Showing posts with label Italian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian. Show all posts

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rocky's Corner, Italian, Chicago Pizza, Hot Springs-AR

(excellent photo courtesy of Robby Virus)

I've really been slammed at work in the last few weeks. I have so many things I want to cover here in the RJG - plus more on our vacation trip to Northern California, as well as my working week in Santa Fe. Not to mention the ever continuing reviews of our favorite Denver restaurants. And there's plenty of new places here in Northeast Tarrant we need to try. To be honest, I don't see a break in my schedule for at least another month. But I'll hold out hope that the 70 hour weeks will subside again.

In the meantime, let's continue to wrap up on Mr. Music's Hot Springs journey. Here's his next submission:

Our friend, Chef Girl said her kids would really like some simple, Italian pasta. The waitress who tables for an excellent restaurant called Rolando’s, told us she really liked Angel’s In The Park for Italian food. We looked it up online and saw it received decent reviews, but with 4 kids under 10 with us, we were not really up for a $$$ restaurant that only got decent reviews. We decided to surf up some other Italian restaurants. We saw that Rocky’s Corner had hundreds of visits and the highest ranking for Italian food in the area at multiple sites. Best of all, it was a very small hole-in-the-wall with $ - all the right ingredients for a great Italian place! They specialize in Chicago style pizza and Chicago beef sandwiches! Wooohooo! Several reviews had indicated that the chicken parmesan sub was the dish to get, so Mrs. Music said she’d have that. Just as ChefGirl and I were saying we’d have the same, the waitress said they have not had that on the menu for a long time. I kept eyeing the Chicago beef, but it just wasn’t calling my name. We ended up getting a couple pizzas, pasta with meatballs, and BeerBoy got some Fettuccine Alfredo. The pizza was not anything like any Chicago pizza I’ve ever seen. It was a thin, crispy crust on the bottom and fatter crust around the edges. The crust was brushed with garlic oil which was nice, but aside from that the toppings were very sparse. The sauce was decent but overall the pizza was just OK. It would rank it higher than Pizza Hut or Pizza Inn, but not by much. The pasta dishes were pretty good, but nothing special. BeerBoy said his Alfredo sauce was a little plain. Our waitress was nice and did a fine job, but I don’t think we’ll be back.

Rockys Corner on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Niki's Italian Bistro, Italian, North Richland Hills-TX

Last visit: November 2013

Rating: Buy

We've spoken of Niki's before on the RJG, but there have been some changes since our last update. For one, it appears our loving duo of Northeast Tarrant County Niki's Italian Bistro's are no longer together (aww). The website, and the menu, are very clear in stating that the NRH Niki's is no longer associated with the one in Keller. And the other big change is they have moved across Davis to a beautiful new Tuscan structure that they painstakingly built for well over a year. The strip center location that Niki's had been in, for God knows how many years, needed an update badly. The place was, quite frankly, miserable. So rather than gut the 80's style strip mall, they purchased the Catfish Tucker's Haven across the street. And subsequently bulldozed it (I'm sure it was in worse shape than the original Niki's! One can only imagine all the fried fish - and cigarette smoke - pew). And proceeded to build a very large Medieval Italian styled building. Bravo! The interior is relatively modest, and that's fine with the RJG. No need to go opulent - especially for what is in effect neighborhood Italian food. BTW, the day we went, the parking lot was packed, and yet there was still plenty of open tables. I think it will be a rare night when Niki's will have standing room only crowds.

What hasn't changed is the type of Italian food Niki's serve - which is very typical of most of the Italian restaurants in Northeast Tarrant. I've carried on about it many times before, and won't repeat myself here. Just click on the Italian label, or just read the original Niki's review, and you'll figure out what I mean. Now we had bad luck at the old NRH location, and noticed the Keller one was much better (which I suspect may have been behind the divorce). But on our one visit to the new location, everything was fine - and in wonderful surroundings to boot. They still have a full bar, with more selections than before.

Being the cheapies (and lushes) that the RJG happens to be, Niki's is usually an alternative option to the just-as-good-and-similar Italian places around that allow BYOB (Tony's, Cafe Sicilia, Joe's, Italian Bistro, etc...). But if we had guests in town, and didn't want to go overboard at Patrizio's or Brio, but wanted good, solid Italian fare, then Niki's is the perfect spot to take them.

Niki's Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Prego Pasta House, Italian, Dallas-TX

Last visit: July 2013

Rating: Strong Buy

The RJG goes from our favorite Denver Italian restaurant, to our second favorite Dallas area Italian restaurant. As many of you all know, Pietro's is our favorite Italian in DFW, and remains the RJG's all-time favorite restaurant. But for close to 30 years, Prego has been right there behind them, providing hearty competition. And like Pietro's, we're infrequent visitors to Dallas anymore, so it's a rare treat indeed when we do dine here. We may have been only a couple of times since I started this blog, so this week's visit gave us the opportunity to finally blog about it. One major difference between Pietro's and Prego, is that the latter is open for lunch. And it's just that opening that allows me to choose Prego when in the area at that time. Mrs. RJG and I were in Dallas for an emergency weekday errand, and we had a bit of downtime right around lunch. Of course we first had to visit Northpark (guess who was behind that decision?) - and then I took control of lunch. 5 minutes later we're at Prego.

According to Prego's website, the restaurant has been open since 1982 (with a building owned by the family since 1951). And that's roughly two years before we started frequenting. I was in college at Texas Tech then, which tells me that we must've first dine there while home for the summer. If truth be told, both my parents liked Prego probably more than any restaurant - including my beloved Pietro's. For a number of years, they had a new location up in Far North Dallas (Tollway and Trinity Mills) that just happened to be pretty close to where I had an office in 2003 and 2004. They had great lunch specials, and I tried to go at least once a month, if not more. Unfortunately that location closed a few years ago. But the original is where most of my dining memories of Prego occurred. It's a single room restaurant, that can get very loud when crowded (which it often is - particularly for dinner). It's hard to imagine today, but Prego, like every restaurant of the time, allowed smoking. And my Old Man made sure everyone got cigarette smoke with their dinner. Not every law the government passes is a turkey. They got that one right! As an aside, valet parking is compulsory (it's free - but with tip of course). I noticed on this visit, they tore down the building next door. Maybe they can finally get their own parking spaces?

So what's so great about Prego? Old school Italian. Done perfectly - every time. If you like a thick and smooth red sauce, with the perfect blend of seasonings, then you'll love Prego. They make their own Italian sausage. Their salad is basic but delicious (a vinaigrette with garlic and onion tops, an olive and hot pepper). Pasta is always al dente. Meat sauce is made from their homemade meatballs. Their pizza will remind you of Campisi's. I'm not a heavy cream sauce guy, but I'll bet their Alfredo is delicious. Italian food doesn't have to be fancy to be good. It's amazing to me how very few really good Italian restaurants there are. Most of the simple restaurants use too much sauce, or can't even cook pasta right. The elaborate ones are so focused on decoration and off-the-wall recipes, they can't get even put together a decent salad. Prego reminds me of everything I like about old school Italian. It's a can't miss proposition. Prego, as mention earlier, is usually very crowded for dinner. And who eats there? Lots of squeaky clean, good looking families from nearby University Park. Regular folks, but regular folks who have way more money to blow than the rest of us. And know a good value when they experience it. As for the RJG - I've been going for 30 years now, and I still look forward to dining here. If any of the above sounds appealing, then Prego is a must.


Prego Pasta House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mama Louise, Italian, Aurora-CO

Last visit: May 2013

Rating: Strong Buy

Continuing with our favorite Denver area restaurants, here is our go-to Italian place. We first started going to Mama Louise not long after they opened in the DTC (Arapahoe and Dayton) around 1998 or so. (Prior to that there was a burrito place - I believe it was called "Jalapeno's" that we had eaten at a couple of times). After about a year of infrequently visiting, Mrs. RJG and I became regulars. Rarely would a week go by where we wouldn't venture up from Parker for a dinner. Usually on Friday night. Even on snow nights, we would go. Not long after we relocated back to DFW, owner Kent moved his establishment east to the Piney Creek area of Aurora. I can remember going to the original DTC location as recent as 2004 on a visit, so this must have happened shortly thereafter. The new location is a wonderfully decorated restaurant. Kent has been there since day one, and he's always pleasant and glad to see you. For years, his Mom would be by his side ensuring all was running smoothly. Apparently she had knee surgery not long ago, and is now traveling the world. So you won't see her anymore! :-) The family originally had a restaurant in Highland as far back as 1978 (I can't remember the name - but I don't think it was Mama Louise) and closed down. Kent is the son of the founder and restarted the tradition in 1997/8, as stated above.

I can only use the term "best" or "favorite" in relation to the places I've frequented. But what makes it so special for the RJG? Because they have the best chicken parm I've ever had. Anywhere. In the world. I like my parm crispy, and that's what you get at Mama Louise, along with an incredible seasoning mixture unlike anything I've ever had. Make sure you ask for Louise Sauce with your pasta. It's a spicy concoction made up of spicy Italian sausage, ground beef, and tomato sauce. It's extremely flavorful and comes with a nice kick. Each meal starts with a minestrone soup, which I quite like, though it's not a traditional recipe (it's more like a noodle soup with celery). This is followed by a cold iceberg lettuce salad, that is pleasantly simple with an excellent homemade Italian dressing. And they have fine desserts as well. And a decent wine list. This is also Mrs. RJG's favorite, and in a rare case of solidarity when it comes to food selection, she also loves the chicken parm. Excellent all around.

Like El Tepehuan, Mama Louise is a place I want to go every time I set foot in Denver. It's not always possible to eat at all our favorites each time, but Mama Louise rarely gets skipped.

Mama Louise Italian on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Tony's Pizza and Pasta, Italian, Pizza, Watauga-TX

(thanks to Urbanspoon for the photo)

Last visit: July 2013

Rating: Buy

Tony's is very similar to most of the $ and $$ Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant, and you can read some samples of that here and here. All the same, unlike many of the Italian restaurants in this category that have closed recently, Tony's continues to be very popular (witness the 91% rating on 239 votes as I write this). Their to-go pizza side of the house is doing a land office business, as dozens of folks come in for pickups, and no doubt just as many are going out for delivery. Meanwhile, their dining area is comfortable though hardly romantic. You don't go to Tony's for date night. You go there for reliably good food, usually with a mixture of typical suburban neighborhood folks - older and younger complete with whole broods in tow. We've been going, albeit infrequently, since about 2004 or so. In fact, it looks like it's been a full 4 years since we last visited. That's going to change.

Mrs. RJG has taken a shine to their Primavera, an excellent white wine sauce similar to an Alfredo but loaded with fresh vegetables. I like their chicken parm, of course it's not crispy enough for me (it rarely is), but you do get a big slab of pounded white meat chicken with a nice seasoning. And the pasta is al dente with an excellent fresh tomato sauce. As can be expected from a pizza joint, their baked dishes are a cut above as well. Typical salad accompanies most meals, as well as hot baked bread, that is delicious. Oh, and it's BYOB as per protocol, thus adding to the savings for us winos.

Now that our local Oggi Italia Cafe is six feet under, perhaps Tony's will be our standby for basic neighborhood Italian. It's not the closest, but it may be the most comfortable...


Tony's Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Campisi's, Italian, Dallas-TX

Last visit: March 2013

Rating: Buy

Other locations: Dallas (4), Plano, Frisco, Rockwall, Ft. Worth

Continuing on with our annual meeting, Campisi's was selected as our next lunch. The Garland Troublemaker (TGT) and I consider Campisi's the perfect local institution to take out of towner's, but in a casual QSR type setting. Thus not ideal for clients and vendors, but perfect for internal lunch meetings. Ideally we'd be able to dine at the original Egyptian, but of course the distance isn't practical. But their other 8 outlet shops are ideal for a quick lunch. And, I should highlight, at a great price.

I'd actually covered Campisi's before in this blog, way back in the summer of 2008. It was the downtown location, and I had just met a former co-worker there. But inexplicably I never linked it to Urbanspoon. As such, I'm going to wipe the record clean, and start fresh here. And for my most astute observers, you may recall we took our new employee SoCalGal here at the Richardson/Far North Dallas location for a lunch last year.

For any old timer from Dallas, Campisi's Egyptian is an institution. Prior to the 1970s, the Campisi's on Mockingbird (still there) was one of only a handful of places in town to get EYE-talian food. According to Mr. RJG's Mom, her and Dad made a beeline there immediately upon moving to the Dallas area in 1967, being the recent transplants from the New York City area that they were. Apparently it was a thumbs down affair, and they vowed to never return (I was all of 2, so of course have no recollection of the event). To this day, the RJG has never stepped foot into the original Egyptian (not because the parents wouldn't go, but because I keep wandering a bit further south to Pietro's when I'm already that close to Lower Greenville). And the irony here is that if I was traveling from out of town, it is highly likely this would be my first Italian experience in the DFW area (the old institutions are an RJG magnet).

Fast forward to sometime in the early 1990s and Campisi's was just beginning to expand, with a more casual / quick service format. I had music friends up in Planet Plano, and they decided we should dine at Campisi's one evening. One taste of their salad and pasta entry - and I realized I missed a lot growing up. Delicious. It's completely old school red sauce Italian. Yuppies, or those into authentic Italian, can check their noses at the door. Real deal here folks: New York styled American Italian.

As mentioned in the prelude, we introduced SoCalGal to Campisi's last year. Her mother is Italian, and she said that she's always on the lookout for a great homemade meatball when she dines out. She's the same age as the RJG, so she's a bit of an old schooler herself. After one bite, she said the meatballs were awesome, just like she remembered from her youth and immediately earned her seal of approval.

And with this visit, everyone had a fantastic experience. I stayed traditional and went with the spaghetti and meatball with a side salad. TGT had a meat pizza that he devoured faster than anyone you know (for context, he's the size of an NFL offensive lineman). The Boss (who's basically been my supervisor for the last 6 years) went with the Bolognese. Even though he lives in Phoenix now, he grew up in Washington DC proper - and stated that Bolognese was his favorite dish as a kid. Huge thumbs up from him. We had one gentleman with us who resides in St. Louis, and those in the know will recognize that St. Louis has some of the best Italian restaurants in the country (especially on The Hill, from which the RJG has had many memorable meals). All in all, we couldn't have picked a better choice.

Unfortunately for us denizens of NE Tarrant, Campisi's, despite having some 9 locations, have traditionally eschewed anything this side of DFW airport. However, they have finally broke down and opened a Ft. Worth location. So perhaps Northeast Tarrant is in the cards soon?

And that concludes this annual meeting as far as new entries go. For dinner that night, we went to Casa Milagro, which continues to be the RJG's favorite Mexican restaurant in DFW. And for lunch next day, we went to The Boss' favorite hangout: Love and War in Texas. This was followed by 24 hours of exercising straight through....


Campisi's on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 15, 2013

Orlando's, Italian, Lubbock-TX

Last visit: February 2013 (70th and Indiana)

Rating: Buy

Other location: 24th and Q

Continuing on with our weekend getaway to Lubbock... (see last two posts for context).

Orlando's was the only Italian restaurant in Lubbock when I was a student at Tech in the 1980s. And to be honest, my recollection wasn't a very positive one. So it may seem odd that this was our final meal on this visit to Lubbock. We hadn't originally planned to go here, but after visiting another Mexican place that didn't look very alluring (in fact, it was fast food rather than a sit down restaurant), we both shifted gears and decided Italian sounded really good. Not only had I remembered Orlando's from my past, but I did recall recently reading some very positive reviews on Urbanspoon. They've been around since 1965, so they must be doing something right! I probably only went to Orlando's 3 times in my 4 1/2 year stint at Tech. We had always gone to the 24th and Q location, but I believe the south location existed back then too. In any case, we were closer to the Indiana store, and so we decided to give that location a shot. This would be my first visit to Orlando's in literally 26 years.

What's clear is that Orlando's has gone all-in for the "traditional Italian" experience: Red checkered table cloths, mafia/family references galore ("Mafia Queso"). In the 80s, there were no chain Italian spots in Lubbock, as there is now, such as Olive Garden, Carino's, or even Fazoli's. Competition has been good to Orlando's, and it's made them improve their game. In reading the history of Orlando's from their website, it appears I caught them right after their health-food stage. Which now explains to me, after all this time, why they did abhorrent things (as I see it anyway) like put bell peppers in their marinara sauce. They don't do that now (maybe green chile...). In fact, I loved their bolognese, which I had on my spaghetti (cooked al dente) that supplemented my Chicken Parm. The latter was crispy on the edges, and slathered in gooey cheese. I also liked that it came in its own tin tray to keep it searing hot. Really delicious. Mrs. RJG had "Spaghetti Alfredo" (she's not a fan of the Fettuccine noodle) with a side of mixed vegetables. She just lapped it up. Great sauce, hot and fresh vegetables, and al dente pasta. As you know, we are pretty particular when it comes to our pasta being cooked just right - and it was! We each started with a dinner salad, that featured cold crisp greens and an excellent homemade Italian. Garlic bread also accompanied the meal, but we never can eat much of that - though it was very good. We also enjoyed a liter of their cheap house chianti. Cheap in every way, but we enjoyed it anyway! We also experienced exceptional service. I'm generally happy with the waiters and waitresses we get at any place, but on this visit they were way above standard I felt.

If Orlando's was this good in 1986, I probably would've begged my Dad to send me an "Orlando's budget" so I could eat better than I was. But alas it wasn't the case. There are many things I'd love to try on the menu. They have carved out a niche that they refer to as "Tex Italian" - with such interesting looking items as Green Chile Chicken Linguine, and Down and Dirty Tortellini (with a habanero sauce!). YUM. They also make their own meatballs, and I want to try their sausage. Next time we're in Lubbock, rest assured Orlando's will be one of the meals!


Orlando's Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Genti's, Italian, Corinth-TX

Last visit: April 2012 (for Mr. RJG) For Mr. Music: Feb 2013

Other location: Ponder

We are again fortunate to have a Mr. Music review today. Some of you may recall that I put up a quick blurb about Genti's this past summer, after visiting Mr. Music up in Denton. I went ahead and removed that since we have a much better review now for the restaurant. Take it away Mr. Music!

"Genti’s Italian restaurant is a family owned placed in Corinth. Mrs. Music’s mom and step-dad live near there and since we are in Denton, we meet them there pretty regularly. It is one of my favorite restaurants in the area. There are several things to love about Genti’s aside from the food: 1) They are BYOB and there is an Albertson’s right next door as well as a couple of liquor stores across the highway in case you didn't bring your own hooch. 2) It is a cozy little place where the staff and family are very friendly. 3) It is very kid friendly. 4) The prices are very reasonable and 5) They have one large screen TV in back by the bar (that doesn’t serve alcohol) for sporting events!

What I will say about Genti’s is that this is not a completely unique place. As Mr. RJG pointed out to me, there are other small Italian spots that have very similar menus and may even have similar recipes. Genti’s is one of the best I’ve been to though, and they have a few items they do particularly well. Last time I was there, Mrs. Music and I wrangled up Music Junior and Baby Music and headed over to spend some time with my in-laws. I ordered the special, which is now available all the time and has become my favorite dish there: The Chicken Sorrentino. This is a huge dish that is made up of a eggplant parmesan stacked on top of a chicken breast and spinach, smothered with mushrooms in a pink sauce on angel hair! What a great combination of flavors and it tastes great! The entree comes with a dinner salad which is simple, but just how I like it. A bowl of fresh, dark green lettuce with some tomato slices and a little veggie garnish. I love their house dressing which is a red wine vinegar base with tomatoes, onion, herbs, spices and oil. They serve the dish with nice hot rolls that look a bit like small loaves of bread! Mrs. Music had the eggplant parmesan and loves it. I also tried it and it's great! We get the pizza somewhat regularly and it is excellent as well. It's pretty typical Italian style pizza, but that is a great thing, right? However, I don’t want anyone to get the impression it is like Grimaldi’s, Il Cane Rosso or even Campisi’s. My other favorite dish there is the Chicken Murphy, made up of pounded-out and sautéed chicken breast in sherry wine sauce with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, onion, and cherry peppers over a pasta of your choice. And it has a little kick! Baby Music and Music Junior just love the meatballs and get them with a simple marinara over angel hair. We’ve tried several other dishes and have always been pleased. When we are there, the family always comes by and we chat. There are two or three wait people that I don’t think are family members, but we get wonderful service from them too. Once again I will say that this place isn’t some ground breaking or mind boggling place -  just a great, relaxing time with solid and consistent food. Oh, and I can say consistent with conviction - I have been there dozens of times over the past 6 or 7 years. We go at least twice a month! They have another location in Ponder that we have not tried."


Genti's Pizza and Pasta on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Patrizio Osteria, Italian, Southlake-TX

Last visit: June 2013

Rating: Buy

Other locations: Highland Park, Fort Worth, Highland Village, Fairview, Plano

OK, where were we? I thought I was going to have a slow week at work, but I should have known better. Now I think it's going to slow down. So let's get back to that RJG Restaurant Week, shall we?

In my European backpacking days 20+ years ago, I quickly learned that Osteria is Italian for "beyond my budget". I find it interesting to read that the term obviously has evolved, since technically it should be just the opposite: A small place with locally grown ingredients carefully cooked to order. And apparently Highland Park based Patrizio agrees with my personal assessment. In fact, this place could be called Patrizio's Ostentation.

For anyone who commutes up and down 114 in these parts of NE Tarrant, you no doubt saw the palatial villa going up near the Southlake Town Square. There was a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding its opening, and the restaurant frequently suffers from long waiting times. This makes for a lot of hungry, and potentially grumpy, diners-in-waiting, which may explain some of the bad mouthing the place has already had bestowed upon it. But the RJG is smart (on rare occasion that is). We don't go at 7:00 on a Friday night without a reservation. We go at 11:00 in the morning on a Monday. When we arrived, we had the place to ourselves. When we left over an hour later, a line was beginning to develop. Ah, the sweet joys of planning.

Of course, the other aspect of the critique comes naturally to a place that charges a lot of money, and sits in such glorious surroundings. It's easy pickins'. And the RJG concurs with this philosophy as well. I want a restaurant to put their money into the food, not the ambiance. I'll go to a fancy hotel lobby for that, and pretend I'm staying there. And drink their free coffee. While it's tempting to diss places like Patrizio, one must ignore all the window dressing and focus on the main reason we're all here (or the main reason we all should be here): The food. And it is on this latter point, Patrizio delivers a high quality product.

We've spoken at length about the dearth of original Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant. Which is not the same thing as saying a lack of Italian restaurants. It's just that they're all about the same. They have roots in the Balkan countries, and they use a similar cookbook. I wouldn't call these places a chain per se, because they have a great amount of latitude - especially around their nightly specials. And this is not a complaint - they do a fine job at traditional Italian cooking. But it gets boring when one is looking for perhaps some original recipes, especially around the basics. There are exceptions of course, places that we've blogged about already, like Oliva and Italianni's. And then there's the chains like Macaroni Grill and Brio. Now we've never spoken about the Ohio based Brio before, but we have been a couple of times (once in Southlake, once in Denver), and I have to admit they are quite good at what they do. Patrizio Osteria is a local response to Brio - and perhaps not surprisingly the location of our local Brio sits in the Southlake Town Square - literally a hop, skip and a jump away from our featured restaurant today.

One of the RJG's rules about fancy restaurants is that if you can't cook the basics, why should I trust you with something more intricate? If a restaurant can't make a decent red sauce, or a good salad dressing, or bolognese - then I'm not going to bother to dig further. We started with an Italian sausage appetizer, since they stated they make their own (good sign). And sure enough, an absolutely delicious sausage was delivered, with the right texture and bold flavor that we prefer (though not overly spicy, but that's to be expected). The salads were excellent, with crisp field greens and an excellent vinaigrette. Mrs. RJG settled on the Conchiglie con Spinachi which is shell pasta with bacon and spinach in a creamy cheese like sauce. She loved it. I had to go with test dish #1: Chicken Parm. With a side of angel hair. Now angel hair is tricky - and in the hands of mere amateurs will almost always come out mushy. Nope, it was al dente. Bravo! The red sauce is very much a tomatoey taste. I think I would have preferred something a bit more hearty but it was still great. The chicken parm was crispy with high quality white meat chicken breast (oh how I tire of those super thin chicken parms with a mushy bread coating). So they scored big on the basics!

Their beer selection was a bit disappointing, though I admit to preferring red wine with Italian food. Didn't matter too much, because on this visit we stuck with water (a rare sober moment I guess...)

I'm all in now, and cannot wait to try some other dishes. Of course, we'll need to plan that visit right?


Patrizio Osteria  on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 30, 2012

Saviano's, Italian, Euless-TX

I tend to forget about Saviano's when thinking of Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant. I had just mentioned a few days ago about restaurants that we frequent the most, and that we're struggling to settle on a great Italian joint in the area. I don't think Saviano's necessarily solves that dilemma, but they're definitely part of the equation. One potential reason we don't think of them is their location at the far southeastern edge of our primary coverage area. By being situated on Euless Main and 183, Saviano's is further for us than many places in Ft. Worth proper or Arlington even. No matter, as Saviano's has proven to be very popular with the locals and was again packed to the rafters on this particular evening. Incidentally, it was on our way here that we first discovered the Mexican Inn in Bedford had shut down.

Last visit: January 2012

First time listing

Other location: Ft. Worth (Sundance Square)

Saviano's has recently opened a second location in downtown Ft. Worth, that has also proven to be very popular. And why not really, as Saviano's is truly old school Italian, something that isn't as common in DFW as you might think. St. Louis, Chicago and Philadelphia we are not. And speaking of which, Saviano's originally came to DFW with a 20 year resume of cooking in Long Island, New York where food like this can be found on every corner - or so it seems.

All the meals come with garlic knots and salads. The latter is a simple mix of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, celery and a delicious red wine vinaigrette dressing. The garlic knots are very chewy, buttery, garlicky and subsequently very tasty. The dishes here have a focus on the southern Italian regions, but they also have a wide variety of other entrees to choose from including Cacciatore, Alfredo, Marsala, etc... I appreciate their baked dishes, as the meals come out in those heavy duty "blackened" dishes (I love those), with bubbling cheese holding down the sizzling red sauce (and their sauce is delicious). Bury a homemade meatball or sausage in there for extra enjoyment. On this visit, the ziti was a little overcooked, so that's a bozo no-no. I'll let it slide, as everything else was well executed. These places need to learn how to cook al dente pasta earlier in the day. We passed on dessert as is our custom.

Saviano's is not BYOB, so we bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for a little under $20.

We've been coming to Saviano's since about 2005 or so, but it's been a few years since we last visited. Since that time, they've made the place more welcoming with dimmer lights throughout, as well as adding a full bar with a large flat screen to enjoy some sports. Parking is hard to come by up front, so you may need to pull around to the back. Dinner is traditional dining and served by a wait staff. It used to be that lunch was counter service. It appears that might still be the case, but I'm not certain. On our last visit in 2008, it was. But that was a long time ago.

Have a hankering for some Old School Italian? Try Saviano's


Saviano's on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cafe Italia, Italian, Grapevine-TX

Last visit: December 2013 (Grapevine - Ira Woods location)

Rating: Buy

Other location: Grapevine (NW Hwy)

Cafe Italia is probably the epitome of the type of Italian food you're likely to run across in NE Tarrant. And one can argue that it may be the best of the Eastern European owned Italian eateries in the area. We've been going to Cafe Italia almost since we moved to the area in 2003, though not on any kind of regular basis. All the same, it's surprising that we're just now getting around to posting about it. In the early days, because of its popularity, there was usually a line out the door. So they further opened a second "overflow" location a few miles south near the Grapevine ISD football stadium. This overflow site eventually became a full-blown restaurant unto itself, and now they enjoy full crowds (with lines) at both locations - especially on weekend nights.

Cafe Italia is a hybrid of northern and southern Italian cooking with white, red, pink, and sherry wine sauces to choose from. They have some ambitious specials, so if you're looking for something beyond the tried and true, definitely consider a visit here. I've talked about other such Italian restaurants in the area previously, so not a whole lot of other things to discuss here. It's BYOB as is the (fortunate) norm, and the service is generally impeccable. Their pizzas look good but we haven't tried them. Both locations are well decorated, and offer a warm welcome. Cafe Italia can be a destination as a date restaurant or a good place to bring friends.

To the best of my knowledge, the Grapevine Cafe Italia's are not related to any other restaurant with that name in the DFW area.

Website (for Hwy 26 location) Though the menu is the same for both locations.

Cafe Italia on Urbanspoon

Cafe Italia on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 6, 2012

Oliva Italian Eatery, Italian, Ft. Worth-TX

I think I just heard someone yell "Well it's about time!". I know, I know - we're way late in writing about Oliva. Strange that we haven't discussed it before, only in that we've been a few times since they opened. But it was right at the time I stopped writing for the RJG. But we're back, and it's time to give Oliva their proper due.

Also please note the restaurant is technically in Ft. Worth. As you can see in the comments, someone felt very passionate about that - so I figured I should mention it.

Last visit: January 2012

You've heard the RJG grouse about the fact that almost all the Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant are the same. The antidote? Oliva. The menu is a mix of old school red sauce Italian and newer, more trendy options. Though the balance is definitely tilted towards the traditional. Oliva does the basics right like cooking the pasta al dente, while providing a good (not great) tomato based sauce. They also have a fantastic meatball, that Mrs. RJG really has a taste for. I had the chicken parm on my last visit, and the chicken was a little bit tough - the first real complaint I've had in multiple visits. So they're human - it happens. We're working our way through the menu, though we haven't attempted anything adventurous here yet. The house salad is of the "backyard" variety with a tasty vinaigrette and plenty of field greens, olives, tomatoes, etc... I need to try their Caesar. And the warm seasoned soft bread is most welcome. Despite the nice surroundings, and overall popularity of the restaurant, the prices here are very reasonable.

The owner of the restaurant has a long history in the business, and is also an accomplished sommelier. As such, she offers a variety of high quality wines at very good prices. I admire her willingness to not take an enormous profit on alcohol, as so many places tend to do. As well, they have a nice beer selection including at least two Texas micros on tap.

Is Oliva the best Italian food we've ever had? Oh no - not even close. Is it the best in NE Tarrant county? Probably. A little better than Italianni's for our money, which would be in second place I guess. Now while I said most of the restaurants are similar in the area, I will also add most are very good. We've written about many of them here: Cafe Sicilia, Oggi Italia, Niki's, Italian Bistro and a few others. It's not hard to find good Italian food in NE Tarrant. However, it has proven to be difficult to find great Italian food as I find in other parts of the country. But there's always Pietro's or Prego's in Dallas if I'm determined to have the best.

Oliva is justifiably very popular (#26 on Urbanspoon), so be aware of that on weekend nights. Given its setting in an all residential area, Oliva is nearly empty for lunch, so if you have any flexibility on your schedule, definitely try to go then.


Oliva Italian Eatery on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 9, 2011

Princi Italia, Italian, Dallas-TX (North)

First visit: December 2011

While browsing the main DFW page on Urbanspoon, a little blurb caught my eye from the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram: "Homemade Italian sausage". The RJG is always on the lookout for good, high quality, homemade Italian sausage, whether from a restaurant or a local grocer. Unfortunately for us folks on the Ft. Worth side of the house, almost all of the great Italian sausage to be found is in Dallas. And even though it was the Startlegram that brought it to my attention, sure enough the restaurant is in Dallas. Preston Royal to be exact.

I spent a lot of my youth in the Preston Royal area. Not that I grew up here (I wish!), but many times my folks and I would "head east" for a weekend dinner out. While still in high school in the early 1980s, there was a great Italian restaurant called Rodolfo's Colosseo that we frequented often (anyone remember it?). He later dropped the Colosseo moniker, and I can recall my last meal being after college sometime in 1988. I suspect he closed shortly thereafter (there's a sushi place there now). In any case, I had some business to attend to in Dallas and figured the Mrs. and I could try Princi Italia. This would be my first meal to enjoy in the area for some 23 years.

So let's talk about Princi Italia shall we? Nice decor. Very nice decor. Too nice decor. Once in, we saw a large table of middle aged, nicely dressed and well-to-do ladies. Clearly a place for ladies who lunch - and have a spare coin or two. We were stuck in the corner so as to not intrude (not really. Well maybe...). Time to order. I went for the Penne Arrabbiata which they describe as a "spicy tomato sauce, garlic parmesan, basil & chilies." And given the premise for our visit, I asked for a side of sausage. I was informed that it was crumbled, rather than in a tube, which was disappointing to hear, but yes, please mix it in. Mrs. RJG settled on the Tagliatelle Bolognese described as thus: "Classic bolognese sauce, reggiano parmesan, basil". Mine arrived first, due to a mixup in the kitchen (no problem) and my wife immediately blurted out "that's a child's portion!" 'Tis true I'm afraid. The RJG agrees with many that most restaurants serve too much food (though we just take home what we can't eat ourselves). And because we workout everyday, we tend to eat like truckers. But I still prefer a normal portion. This was dinky. How about the food? I thought it was quite good, though terms like spicy and chilies are ridiculous to even consider. Their spicy won't fire up even the most tame of taste buds. But it was a very good light red sauce with basil and the added ground pork sausage was much needed to fill me up a tad anyway. The sausage was indeed very good, but it's sort of cheating. Personally I wouldn't call this homemade Italian sausage. For a great example of what I mean, head over to Pietro's on Lower Greenville (search the RJG, and you can read my love letter there). When Mrs. RJG's food arrives, it was greeted with a frown. She was already bumming about the portion, but when the bolognese came out in a brown gravy sauce, that pretty much soured her for good. There's nothing traditional at all about it. We've spent many weeks in Italy over the last 20+ years, and we never saw anything like this. She just flat out didn't like it. I thought it was good myself. It wasn't a bolognese, but I did like the interpretation. Nice blend of flavors. As well, the pasta was slightly undercooked in places. Tagliatelle is a thin flat noodle (like fettucine but not wavy), and it can clump easily if not stirred properly.

So how to rate Princi then? At the time of this writing Princi has a whopping 4 votes on Urbanspoon and a poor 25% approval rating. One is positive. The other 3 are not. And we're in that latter camp I'm afraid. The problem here, at least for me, is quite simply value. I rarely consider that when rating or evaluating a place, because I have a very large +/- error ratio on that front. But this was a pretty outrageous example. Mine was $10+$3 and hers was $12. For a VERY small portion of food. Ridiculously so. It wasn't an appetizer. The tossed salad was an additional $6, which was about $3 too much (I didn't mention the salad, but we did both enjoy it, and it featured a nice light red wine vinagraitte). I also had a Birra Moretti. That plus tax and tip: $44. And we were still starving when we left.

So it's with mixed emotions, we give Princi a thumbs down. I really wanted to like it. But honestly it looks like another mercurial chef-driven place that will be out of business within the next year. I'm sorry to say :-(


Princi Italia  on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 28, 2011

Italianni's, Italian, Hurst-TX

We won't be going to a new restaurant today, so time to dip into the database for a place we last dined at a couple of months ago.

Last visit: September 2011

First time listing in the RJG

Italianni's started life as a chain concept from Carlson Restaurants (most known for TGI Fridays). Carlson no doubt wanted a piece of the Italian chain dollar and went head to head with Brinker's Romano's Macaroni Grill and Darden's very popular Olive Garden. But the market was already saturated, and they eventually decided to shut down the concept here in the US. The Hurst store however still had a loyal following, and was purchased locally, and has been run independently for close to 10 years now. Interesting to note that the chain is still operating in Mexico, Korea, Colombia and The Philippines - so there's been some discussion about Italianni's needing to change their name. Bud Kennedy on Eats Beat recently reported that was actually going to happen imminently. But on our last visit, they told me that wasn't a concern anymore - and so the name lives on.

Italianni's is one of the few Italian restaurants in the area not owned by families from the former Yugoslavia or Albania. As such, the recipes are all unique, and is in fact a chef driven place. We've tried a variety of dishes, primarily the southern/central Italian classics along the lines of chicken parm, angel hair bolognese, spaghetti and Italian sausage, farfalle rustica, etc... Excellent salad and bread starts the meal off right. And the wine and beer selection is quite robust, and I like that they typically feature one microbrew from Ft. Worth's own Rahr & Sons brewery. Probably the closest restaurant in terms of overall ambiance and menu choices would be I Fratelli in Las Colinas.

Italianni's is a place we go far too infrequently, and surprisingly I have yet to feature it on our blog. It's consistently good - and a great choice for lunch. We've gone probably once or twice a year for about the last 5 year or so. Not sure why that's been the case, but we have every intention of visiting Italianni's more in the future.


Italianni's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chef Point Cafe, American, Italian, Watauga-TX

First visit: November 2011

So here we sit in DFW's most highly rated restaurant (according to Urbanspoon). Chef Point Cafe has been featured by both Guy Fiori (DDD) and Paula Deen, as well as numerous DFW area foodie magazines, guides and blogs. The location itself couldn't be more unassuming - a new roadside gas station placed anonymously on a near empty suburban stretch of Watauga Rd. (aka Mid Cities Blvd). A wide expanse of Texas nothingness. A place even Hank Hill would consider dull. And there's no sign to let you know you've arrived. Only a delivery truck sits outside with the name Chef Point. It's an oft told story nowadays: The founders of Chef Point weren't able to secure a loan for a new restaurant, but they could get financing for a new gas station. So up goes a multi-pump / convenience store Conoco with the sole purpose of adding a chef driven restaurant inside. The American can-do spirit thrives once again! The decor could be most politely described as "industrial minimalist" with its bare gray cinder block walls encompassing the red & black interior. Honestly it feels like we're eating at a Firestone Auto Care store. Perhaps that's the point of it all - the surroundings themselves aren't what matters - it's solely about the food.

The menu is a strange bedfellow mix of Southern cooking, Cajun and Italian - along with traditional favorites like hamburgers, sandwiches and pizza. Some folks like their chef driven places to be plat du jour, but not the RJG. We prefer the menu, as this way if we do like a dish, we know we can get it over and over again. Mrs. RJG went for one of Fiori's choices - the Blackened Stuffed Chicken which they describe as "hand stuffed with pepper jack cheese & fresh crab meat, smothered in asiago sauce served over angel hair pasta. " The cheese sauce is sublime and the fillings recall some of New England's finest stuffed fish dishes. The cajun element only adds points to an already great idea.

I've seen many reviews that state Chef Point's fried chicken is the best they ever had. So I figured I'd go Italian and try their chicken parmesan, which would most likely have an excellent crispy breading. I was more than pleased when the round dish came out with a crispy chicken breast sandwiched between bubbling cheese on top and al dente angel hair on the bottom. A very good interpretation of a classic dish, and proved to me they could operate solely as an Italian restaurant if they had wished.

The portions were quite large, and we ended up taking at least half of each home for dinner that night. And the lunch price of my chicken parm was $9, so very competitive I think. I also had a glass of the house chardonnay, reasonably priced at $5.

Since we've only been once, and the menu is quite extensive, we cannot comment much beyond our one meal to date. But we look forward to multiple visits over time. And given its popularity, it appears Chef Point is going to be with us for a long while. They've already expanded the restaurant through the back of the gas station. On our weekday visit, we arrived before 11:30 and the main dining room was half full. It was entirely full when we left, but the new extension hadn't yet seen any diners.

Chef Point Cafe is an excellent place that deserves its recognition. Not surprisingly, a lot of naysayers are coming out of the woodwork to claim "it's not all that great... overrated, only clueless people think this good, bla bla bla". This resistance is to be expected when you're at the top. Like the impetus it took to get the restaurant off the ground, it's the American way.


Chef Point Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 5, 2011

La Scala, Italian, Westlake-TX

First visit: November 2011

The evening plan was to head towards Westlake and go to Diego's Tex-Mex, a place we first started going to earlier this year. But the bar scene there was definitely happenin', and you know what that means right? Cigarette smoke. Heavy. And it carried to the next door restaurant - and even though the bar is sequestered behind closed doors, it didn't matter. Now Mr. RJG grew up with that unfortunate smell from his parents, so I tend to ignore it, though even I admit it gets harder as the years go by. But Mrs. RJG would have none of it. Plans scrapped - now what? Well, I said, there's an Italian restaurant right around the corner by foot, so let's just go there. And here we are at La Scala.

La Scala is adjoined by a Joe's [Pizza][Pasta][Subs] fast food place. I put that in brackets because Joe's is a loose franchise (with various combination of the names provided) somewhat like Ray's in New York City (and famously sent up in a Seinfeld episode). So La Scala shares the same kitchen with Joe's, and despite the fancy surroundings of the restaurant, just know it's window dressing to the same place. As folks in DFW know, if you've been to one Joe's, you most certainly have not been to all the Joe's. I think they start out with a standard recipe book, but each franchiser can do what they want after that. There is no denying this is one of the many Albanian owned Italian restaurants in the area. At least they don't hide from that fact - their website is proud of it. And good for them, they should be. I'm not Italian either, but that shouldn't stop me from enjoying the food.

The meal started off with a delicious toasted bread roll, combined with a decently priced glass of house Cabernet (most NE Tarrant Italian restaurants offer BYOB, but not here in alcohol / business friendly Westlake). The salad was a fresh, crisp lettuce and tomatoes with the familiar tomato based vinaigrette - though this was definitely lighter and more pleasant than usual. I ordered the Penne Arrabiata with Italian sausage. It's amazing how many restaurants get this simple dish wrong. Arrabiata means angry, and it's meant to be a spicy marinara sauce. I've been to places that cook it with anchovies and all other sorts of ingredients that don't belong. I mention this because La Scala gets it exactly right. I only wish it was a bit more spicy, but I'm pretty hard to please in that category. The sausage was definitely not homemade, but I do like they served it sliced and spread throughout the dish. Mrs. RJG went with another test dish - chicken parmigiana. Unfortunately it wasn't very crispy, though the flavor was quite good. The side of spaghettini, however, was a disaster. It was overcooked and mushy! (my penne however was fine). That's a bozo no-no in the RJG world. They should have thrown it away and started with a new batch. I'm sure they had a pile sitting on the counter waiting for the hot water. But overcooked spaghetti is like serving a raw hamburger. Gross. Sooo... it was the only real misstep of the meal, so I'm cautiously giving it a "likes it" on Urbanspoon, but it's not a place that we plan on going to much in the future. Hopefully next time Diego's bar will be empty. But that's for another time in the RJG future...

If you're out of town on business and staying at the nearby Marriott, this is a good place to walk over to and enjoy a nice Italian meal.


La Scala Italian 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, March 28, 2010

Pietro's, Italian, Dallas-TX

Last visit: January 2014

Rating: Strong Buy 

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.

Seriously - just go.

Pietro's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Italian Bistro, Italian, Roanoke-TX

Last visit: February 2014 

Rating: Buy

February 2014 update: It looks like we skipped going to Italian Bistro all of 2013, and I haven't updated this since the original posting in 2009. Not sure why that happened, as Italian Bistro is certainly one of the better Italian restaurants in this area, though very similar the others in its culinary approach (the Cafe Italia and 90% comments below still hold). I think we need to make more of an effort to drive up north to Roanoke for Italian. It is very good. Other updates from the below: 1) I never did get a Knoxville/Asheville guide up, consistent with other "good intentions" postings that didn't come to fruition; 2) C&A Deli is long gone, and they moved south Keller and is now called Tirelli's Deli (and is also featured in this blog).

Original review 

More delays to the blog. Mrs. RJG and I just returned from the Great Smoky Mountains. With any luck at all, I'll put together a little restaurant guide from Knoxville, Asheville and points between. ED: Of course I didn't get to it :-( 

One Italian place the RJG hasn't written about, but is quite popular amongst many in NE Tarrant County is Cafe Italia in Grapevine (actually they have two locations in Grapevine). We've been to Italian Bistro in Roanoke twice now, and I could swear this is Cafe Italia's third location. Without having an opportunity to interview the owner, I would be willing to testify there's a connection or shared ownership involved here.

It's been awhile since we wandered up north to Denton County and their little SW outpost of Roanoke. We last mentioned the town in the C&A Italian Family Deli almost a year ago. For the wife and I, it feels like a trip out in the country, and even though the area is truly a bedroom community, Roanoke has gone to great lengths to make it seem like an old, small rural Texas town. Babe's and The Classic Cafe are its most famous daughters, but the other restaurants are well worth visiting too.

Like 90+% of the Italian restaurants in the area, Italian Bistro are Balkan owned and share many similarities with their restaurant brethren. Honestly there's not much about the food I can speak to that I haven't already covered here or here or here and a few others. So it's a matter of location / convenience basically. Even though Italian Bistro might not be the most original of Italian restaurants in our area, for what they do, they do it right. It's a pleasant restaurant, with good service, and consistently good (and hot) meals.

One other observation: On both our recent visits, we noticed at least two separate parties of women (all ages). Italian Bistro seems to be the restaurant of choice for girls-night-out! So ladies, you might want to consider it for your next restaurant venture. Besides, it's nice to get out into the country once in awhile.

You'll find Italian Bistro on Byron Nelson Blvd, east of US 377 (go through old town if coming from NE Tarrant and turn right at the end of the street).


Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon