It was odd to see Fort Worth’s tiny gayborhood, the area around Pennsylvania and Jennings avenues on the Near Southside, without The Gallery Art Café (609 S. Jennings Ave.). Even though the café has been closed for a few years now, the little corner looks naked without it. It was a cute, eclectic place with rotating works from various artists occupying the wall space and a decent selection of sandwiches, salads, desserts, and coffee drinks.
I didn’t know what to think when I heard that a traditional mini-chain Italian restaurant had taken its place. Sure, the Southside has plenty of room for a quick in-and-out no-frills Italian joint. But putting it smack in the middle of the gayborhood just seemed a little … mainstream. That area has developed its own identity and aesthetic — could a chain place possibly fit in?
My hope was that Tony’s Pizza, Pasta, & Subs would at least maintain some of the former tenant’s eccentricity and hominess. What I found was a restaurant with barren walls and boxes of canned tomato sauce lining the hall. But the lunch crowd was decent, and the food was better than decent.
The place offers counter service, and the very nice man working the register recommended the lunch specials ($7.25), served with a small, generic but passable dinner salad and warm garlic bread with those little plastic tubs of butter. The menu is populated by all of the usual Italian suspects: lasagna, stromboli, and pizza — nothing fancy.
I went for the meatball sub, which turned out to be a good-not-great bang-for-the-buck lunch. The bun was nice and warm, the meatballs seemed like they had been frozen but were still tender, and the marinara sauce was mostly flavorless. The whole thing needed salt, pepper, or anything resembling spice. The calzone, stuffed with a generous portion of gooey ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and hamburger meat, was a little chewy, perhaps being no stranger to a microwave. The flavor was very one-note: cheese. That being said, the dish was big and filling.
One of my guests went rogue and ordered something that wasn’t on the lunch menu. She ended up making the only real find on our visit, the tortellini bolognese ($7.99). The little pasta rings were drowned in a buttery tomato cream sauce, with floating bits of hamburger meat. The sauce was the most flavorful part of the whole meal, and the pasta was a perfect al dente.
Tony’s wasn’t what I hoped it would be, but it’s still an OK, if not spectacular, lunch spot with reasonable prices. The place has a cool patio, and it’s BYOB for now. Maybe the coolest thing about the restaurant is that it delivers for free — if only I’d known that when I was writing last week’s column (“Feed a Fever”), in which I bemoaned the lack of delivery places around town.
I hope Tony’s does well down there in the ’hood. It might not be the place I dreamed of for that corner, but, based on the size of the lunch crowd, it looks like it’s going to fit in just fine.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org.