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.
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.