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.