The Chains of … Freedom?

By yielding to that cruel mistress, a whole new world opened up.
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Posted May 21, 2008 by ANTHONY MARIANI in Eats

From the perspective of a foodie partial to ma-and-pa joints, my new North Fort Worth neighborhood didn’t look too promising.

I remember driving around house-hunting: nothing but waves of wholesome, welcoming neon signs bearing names that rang as familiar as any of my family members’. Bennigan’s Grill & Tavern, Boston’s Gourmet Pizza, Chili’s, Genghis Grill, Joe’s Crab Shack, Macaroni Grill, Saltgrass Steak House, Waffle House, Whataburger, Wing Stop, Zio’s Italian Kitchen, you name it – there they all were, and all within about a two-block radius, which is walking distance … if you’re Batman.

Otherwise, you’re taking your life in your hands trying to cross the 14 lanes of whirring traffic that slices and dices up my local biz district. Drive through or to, please. Have the chains led to the homogenization of suburbia all over the country? Of course. My part of I-35 looks like several parts of I-45 in Houston that look like several parts of Loop 820 that look like every half mile of the Garden State Parkway in Joisey. But don’t let the chains’ tragic flaws overshadow their goodness – that would be masochistic. After hours, a chain is sometimes your last option, and as anyone who’s gone drinking with me knows, my burning passion for Whataburger or J-in-the-B, baby! (that would be Jack in the Box) knows no bounds.

Also, and maybe I’m making a stretch here, but hitting the chains – Whataburger, J-in-the-B, baby!, Zio’s, whatever – can introduce you to the local ma-and-pa’s, especially if you’re new to the area, as my wife and I were to North Fort Worth about a year ago. On the way to and from Boston’s or Chili’s, we also drove past a lot of ma-and-pa joints. We made note of them, and now we dine almost exclusively with them (unless someone from out of town gives us a gift certificate, which happens more often than you’d think or we’d like).

For delivery, we’ve boiled, or perhaps more precisely, deep-fried our options down to the two basic food groups: pizza and Chinese. One’s a ma-and-pa; the other, a chain. For pizza, we call on Buffalo Nic’s. For Chinese, a Hong Kong Express franchise on Blue Mound Road, and the joint hasn’t let me down in either the size or quality department: so spicy, so perfectly cooked, so greasy and decadent, and so much.

One of the best things Buffalo Nic’s pie has going for it is its crust. Not very doughy but not (gag!) cracker- or nacho-like either, the stuff is sturdy enough to support three toppings without doing a nosedive and depositing a morsel or more on the ground or, worse, your favorite pearl-snap shirt. Even better, though, is the crust’s flavor: slightly sweet, almost like a confectioner’s bread but not exactly sugary. My three favorite toppings – green peppers, mushrooms, and spicy sausage – have always arrived perfectly cooked and fresh, and the sauce is zesty. My lone complaint: Hey, Nic. Where’s-a da cheese-a?! Two teaspoons isn’t gonna work on a small pie, paisan, let alone a medium.

Yes, it’s true. I can eat an entire medium from Buffalo Nic’s. By myself. In one sitting. And that’s the thing. Buffalo Nic’s is light. Back in my hometown of Pittsburgh, a single slice of Sicilian-style pie from Aiello’s, Angelo’s, Napoli’s, or Pizza Italia will last you three days. But a medium from Buffalo Nic’s: I bet my 13-year-old nephew could polish one off in a single sitting – and he’s only half-Italian! Frankly, I don’t see how Nic’s does it: deliver (and always on time, mind you) full flavor and seem somewhat healthful. Matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say that eating an entire medium pizza from Buffalo Nic’s is like jogging a few laps. And my wife wonders why I wear baggy sweat clothes all the time. “I’m just *chomp* working out *chomp* dear!”

For pick-up orders or sit-down dining, we can expand our indie possibilities as far as three or four kinds of cuisine, led by some inimitable Thai food. We happen to live by one of the best-kept secrets in the Fort, Thaya Café Thai Restaurant. Here, the “hot” is honestly hot!, though as with the best Thai restaurants, the heat here never detracts from the sublime gustatory colors on display. The portions are generous, and the menu is about as thick as a small-town phonebook. Fantastically enough, Thaya is in the same strip mall as Big Joe’s Pizza & Pasta. As Weekly writer and former New Yawker Peter Gorman said in his review of Joe’s about four years ago, “Big Joe’s excellent pizza is as close to East Coast style as you’ll find in Cowtown.” And his words still stand.

Lastly, I was thrilled to discover that my wife and I live across I-35 from not only a great bar but also a great restaurant, Dublin Square. Zeke’s Fish and Chips may have the last word on the English staple in the longtime Camp Bowie eatery’s name. But Dublin Square ain’t no joke: lightly breaded and tenderly crispy fillets of tilapia, served with tasty fries and vinegary but creamy tartar sauce. Dublin Square isn’t part of a chain, though it’s often, for whatever reason, been confused for one. But here’s the only real question: Is it good food in a nice place? Yes, indeedy.

Big Joe’s Pizza & Pasta
5111 N Beach St, Ste 100, FW. 866-883-0825

Buffalo Nic’s Pizza
1601 Independence Rd, Blue Mound, FW. 817-232-2244

Dublin Square
6651 Fossil Bluff Dr, FW.
817-306-7312

Hong-Kong Express
900 N Blue Mound Rd, FW.
817-232-0966.

Thaya Café Thai Restaurant
5111 N Beach St, FW.
817-222-0884


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