Pin the Tail on Grumpy
Chow, Baby grew up with traditional pizza party birthdays, so I’ve always associated the doughy, gooey Italian dish with sleepovers, presents, and all-around good times. Now that I’m an adult, pizza is something that Chow, Baby’s bosses use to disguise meetings as parties. And pizza isn’t the flimsy, greasy cardboard-esque stuff of my childhood anymore. As with every other comfort food, chefs have gotten hold of it and gussied it up. These days, I have to get dressed to eat pizza.
One of the better purveyors of upscale pizza is Fireside Pies (2949 Crockett St.). I have a love-hate relationship with the place, and a recent visit reminded me why.
My guest and I were told there would be an hour wait for a table, which we had anticipated. But, we thought, we could while away the time at the bar and each enjoy a delicious grapefruit Ricky ($9), a refreshing combination of vodka, elderflower (a soft drink made with elderberries), and grapefruit juice. We didn’t anticipate Mr. Grumpypants bartender, who must have been having a bad night.
Instead of any of the usual greetings, he just pointed at us as though we’d been caught stealing something. When we ordered the crisp, tender fried calamari appetizer ($13), he literally threw our plates at us, still refusing to use his words. It wasn’t until we asked for a glass of the Bandwagon pinot noir ($13) that he uttered his first word: “OK.” It’s bad enough that we had to listen to him repeatedly slam the drink shaker into the metal bar, creating a sound like a gunshot every time he made a drink. But when our table was ready and we paid our bar bill of more than $70 (including tip), we didn’t get so much as a thank you.
Fortunately, our experience in the dining room did a lot to wash away that bad taste. Our server was courteous, friendly, prompt, and knowledgeable, and he salvaged our dinner. We started with the mushroom arancini ($12), a fried and gooey breaded ball of mozzarella cheese, served with a warm pomodoro sauce. Maybe my favorite salad in the world is Fireside’s Texas bibb ($14), with bibb lettuce, bacon, goat cheese, hearts of palm, avocados, cherry tomatoes, and a red wine vinaigrette. It’s big enough to serve Mao’s Red Army, and was neither soggy nor over-dressed. We rounded the night out with the Iberian pizza ($15), a masterpiece of fennel salami, smoked provolone, soffritto (a traditional Latin base made from stewed vegetables), green olives, yellow tomato, and manchego cheese. For the record, our server thanked us at the conclusion of dinner.
Though Winslow’s Wine Café (4101 Camp Bowie Blvd.) offers far more than pizza, it does serve one of my personal favorites, the Winslow’s Crunch ($16). The pie is loaded with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, pepperoni, jalapeños, blue cheese, red onion, and house-made potato chips, all topped with crème fraiche. The combination of pizza and potato chips is whimsical enough to transport me back to childhood and challenging enough to satisfy my grown-up palate.
On a non-pizza note: I don’t know what that place does to its spinach ($7 for a full order). Unicorn tears? Angel kisses? OK, maybe just the right amount of garlic. But I know how Popeye felt every time he needed a boost.
I guess pizza and I sort of grew up together. I enjoy the new-fangled pies, and I’m glad Fireside and Winlow’s do them so well. I wonder if either would allow me to show up in pajamas on my birthday. Who knows, the ones with bunnies might even put a smile on that bartender’s face.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org