Chow, Baby’s master plan for the Austin-ification of Magnolia Avenue is coming along nicely. This is the plan whereby Chow, Baby does no actual work itself (like all of Chow, Baby’s plans), but merely through hard wishing somehow draws funky clubs, retro-vogue shops, and delicious indie restaurants to the heart of Fort Worth’s Near South Side.

For example, the retro-decorated and indie-delicious Spiral Diner (1314 W. Magnolia Av.) has just added Rahr’s Red, Lone Star, and Pabst Blue Ribbon to its menu, which are certainly among the funkiest-tasting beers Chow, Baby has ever tried. So that’s a start, and Chow, Baby is further cheered by the opening of teeny, pretty Nonna Tata (1400 W. Magnolia Av., cash only).

Nonna Tata’s compact, changing-weekly menu features hearty soups, crisp salads, a few meat entrees, and housemade pastas allegedly prepared according to authentic Italian recipes (note to travel agent: Chow, Baby must research this). Thing is, Chow, Baby is accustomed to the fat-loaded Italian-American junk it grew up on. Take Nonna’s pasta alla carbonara ($7.90 lunch, $8.90 dinner), prepared here in the simple, classic, spaghetti/pancetta/grated cheese/eggs/black pepper tradition. Six ingredients max (there’s usually two kinds of cheese). Die-hard-purist carbonara cooks would never, ever add cream to this recipe. But (whine) Chow, Baby likes cream in its carbonara. Tons of it. Chow, Baby’s taste buds kept reminiscing about the inauthentic, untraditional, garlic-cream-swimming stuffed mushrooms down the street at Palermo’s Italian Café.

On the other hand, classic simplicity well served the petti di pollo alla Milanese ($8.25 lunch, $10.25 dinner), two very thin, crispy-sautéed chicken breasts, lightly breaded and very satisfying, detracted only by sides of elderly, overcooked broccoli and pasta. And Chow, Baby got plenty of calories from dessert: a heavenly, fluffy tiramisu ($4.25) and salame di cioccolato ($3.75), which is chocolate cookie dough formed in a log, then sliced thin; Nonna serves it with fresh strawberries and – yes! – real whipped cream. If this is how it’s done in Italy, Chow, Baby is booking its fall vacation now.

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Surely the person who told Chow, Baby a few months back that Servant’s Kitchen (1310 W. Magnolia Av.) closed down is going straight to hell. No, the faith-based restaurant is still there, next door to Spiral Diner, still serving its divine seafood and still praising the Lord. On a recent visit not much was changed; though Biblical verses are writ on most level surfaces and the stereo preaches soft Christian rock, diners are left unproselytized. It’s great that the Word is there for those who are ready to receive it, but for those who aren’t, there are also crispy-edged jumbo lump crabmeat cakes ($6.95), two large patties served with housemade remoulade sauce and a lovely avocado salsa.

The seafood lettuce wrap ($8.95) was less successful; the sautéed fish and shrimp nuggets showed their ceviche-like flavors better later, when the leftovers were eaten cold. But as a companion pointed out, Chow, Baby has “issues” with lettuce wraps. And major issues with the faux New Orleans-style food so common in these parts, but on previous visits Chow, Baby commended Servant’s étouffée, gumbo ya-ya, and oyster loaf; the approval now extends to the overflowing shrimp po-boy ($8.95). No, of course Chow, Baby’s not exaggerating just to get in good with the One the menu describes as the real owner of the restaurant. Lies make Baby Jesus cry.

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