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