, you have cities like Chicago, who not only embrace their past, but also the future. And so you have multiple decades of unique architecture - all in the same neighborhood. Denver is most like Chicago. They're like the kid who never throws anything away from their closet, even though Mom keeps insisting. As you drive through Denver, it is a remarkable pastiche of 19th, 20th and 21st century architecture. 1960's banks that look like Gouda cheese blocks sit next to 19th century brick fronts, while a 21st century glass building towers above and gazes down at all with a smile. In between all of this history sits Denver's most unheralded and greatest treasure: The Italian restaurant.

Funny enough, in this day and age where real estate agents cannot resist labeling neighborhoods - thanks to the boom in NYC of SoHo, TriBeCa, NoHo, DUMBO, and every other insufferable acronym - Denver doesn't officially sanction a Little Italy. And yet it has one. A real one, a living breathing active neighborhood, like Boston's North End - rather than a row of Italian restaurants with an entirely Chinese population similar to NYC's Little Italy. Here they call the neighborhood Highland. Sure, today it is primarily Hispanic, or urban pioneer Yuppie white. But the old Italian ladies are still seen walking the streets, each with their own secret tomato sauce recipe buried deep inside their gray bun. Highland sits just NW of downtown on the other side of I-25 and was originally populated by Italian immigrants working the railroad. Sound familiar? You bet it does - it's a tale told all across America. And with that comes the little cute homes, the Catholic churches, the grocers, the sausage makers, the florists, the funeral homes, the bakers, and what we cover right here at the RJG: The Italian restaurant. And after all these years, most of the Italian restaurants from the golden age still survive. All, save one, that I was fortunate enough to try in the 1990s (with ancestries going back 50 years earlier) are still around today. And don't go looking for Zamboni ala calce e salsa di funghi sauce (for only $37 dollars including a sumptuous pig tail soup). Nope - pasta, soups, salads, chicken, meatballs, sausage, veal, steaks. Some even have an "American" menu. God, how I love that in an Italian restaurant. In 1957, they needed that to get people to go there. And what the heck, why change now? "C'mon Marty, they have hamburgers!" I love it.

The sad thing about publishing this article is that I haven't even been to all the restaurants in the area. What kind of research is that? And insider Denverites know there is a second Little Italy that grows out west and north including "inner ring" suburbs like Arvada, Wheat Ridge and Lakewood. And I've COMPLETELY NEGLECTED that area here for this piece. So now we have a reason for part 2 right?

The Big 3

This section is for the hardcore, straight-up no chaser, I'm-looking-for-the real-little-Italy-not-the-one-for-tourists. These are the places that only the locals know and care about. They're not in guidebooks. They're the kind of place that food snobs won't go. They label them as plain and dirty. If you like to go to places where the mob have dinner with the cops and politicians, then here are the establishments you must visit:

Patsy's Inn

The kingpin. Ground zero. I can't even imagine how a place like this even exists in 2010. Want to step back in time and see what the world looked like in 1948? Go here. First opened in 1921, and with two neon awnings that once said "Fine Foods" AND "Mixed Drinks", you already know darn well you've hit the Regular Joe's Guide Jackpot. Today it just has HUGE YELLOW BLOCK letters saying P A T S Y 'S. When you first walk in, you are greeted by a large wooden bar from the 1800's, and that leads into the main dining room complete with mood lighting, church pews, stained glass, painted wall murals, a monster heating unit, and the coffee station. Looks like a cross between the Holy Name of the Virgin Mary Cathedral and a 1960's Big Boy. And of course Christmas exists for eternity as the lights blink peacefully over the ferns - in July. When we first visited in the 1990s. my buddy Dan came beaming back from the john "they have ICE in the urinals!!!". They still do in 2010. Dan is a hall of famer Regular Joe. He notices important details such as this. Anyway, want to guess what food they serve here? Pasta, pasta, and, yea, pasta. Lots of different kinds. They make their own too. I should point out here that the Mrs. RJG absolutely despises "homemade" spaghetti or cappellini. She calls them "worms" and is disgusted by the texture. Did I just sell you on the restaurant or send you away? How you answer that question determines your level of commitment to the cause. Pissing off the wife and still loving every minute of your meal will determine your manhood. It will be tested, this I assure you. So guys, man-up and head over to Patsy's with your loved one. Damn, it rules. Website

Carl's Italian

Carl's is so old school, it doesn't even have a website. Why have a sissy internet site anyway? You either know about us or not. No Googlin' gonna change 'dat! Ya gotta problem with 'dat or wat? In what looks like an Eisenhower era US Highway rest area bathroom, we proudly present the beautiful Carl's, perhaps Denver most obscure and hardcore Old School Italian restaurant. They even have hat racks at each vinyl booth. Comes in handy whenever Eliot Ness or Frank Nitti visits. Red vinyl booths, of course. Stuffing coming out. Of course. And the color red will remind you of their delicious sauce. Do I really need to say the sausage is made locally? And word around the campfire says Carl's makes one of the best pizza's. I haven't got past the pasta to try. Perhaps next time.... and there's always a next time.


And speaking of no websites. In some ways, Lechugas takes the "what a dump" award. Well, it did 10 years ago anyway when it seemed to be on its last legs. But then the "greatest cannoli in the world" crowd got cookin' and saved the place. Now it's almost nice. Almost. BTW, we're not talking cannoli's the dessert. No sirree, we're referring to the stuffed pasty filled with meat and cheese. OK, a calzone by any other name, but it's really a cannolli by shape and design. And do I really need to say the sausage is locally made... They even put down hard wood floors in a feeble attempt to draw its first new customer in 20 years. The data is inconclusive if that's happened yet.

Old School and they know it too

When the RJG took to backpacking Europe in the late 1980s, the greatest book of wisdom back then was Rick Steves' "Europe Through the Back Door". To this day, I never forget his observation about Italian hill towns in Tuscany and Umbria. Paraphrasing, he basically said some know exactly what they have and exploit it to the maximum while others have no idea and are still surprised to see a tourist. The latter is what we just discussed above. For these next two, they know darn well what "old school" means and exploit it to the fullest. Just as with the hill towns, all are worth visiting in any case.


When I first visited Gaetano's in the mid 1990s, it was clearly a place that would have fit in the category above. But that was before the Wynkoop Brewery took it over. I'll tell this to anyone who listens - Denver has the coolest current mayor in the country, hands down. John Hickenlooper (and others) started the Wynkoop Brewery in the late 1980s, certainly one of the original brewpubs in Denver. It was in a slightly rundown section of downtown across the street from the dilapidated Union Station. Today it's some of the most desired real estate in all of Denver and very close to Coors Field. In addition to the Wynkoop, he formed a restaurant group that has bought some of Colorado's greatest restaurant landmarks including the Cherry Cricket as well as the Phantom Canyon Brewery in Colorado Springs (amongst several others). Gaetano's, as you have intimated by now, is one of those. Go to their website and they spin a fantastical tale of Denver and the mafia - and how Gaetano's is central to all of it. Funny to see such a heritage lauded today, while they were probably creating a reign of terror for the locals at the time. But that's history for you. So the food? Oh yes, the food of course. Well, I'm here to tell you that everything about Gaetano's has improved with the new ownership. If you're looking for red sauce Italian, you'll be more than pleased with what comes out of Gaetano's kitchen. And even if you would like more adventurous offerings, Gaetano's has that as well. Naturally enough, the price tag has also gone considerably up. This is now a Denver dining destination, so be prepared to wait on weekends. "Italian to Die For". Hysterical! Website

Everything that Gaetano's does right, the below restaurant does wrong....


For as long as I've lived in Denver, Pagliacci's has always been full of themselves. Perhaps it's their more visible location, where you can see their (pretty cool) neon sign clearly on I-25, that makes them feel more superior to the others. No lunch hours here, no need they figure. Plenty of business for dinner. And at the prices they charge, they only need 25 percent capacity to stay open. While I think Pagliacci's is good, it's not the high quality of the others mentioned so far, and you pay a 50% markup for everything. Sorry, but that defines touristo trappo for me. We won't go unless they change things here (prices mainly). With so many great restaurants in the same vicinity, we recommend you bypass Pagliacci's altogether. They need a wake up call. So let them go out of business. See the menu for yourself on the website. They don't even charge $22.50 for chicken parm on Mulberry Street in New York City - for crying out loud! Website

One that got away, but is still cool

3 Sons

The classiest joint in the old Little Italy was Three Sons. The place always felt to me like a visit to an elegant home. Stately furniture, and a formal atmosphere dominated. They renovated the place extensively in the late 90's, and that's why I've always been a bit confused why they moved away to Arvada (though, to be fair, Arvada is a logical choice for an old school Italian restaurant). Perhaps it's location was a bit out of the "Little Italy" mainstream - being just a bit too far north (44th) and west (Federal) for casual drive-bys to notice. So we made our first journey to the new locale about a month ago (and noticed the subtle name change from "Three" to "3"). My fear was it would be another Ianni's story (follow Pietro's link above), and they would go high end fru-fru. But my concerns were alleviated immediately when I recognized the old granny furniture had been moved with them. The place does sit in a modern strip mall, and is considerably brighter in step with modern trends. All of this doesn't matter if the food suffers, and it didn't. The lunch serving was a reasonable portion and priced appropriately. Flavor wise, 3 Sons was always in the middle. Is it worth drive to Arvada (considering we're in Southeast Denver)? Maybe not - but if you're anywhere nearby it's definitely recommended. Website

Gone, but not forgotten

Little Pepina's

While I'm sure there were plenty of great Italian restaurants in the Highland area that I never was able to try, Little Pepina's is the only one we did and has since closed. In fact, it closed a month after my second visit with RJG contributor Dan (sometime in early 2001). It was more Three Sons than Patsy's, with a quaint Granny style living room setting, and slightly more upscale dishes.

The best Italian restaurant in Denver and with a heritage to the old Little Italy

Mama Louise

Review moved here

Old School restaurants not in Little Italy

Gennaro's Cafe Italiano

There may be many folks reading this from Denver, confused, saying "Isn't Gennaro's closed?" Well, it was for a few years, but it's back! In deference to modern times, they added the "Cafe Italiano" and removed the much missed "Lounge", but it's still good ole Gennaro's. The original Gennaro's made Carl's (see above) seem like Tavern on the Green by comparison. From the outside, it looked like a 1950 gymnasium's bathroom. Inside, they were the last of the die-hards (literally) when it came to smoking. In order to meet health code standards, they were required to have a non-smoking section. So they had one table designated non-smoking. Right in the middle of the restaurant. Eventually, the restaurant succumbed to the glut of new restaurants and places like Gennaro's Lounge suffered, especially since it didn't sit in the establish Old Little Italy section. The new owners have refurbished the building, but with an eye on history and haven't gussied it up much at all. They opened it up a bit, there's no smoking anymore (of course), but the dive bar next door lives on. They even have a website, wow! And the food is classic Old School red sauce Italian. Gennaro's is on Broadway just north of old Englewood. Website

The Saucy Noodle

"If you don't like garlic...go home!". Most Denverites know the slogan and the restaurant. Opened in the early 1960's in the Bonne Brae neighborhood near the University of Denver, The Saucy Noodle has maintained a certain popularity over the years. Especially as the area has gentrified and become one of Denver's most sought after areas to live. A fire about a decade ago nearly did them in, but they were resilient and rebuilt it to perfection. They even expanded the place. Some of the best al dente pasta is served here. They're one of the few Italian restaurants in Denver to offer an Arrabbiatta sauce (spicy), a favorite of the RJG. Website


And speaking of desired neighborhoods, Washington Park's Angelo's (well, close enough to Wash Park anyway) is probably the closest representation to an Old School place in the area. Inside feels like an old church and they have a nice patio/backyard as well. Prices are dirt cheap for the area. The place gets mixed reviews, primarily because the restaurants in the area tend to be more hip and modern. And most (not all) of the criticisms come from that sector. Angelo's is the opposite of hip and modern. If it were located on 38th Street west of I-25, then I'm sure it would have more followers. A gem in the rough as far as the RJG is concerned. Not the best Denver has to offer, but worth an occasional visit. No website.

And, with that, I look forward to starting a Part 2 next year. We'll also cover some of the really good modern Old School places like Pasta Jay's, Lil' Ricci's and Luigi's Bent Noodle amongst many others.

Patsy's Inn on Urbanspoon
Carl's Italian on Urbanspoon
Lechuga's Italian on Urbanspoon
Gaetano's on Urbanspoon
3 Sons Italian Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon
Gennaro's Cafe Italiano on Urbanspoon
Saucy Noodle on Urbanspoon
Angelos Pizza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 18, 2010

2010 NE Tarrant Pizza Summary Pt. 2: Jet's, Marco's, Pazzo, Ti Amo

One of the truisms that the RJG learned while working in SE Wisconsin and Chicago, is that while the area is more known for deep dish pizza, the reality is the thin crust still rules the taste buds of the local populace. And the RJG fondly remembers some great pies he devoured in Racine, Kenosha, and Chicago throughout most of 1997.

With that in mind, the RJG was thrilled to see a couple of Midwestern regional chains sprout up here in NE Tarrant - both in Keller in fact. Remember the RJG is pro small/regional chain and anti Public Company (when it comes to most restaurant concepts). First and foremost is Jet's Pizza, a Detroit area chain now making its way to various states in the Midwest and Southeast. I've only tried the Jet's Boat on the two occasions I've been, which is their version of the calzone. Two large inverted pizzas come with each order. I've tried the meatballs and the sausage, and both are excellent. Great tasting sauce, cheese, meats and, most importantly, crust. They're excellent, and a great deal for $7, considering it's two full meals. For my next visit, I'll try a traditional pie to see how it holds up against the competition. Jet's is take-out/delivery only and can be found on North Tarrant, about a mile west of US-377 (it may be considered technically in Ft. Worth, the border with Keller is a bit blurred over there). Now if we could only get a "Coney Island" chain...

2/20/13 update: There's also a Jet's location in North Richland Hills

*** 4/17/11 update: Marco's is moving to the west side of US 377 on North Tarrant. ZuRoma has moved into the former location ***

In a similar fashion Marco's, from Toledo, Ohio is another recent addition to the area. Toledo is less than an hour south of Detroit, so the region shares many similarities (in fact, the RJG worked in Toledo for a couple of weeks in 1998). We've only been once, and tried a traditional large pie with Italian sausage. This is some of the best sausage I've had on a pizza. Not the usual "crumbles" or sliced Sysco sausages, but rather homemade heavily seasoned rolled up sausages. I presume they're not made on site, but shipped in, but for certain these are made with much more care than the usual pizza sausage. Now I'm dying to try their meatballs! The sauce and cheese are delicious and very similar to Jet's (slightly sweet). If I had a complaint, it's that the crust was "doughy" on the bottom. Since I've only been once, I'm not sure if that's how they cook it, or it was a mistake. But to me it says the oven wasn't hot enough to obtain the crispness needed (though the pizza itself was plenty hot). Not a problem... after eating one slice in the car to test, I brought it home, stuck in the toaster oven - and voila - crispy crust! Marco's is on Rufe Snow, just south of North Tarrant, next to the Neighborhood Market. Like Jet's, it's also take-out/delivery only.

In part 1, we mentioned a recent revisit to Palio's, one of NE Tarrant's finest purveyors of the Italian styled individual pizza. But our first experience with this type (in North Texas that is) goes to Pazzo, over in Flower Mound (Denton County), about 15 minutes north of Grapevine. I want to say it was around 2004, based on a recommendation of Mr. Music. In fact, we went with him and his wife on the first visit. Subsequent visits were all outstanding, and we'd go 2 or 3 times a year. However, the original owner sold out, and it seemed to go downhill a bit, and we stopped making the journey. But Mr. Music (who lives closer to the restaurant) said it was getting better again, so the Mrs. and I headed over one recent Saturday for a nice lunch. I went for essentially the "meat lovers" pizza (though it has a fancy Italian name), and the wife tried the pasta (as you know, Mrs. RJG is rarely in the mood for pizza). Mine was very good, certainly on par with Palio's. The wife's pasta was a disaster. Over cooked and mushy, and she didn't eat it. The owner came out and apologized and didn't charge us for her meal. That's all he could do to be fair, and we were satisfied. Bottom line - stick with the pizza if you go. The RJG gives the thumbs up and we'll be back at least one more time this year.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Ti Amo, over in Hurst (off of Harwood a few blocks east of Precinct Line). Like many of the restaurants in the area, they are what I call "pizza pasta", rather than "Italian". And the pizza is of the New York variety. However, I was very disapppointed with their pie. Cheap ingredients, weak sauce, thin cheese, and a limp crust. There really wasn't anything good about it. To add insult to injury, I had to pay cash because they don't take credit cards. I understand why a taco truck can't take a credit card, but a restaurant in NE Tarrant? Sorry, no excuse, and it wasn't like the pizza was heavily discounted to compensate. We do not recommend Ti Amo, and it's not likely we'll go back.

OK - this post arrived about a month later than planned, but during the delay I added Marco's and Pazzo, plus we've been back to Jet's to ensure the consistency. I removed one place in Dallas, that I hope to eventually write about.

Jet's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Marco's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Pazzo Woodfired Pizza on Urbanspoon

Ti Amo on Urbanspoon

My New York Pizza ~ Keller, Texas

When the RJG first wrote the below review, we also added the restaurant to Urbanspoon and was its first rater. A year and a half later, 207 votes are in, with a 90% approval rating. That's pretty amazing when you consider how remote My New York Pizza really is. It's definitely a neighborhood pizza place. On the downside, of the 10% that don't like it, some have left vicious reviews. I think folks need to take it easy when they're negative. There's some bad karma out there and it usually comes back in the same manner. Be careful out there. Try to be kind even when things don't go your way.

One other note, the guy who runs My New York Pizza is a bit quirky (and very nice). Sometimes he opens at a 11, sometimes not until 12. So to avoid disappointment, I'd suggest not going here for an early lunch.

In Part 1 of our pizza overview, we discussed the New York pizza phenomenon, and my own personal history with it. Finding a place that makes a pizza in this most beloved of styles (NY) is not too difficult anymore, but finding a place that makes a slice - now that's a whole different story. As we mentioned in Part 1, the RJG loved to sample as many pizza joints as possible while working in Manhattan (and many subsequent visits since). There's an art to making a good slice, and very few get it here in North Texas. But when I first walked into My New York Pizza, I knew instantly they got it. Sitting peacefully on the counter top were two pies, one pepperoni and the other cheese. If he had called the cheese a "regular slice", I would've probably passed out. But OK I can live with the name "cheese". So I dutifully ordered one of each, and 3 to 5 minutes later out came two perfectly heated slices - spread appropriately across two paper plates. That's right, this is fold down the middle, lift the tip up, old fashioned NY pizza. Crispy, chewy, pliable, greasy (in a good way)... delicious. I've gone many times since, and it's spot on every time. The wife has started to join me of late, and she likes to get one slice with a salad, which is loaded with fresh greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, and his own dressing. Remember the cheese pizza serves two purposes - one to be eaten by itself, and the other to add any ingredient you want with a little extra cheese thrown on top for good measure. Want a quick slice? Come to My New York Pizza. They're located on North Tarrant, just east of Rufe Snow and across the street from Niki's.


My New York Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 15, 2010

*** CLOSED *** Antonio's Mexican Restaurant & Bar, Mexican ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

As you can see from the below, we've covered Antonio's already. We've vacillated back and forth on our opinion about this establishment. We've even gone so far as to state Antonio's is the #1 best Mexican in NE Tarrant. But times change, as do opinions, and Antonio's has fallen from the top spot (Anamia's in Southlake is the current owner). However, it's still a favorite, though maybe not the favorite. I've taken the liberty to rewrite many sections of the original review, based on recent trips. On this visit, I tried the baby chimichangas with ground beef. The queso topping is declicious as was the perfectly textured rice. The charro beans (which, as usual, I substituted the refried beans for) were a bit too soupy and "bean-like", lacking the yummy bacon flavor I crave - even though there were bits of bacon in the dish. The ground beef was servicable but ultimately lacking in rich flavors. The wife went for the tilapia, served in a tin foil bag, with loads of veggies and peppers on top. While the toppings were great, the tilapia itself lacked seasoning. Even still, she walked away happy with the dish. The margaritas were uniformly strong and excellent tasting (mine frozen, hers on ice). And for starters, the salsa comes out very hot (temperature), like it had just been cooked. And the hot sauce has a nice spice kick to it, while preserving a wonderful chile and garlic flavor. Perhaps even better, is the "Diablo" sauce, which they now serve in a ketchup dispenser. Great taste, seriously spicy.

If I could make a recommendation to the owners of Antonio's: GET RID OF THE SMOKING! They have a bar section that is not separated from the main dining area. The place smells like an old bowling alley, right from the moment you walk in. Clean the smell up and say Non-Smoking like just about everyone else in today's world. Look, I'm sympathetic to smokers (my Dad pretty much had a ciggy in his mouth until his last breath) - but the fact remains, it stinks. Save it for the pure bars and clubs - and leave it out of the restaurants. It does effect the popularity of a restaurant, and there's no way it helps Antonio's in any shape or form.

(Much of the original review has been snipped - here's what's left).... The enchiladas come with a variety of sauces, which you can choose, including one that is designed to blow your head off (always a temptation for Mr. RJG). It's a nice chile d'arbol, and isn't really too hot for those who are already indoctrinated into the fine arts academy for pepper heads.

Originally there was a Las Lomas in this location, which was also quite good, though we think Antonio's raised the bar.

Despite what may appear to be a typical dreary strip mall restaurant, the interior competes with some of the more suave eateries in the area like Anamia's and El Paseo. Dark mood lighting, and a full bar with flat screen televisions define the interior.

Antonio's is on Bedford-Euless Rd. along a "nightmare's row" of boring chain eateries (with a couple of exceptions) that dot I-820 near Davis and Hwy 26. As the crow flies, it's right across the "street" from Northeast Mall in Hurst. That street is the interstate.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chuy's Tex-Mex ~ Arlington, Texas

New review for Southlake location here

The RJG tries. He really does. He wants to fit in, and see things like everyone else. He doesn't get pleasure out of being a contrarian. But doggone it, here we are again - in the position of naysayer.

Normally I wouldn't even bother with a chain like Chuy's, but there were a few things about it that screamed "come visit us, you must." For one, they're still a small, regional chain. The RJG likes small regional chains. Then there's the slogan "If you've seen one Chuy's... you've seen one Chuy's". Oh, I like that! Non conformity. But most of all, it was the allure of green chile. Complete with a description that the recipe comes from their favorite restaurant in Espanola, New Mexico - and that it's really HOT. OK, sold, we're going!

So the Mrs. RJG and I wandered over to the Arlington Highlands a few Sundays ago for lunch. This was our first trip there, as SE Arlington is not exactly around the corner. I'd read about the Highlands for well over a year now, and was pretty excited to see what it looked like. I'll be honest, it's disappointing. A few big box stores that you all know about, a ton of chain restaurants, and a few independent restaurants. It's almost like an outdoor restaurant mall. I don't think that was the original intention, but that's its current state. Plus the RJG is getting more and more concerned that the only interesting new businesses are restaurants. That might be good for the RJG and his blog, but that can't be good for the overall economy.

In the restaurant we go, and it's packed to the rafters. Out comes the RJG's personal nightmare - the flashing ashtray and the 20 minute warning for a table. Fine, we'll make an exception. That green chile better be good. What is it with us Americans anyway? It seems we're not happy unless we're standing in a line waiting to eat. All of these great independent restaurants that are one quarter full on Friday night, and everyone else is in a line waiting to eat chain food. You won't see this behavior in Europe.... except when the American tourists arrive. Do we just not trust a restaurant to be good unless there are a ton of people there? Herd mentality I guess.

30 minutes later we get our table. Hey, neat place! We like the decor of license plates, hubcaps, Elvis, etc... So far, so OK. Now let's get to business. Or not... Why is it that the RJG always gets the table (at a chain restaurant of course) that management forgets to assign a waiter too. Finally we get someones attention "Oh you haven't been served?". 1 minute later, Slick appears and it seems we're ready to go. A couple of Bohemia beers please. I'm guessing then, after that, someone drove to the grocery store and bought a couple of Bohemia's. Everyone around us, who had been seated later, already were drinking away and munching on chips. We don't have chips yet. Finally we get a hold of someones attention "Oh you don't have chips yet?". One minute later an annoyed girl shows up with our chips. Hooray! "Slick is still at the store buying beer" we think we heard her say.

Ugh, the chips. Are you kidding? The chips themselves are the generic kind that you get at the most basic Tex-Mex restaurants. I can live with that, if the sauce is great. Oh no - it's just blended tomatoes and a little spice. THAT'S IT!!! Blended tomatoes. It is TERRIBLE. And it's not a salsa, it's pico de gallo. Do you have another salsa we ask? Well, no, but we have a jalapeno ranch dressing. Yea, this is worth waiting in line for.

Slick arrives with our beers. Two bottles only. Mrs. RJG asks for mugs for both of us. Slick comes back with one mug. "Uh... can I get one too?" Slick is now very annoyed with us at this point, and he makes it obvious. I mean, golly, we ask for chips and a beer. What next? Do they want lunch too?

A few minutes later we order. This green chile better be DAMN good. I order two enchiladas with it "smothered in green". The Mrs. went with the Veggie enchiladas and the Hatch Green chile sauce (slightly less hot supposedly). Since we passed "Strike 3" long ago, can I just say that by now they have "struck out the side" (the RJG loves sports metaphors in his leadership role, and you can hear my organization groan every time.) Why? Because the term "smothered" must mean "two small spoonfuls". Maybe they were out? There was so little chile on it, you'd think a plateful would put them out of business on the spot. Was it good? I think so... the little bit I could savor held promise. The Mrs. fared better. Hers did have more sauce, and it was quite good actually. Oh, and the rice. Not too bad, but the Mrs. had a big hole in the middle of her rice medley. As if someone took a huge spoon and ate from it. So she made just that comment. Slick sneered. Will these people go away please, he must have asked. The charro beans were the only thing that the wife and I agreed was uniformly good. Hooray, they got something right.

The RJG generally avoids bad service reviews, because I clearly understand that can vary from visit to visit. But this was so outrageous, I feel obligated to say something. Bottom line - this is a very poorly managed restaurant. It may have lines out the door now, but it won't be long before the fickle crowd migrates to the next hip chain, and leaving behind approximately zero loyal customers.

Chuy's, take notice, and get the top management out here pronto and fix your problems, or your investment will go down the drain in a year.

For us, we're obviously not going back. It was a typical "hip chain" experience for us I'm afraid. I felt guilty that the money I spent here could've been spent on two entire meals at Fernandez Cafe for example. I've been fleeced. I got suckered.

For Urbanspoon, I labeled all the local restaurants in the chain as "Chuy's (Austin based chain)" to distinguish from the unrelated locally owned Chuys around town.

Chuy's (Austin based chain) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pietro's Italian ~ Dallas, Texas

January 2014 update: Pietro's is as magnificent as ever. Mrs RJG and I just had another exquisite meal here. It remains my all-time favorite restaurant even after 30 years of going here. I beg and urge you all to try it at least once if you have a hankering for Old School Italian food. I'm sure it will not be here forever. Pietro must be close to 80 now, and it's hard to imagine the restaurant without him. We try to go 3 to 4 times a year, almost always on a Saturday or Sunday because of the traffic to get to inner Dallas. Oh, and they straightened the signs. Too bad. :-)

February 2012 update: As stated in the original review, Pietro's is the RJG's favorite restaurant. We only get to this part of Dallas about twice a year, so it's a rare treat for us to dine at Pietro's (usually in the winter). If any of the below sounds the slightest bit good to you, then I would highly encourage you to go as soon as possible. Once Pietro is gone (and he seems as healthy as ever fortunately), you will not find this kind of restaurant in the DFW area again. There are few places like it left in all the US. It's from another era. Some folks are glad that's the case. Others like myself, miss the Sicilian cooking of immigrant Grandmothers. Even the outside signs are the same. One is bent, the other is incredibly worn. (The photos I took 2 years ago look exactly the same now). Pietro's is a living museum.

Be sure to read a couple of the heartwarming comments that were left by long time customers of Pietro.

Original review

To celebrate the second anniversary of the Regular Joe's Guide, I thought it would be appropriate to finally blog about my all time favorite restaurant: Pietro's.

In many ways, Pietro's is why the Regular Joe's Guide exists. The story starts with another Italian restaurant that was literally across the street from Pietro's: Ianni's. There's a Blockbuster in that location now (2012 update: Actually there's nothing now. The entire shopping center across the street is abondoned and empty - sad). It was there that my parents took me on Friday nights (about once a month) from the time I was a little kid (~1971) until I was about 15 or so (1980). At some point I'd like to reminisce about Ianni's, and the memories of the original Lower Greenville location - and their eventual downfall by moving - and attempting to go upscale (and uptown). The restaurant's name is now more notorious for the tragedy that befell them after their move. Google Ianni's and Dallas if you're not familiar with the details.

After Ianni's moved to North Dallas (and subsequently how disappointed we were with the new "concept"), we as a family began to look for our next great Italian restaurant. By that time, the RJG was old enough to drive, so we began our journey throughout central and north Dallas. And the winner didn't require too much research (though we did our diligence and tried about a dozen other places). I enjoyed that experience immensely, and thus began my desire to research and try as many different restaurants as I can. Combine that with a travel lust (not to mention various jobs that required 100% travel), and you have the RJG. Now you know.

According to the newspaper clippings in the main foyer, Pietro's has existed in one form or another since the mid 1960s. There are pictures of a young Pietro with two of his brothers and a chef from Sicily. Today, some 45 years later, Pietro still works the premises and dutifully makes his Caesar Salad in the main dining room. He greets all customers with a raspy throated voice right out of the Godfather. I'm not kidding.

The food defines old school Italian. Pietro's is the gold standard for the term. My favorite dish is the spaghetti and Italian sausage, which is unlike any I've had anywhere. To begin with, Pietro makes his own Italian sausage. I'll go on record right now and say this is the best Italian sausage I've ever had. Even wonderful markets like Kuby's and Jimmy's, who each make fantastic Italian sausages, cannot compete. Pietro's variety is very firm, almost like a steak, and slightly spicy. So firm in fact, you get a steak knife to cut it. Two large links comes with every order. The red sauce you get with the sausage dish will be different than any other on the menu, since he cooks the sausage in it all day. I've never tasted a sauce like this anywhere else. I mean ANYWHERE. And the RJG has been to at least 1500 restaurants (according to my personal database). I love the flavor. The pasta is a thin spaghetti (at times he's used vermicelli), and always cooked perfect (PERFECT) al dente. And the pasta has a wonderful taste as well, as he must flavor the water. I could eat it all by itself. I can't think of too many places where I'd say that. Favorite restaurant and favorite dish. The wife's clear choice is the Fettuccine Primavera, though she requests the spaghetti in lieu of fettuccine. Loads of fresh vegetables, and a tomato cream sauce. We've tried many things on the menu, all are very good, but these are our favorites. Name your favorite classic Italian dish, and compare Pietro's to it. It may not be an instant favorite (that rarely happens with anyone), but do consider that it's probably going to be somewhat unique. This uniqueness grows on you over time. The dinner salad is basic iceberg lettuce with tomatoes - again, perfect for the RJG. His house dressing is an oil & vinegar based concoction. While that may not sound terribly exciting, consider he uses only top quality vinegar, and you can taste the difference. The soups are good as well. Even the parm cheese found in the large glass container is a grade above.

Since this is truly old school, there is no BYOB. And so the bill can get expensive if you want wine. We don't care and splurge on a bottle of Italian red (Chianti, Valpolicella, Montepulciano, etc..). I know - the markups are ridiculous - but if it helps him stay in business, I'll pay it.

I've taken just about every type of acquaintance here over the years from family members, to old school chums, international music friends, business appointments, and a handful of romantic dates. For the last 14 years, it's generally my beautiful wife and I who will wine and dine here together. We go only a couple times a year and savor the experience. I can say without hesitation that the place has been popular with everyone I've brought. Many request it on return visits to Dallas. In reading some other reviews of Pietro's online, it's clear the place is not popular with everyone. If you're strictly looking for the modern variation of the Tuscan dining experience, I would avoid Pietro's. If you're looking for the old Sicilian styled restaurants that once dotted the American landscape in the mid century, then make a beeline here.

Pietro's popularity peaked in the late 1980s and early 90s, before the glut of new restaurants were thrust upon us. He had expanded the space over the years, and even then, it was standing room only on Friday and Saturday nights. It has always been popular strictly due to word of mouth. The Dallas Morning News generally ignored it, or made smarmy remarks about how "old" it was. Today the paper is far kinder to it, as one should respect their elders. Nowadays the restaurant is usually about half full even on prime nights, filled with long time customers and neighborhood families. It's retiring gracefully. There's never been a better time to experience it.

It's almost unreal that a place likes this still exists in 2010. Treasure it and do not take it for granted. There will be a day where the only way you can possibly experience a restaurant like this is because it will have been manufactured to be so. Pietro's is the REAL DEAL. A true artifact. It's not a trip to Disneyland, but rather an excursion to old undiscovered castle in Europe itself.

If you haven't been, or "it's been awhile" (hi Dan), then please make the effort to go one time this year. Remember it's dinner only and closed on Monday's (another old school tradition). For those of you in NE Tarrant, I can assure you there is no place like this nearby and worth at least one trip. Just get on 114 or 183, and head towards downtown Dallas. Take the Woodall Rogers freeway (follow I-45 signs) that belts north of the skyline, and then take US-75 (Central Distressway) North. Exit Knox-Henderson, turn right - and wind your way through all the yuppie chef driven places that will go out of business soon (the RJG has probably seen 100 different restaurants in the area over the last 40 years, and that's not an exaggeration). But it's always great people watching as you attempt to drive through the cattle herd. Continue to Belmont, make a left and drive through the residential area. The homes on Belmont are some of the last remaining from the original neighborhood. The area has undergone tremendous gentrification over the years (there was a time when it was pretty iffy if you know what I mean). Eventually you will arrive at Greenville Ave. Make a right and the next light is Richmond. Make a left and look for the villa on the right. You can't miss the bent flashing lights old sign. 30-40 minute drive tops on a Saturday night.

Here's another enthusiastic review.

Seriously - just go.

Pietro's Italian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2010 NE Tarrant Pizza Summary Pt. 1: Campania, Coal Vines, Palio's

This week, let's talk about pizza. My Dad and Mom were natives of New York City and Long Island respectively, so they were very particular about how a "pizza should be". Like most kids, I just liked any kind of pizza, but rarely was allowed to experience it (until about 1974 when Al's opened near Bachman Lake), constantly tormented by my parent's allegiance to their homeland. My parents hated Texas pizza. "That's not pizza" they'd crow. Any New Yorker reading this is nodding their head right now. Even today, with a proliferation of New York styled pizza places on just about every corner, my Mom swears it's not the same. I disagree, since I've spent many months working in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island myself. She just responds by saying "It's not the same in New York anymore either." I can't win... like I ever could anyway. Other New Yorkers tell me the difference is "the water". Strange as it may sound to those who don't live in New York, it is true that they have the best quality water in the nation. It tastes great right out of the faucet. It's been known that some New York pizza parlors in Florida import the water direct from the City.

But as the RJG has reported in the past, there's all kinds of pizza beyond New York. And our summary today will cover a few different styles. Some are revisits, others are new.

Let's start with Campania in Southlake, one of the finest purveyors of the traditional Naples pie. Though it does appear they've recently lost their certification for being an authentic Neopolitan pizza maker. We wrote about them about a year and a half ago, and our last visit reinforced our great like for the place. Southlake Town Square is the perfect location, and it's setting off the main streets adds to the vibe. It's not impossibly expensive either, as you might expect it would be. The RJG still highly recommends it!

Across Southlake Blvd from the Town Square is another shopping center anchored by a Central Market store. There you'll find Coal Vines. Mr. Music was in NE Tarrant recently and we got together for a day of tunes and cuisine. He'd asked me if we could try Coal Vines since he'd heard about it for sometime now. Coal Vines started in Oak Lawn (Dallas) and is one of the many artisan pizza places going up in America that prepare pizza the old-fashioned way - via a coal oven. Lombardi's in New York City is widely considered the first pizzeria, dating back to 1905. And to this day they still make pies using a coal oven. Due to EPA requirements, there are only a handful that are licensed to use a coal oven in NYC itself. More info on the coal oven pizza craze in America. Back to Coal Vines... I'd been only once, but since Mrs. RJG wasn't in the mood for pizza, I picked it up to-go. Probably not the best idea with pizza like this from a crust perspective. I ordered the Bolognese pie, but it was lacking something - like salt. This visit proved to be much better! We ordered a Spicy Meatball pie. The crust was perfect, and the meatballs were homemade and indeed a bit spicy. They gave us fresh ground red pepper so we could go overboard - which of course we both did being the pepper heads we are. We didn't partake in the wine, but did swallow down a couple of Peroni's. So if you want to know what the coal oven pizza thing is all about, NE Tarrant residents are in luck with Coal Vines.

One of the earliest reviews on this blog was for Palio's Pizza Cafe in Colleyville. We hadn't been since that visit, but recently wandered in for an individual pie, while the wife went for one of their salads. And the results? Even better than we remembered! Plus it's BYOB, and they provide the glasses (remember it's counter service, so not a given). Mrs. RJG and I decided that we should stop by more often for a nice weekday dinner, and maybe sample one of their pasta dishes as well.

I'll stop here and publish Part 2 hopefully within a week, if not sooner.

Coal Vines on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 14, 2010

*** CLOSED *** Billadelphia's ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

We've written about Billadelphia's before, and their flagship Bedford location. And that will remain our main article about the restaurant.

However, since I recently posted a sandwich update, I didn't want to wait too long to spread the news and wanted to update everyone on their new location in North Richland Hills. They took over the Paradise Cafe (and before that a Golden Chick franchise) that sits in a Shell station at Holiday and Midcities Blvd (just west of Davis). I've been recently and it's delicious and comfortable. Some gas station restaurants do not separate space well, but this one does. It still prominently displays the Paradise Cafe sign (even the store receipt says it), but don't let that fool you. It's a Billadelphia's through and through. This is good news for the RJG, as it's closer than the Bedford locale and easier to get to for a quick lunch from my home office.

There are not too many places in DFW where you can get the real deal when it comes to cheesesteaks. Bill imports everything from Philly including the bread, meats, Tastykakes, Herr's Chips, and Birch Beer (similar to Root Beer).

I'm definitely back in Bill's corner. This was a wonderful surprise and an excellent experience all around.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

*** CLOSED *** Tirelli's Deli ~ Keller, Texas

Tirelli's is looking more and more like a place you'd see in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York. The windows are covered with blaring specials of sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, etc... In Long Island, South Philly or any Chicago burb, many of these type of restaurants were originally fully operating delicatessen's and butcher shops. Some of them still are. So they would plaster on the window their specials of rump roast or dry salami for x$ a pound. Sometimes with white shoe polish. Somehow Tirelli's has managed to create that same feel here in a modern Texas suburb.

Once inside, the place transforms to the more familiar sites of flat screen TVs and a welcome dining area. You order at the counter - and you'll notice right away that there's a dizzying array of items to choose from. You may want to familiarize yourself with the menu before heading over. All I've had to date is their Philly Cheese and Hot Pastrami on Rye Panini (though it seems more like Texas toast?). Both have been good, but not exceptional. But I have no intention of stopping there. They may have great pizzas and Italian food. And I'm certain I'll enjoy one of their Italian heroes. So I'll keep after it. Oh - be sure to pick up a bag of Dirty's Chips if you take the chips and a drink option. These are some of the best potato chips I've ever had. You can read more about them here. I really enjoyed the Mesquite BBQ chips.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

*** CLOSED *** Gerhard's ~ Roanoke, Texas ; Denton, Texas

For regular readers of the RJG, and given my light posting, I cannot imagine there's too many of those - you might remember my thoughts on the lack of German food in the DFW area. I truly feel it's a somewhat ignored regional food tradition. Here's more info on my feelings around this.

So now us folks in NE Tarrant can crow about our own German restaurant. Well, OK, technically not NE Tarrant, but we'll adopt Roanoke for the cause.

Gerhard's is a brand new restaurant in what is shaping up to be a very cool "old town" Roanoke. Thanks to the success of Babe's and the Classic Cafe, many flock to the quaint old one-horse train stop that has now become a desirable suburb of the vast DFW area. They're still in the process of recreating the town that never was, and doing a darn good simulation of such. The Dallas burger institution Twisted Root has been an early adopter (and we went on New Year's Day - it's excellent - and will report eventually on it). And so now is Gerhard's, who has moved into one of the new buildings with an older looking exterior. The interior is exactly what I'd expect a new place in Hamburg to look like - light textured woods, open spacing, sleek contemporary dining arrangements, and a bar option with a flat paneled television screen no doubt showing European soccer when they have a chance. So, sure, it's not an old musty beer cellar. You can't create a place like that - it must evolve as such.

The Mrs. and I split a couple of plates. She kind of went "man diet" probably to please me, and you can't have a better wife than that. So a plate of Wiener Schnitzel and a trio sausages arrived with sweet corn, fries, potato salad, and a large soft chewy pretzel. The Wiener Schnitzel is excellent. A perfectly seasoned fried pork cutlet spread across the plate. They cook it the German way, without dumping some gross sweet sauce all over it. The three sausages are 1 bratwurst (yum), 3 frankfurters (yummer) and 2 N├╝rnberger Rostbratwursts (yummest). The sweet corn is superb, as were the potato salad and fries (simple thin ones, just as in Germany).

Wash that down with a couple Warsteiner Dunkel's in a frozen mug, and we have a winner here folks.

With a menu that has other mouth watering temptations such as Cordon Bleu, Bratwurst Sliders, Fried Bologna sandwiches (hard to find outside of the Midwest regions of America), Roanoke Schnitzel (chicken schnitzel), and Goulash - I sense this is a place we'll be going to for a long time.
If German food is your thing, or if you've just never thought to try it, now is the time. I'm really rooting hard for Gerhard's, as I think the possibilities are endless here.

Give it a try and let us know what you think.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Chimy's Cerveceria ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Since the RJG cannot seem to get out of his rut of not posting, we are glad to announce that we have our first guest post! Joe Thomas runs The Grapevine TX Online website. Thanks Joe for the contribution!

Originally based out of Lubbock Texas, Chimy's Cerveceria came to Fort Worth several years ago and has been serving up some of the strongest margarita's in town ever since. Their location is really just an alley behind a strip mall on the west side of Fort Worth. If this place doesn't look, smell, and feel like a Regular Joe's type place then nothing does.

It is probably easiest to start with the margarita's which happen to be
named after automobiles. You can get anything from the Cadillac (most popular) to the Porsche or Ferrari or many others. I upgraded to the Porsche and it did not disappoint. The Porsche was huge and even though I do not tend to think of myself as a lightweight I only needed one to do the trick.

The food was very basic tex-mex. Your choices range from nachos to quesadillas to "gut rockets" which are their version of chimichangas. I decided to go with the chicken fajita nachos which were enormous. You could easily feed two people here. At a $6.99 price point, the nachos tasted exactly like what you think you would get for $6.99 fajita nachos. But after finishing about half of my margarita, I enjoyed the nachos very much. Maybe this was because half my body was numb.

The wife tried one of the "gut rockets" being that she love chimichangas. She thought it was pretty good, but not great. Again at a price point of about 5 bucks, perhaps her expectations should have been tempered a bit.

Chimy's has a huge patio area with a bunch of large screen televisions for watching sports. They also tend to play good music especially if you are into the Texas country music scene.

For a Regular Joe's type place, Chimy's rates high in my book. You get margarita's that will knock your socks off and you get decent Mexican food that is very favorably priced. Go for the scene and margarita's.

About the author: While not filling himself with margarita's and nachos, Joe Thomas spends his time writing for his website about Grapevine, Texas.