The Campisi family’s restaurants have been a tradition in Dallas since 1946. Over six decades, the enterprise has grown from the flagship eatery on Mockingbird Lane to seven storefronts in the Dallas area. Last year, fourth-generation restaurateur David Campisi brought the family business to Fort Worth. The Camp Bowie Boulevard location is full of framed photos of family matriarchs and patriarchs dressed in their classic 1950s best, along with copies of the original menus and wine lists.
For starters, the Italian-style crab claws were just about perfect. The shell on the black-tipped claw had been separated from the meat, so there was no fussing with inconvenient implements of destruction. The crustacean came swimming in a pot of delicious garlic butter, which was also useful as a dipping sauce for the crusty complimentary bread. A half order (about half a pound) was plenty for a table of three.
The calamari, also available as a half-order, was a flawless combination of chewy and crunchy. Italian breading and Italian seasoning meant that the crust on the squid was a little less tempura-like than at some other places. The subtly herbed batter clung to the meat like skin. Sadly, the accompanying marinara sauce was unpleasantly acidic.
The best way to do justice to the sprawling menu seemed to be the combo plate, which hit all the highlights: ravioli, lasagna, and spaghetti with meatballs. Unfortunately, the meatballs were so oppressively flavored with a caraway-heavy herb seasoning that they were inedible, and the decent spaghetti, passable lasagna, and the tasty, firm, and creamy ravioli featured the same acidic tomato sauce that appeared in the appetizer.
The chicken parmesan was a much better choice. Somehow the astringent marinara was calmed by the fried Italian breadcrumb coating and the gooey blanket of mozzarella cheese. The parm was moist on the inside and crispy outside, which is no small feat. Both entrées came with a small and frankly underwhelming dinner salad: iceberg lettuce, a couple of olives, and some green onions.
Campisi’s claims that great-grandfather Carlo brought the pizza pie to Dallas in the mid-1940s. It could be true: Pizza Hut didn’t start marketing the stuff until about a decade later. Campisi’s pizza shtick is that the crust is in the shape of an oval, to fit the oval serving plates. The thinnish crust –– definitely not Chicago-style thick but not New York thin either –– was crispy at the edges but remained slightly gooey in the middle, courtesy mainly of the generous layers of sauce and cheese. Diners who appreciate the taste of wood-fired crust will love this. Toppings include all the standards plus salami, anchovies, fresh basil, broccoli, and feta or ricotta cheeses.
One seemingly insignificant item order on a whim turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire meal. The Greek salad was a glorious mix of various chopped greens, tomatoes, capers, feta cheese, and black and green olives minced muffuletta-style, all covered in a mouthwatering herbed vinaigrette dressing. It was odd to find a Greek salad on a menu clearly labeled “Italian Salads,” but in this case, odd was good.
Though the desserts are not homemade, the chocolate cheesecake was almost as good as anything Nonna might whip up. The New York-style delicacy was rich, creamy, and not overly sweet.
Campisi’s is interesting as much for the spectacular crab in butter sauce as for local history. David Campisi’s grandpa Joe had some fascinating associates, including Jack Ruby, who reportedly dined at the Mockingbird Lane location the night before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Campisi testified before the Warren Commission that, to his surprise, Ruby called the restaurateur from the Dallas County jail to ask him to visit. No record exists about whether Ruby asked Campisi to bring along some pizza.
6150 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW. 817-916-4561. 11am-10pm daily. All major credit cards accepted.
Italian-style crab claws (half order).. $11.99
Calamari – half order………………………. $6.95
Lunch combo plate ……………………… $10.95
Chicken parmesagna …………………….. $9.95
Greek salad …………………………………. $9.95
Individual pizza …………………………….. $9.95
Chocolate cheesecake ………………….. $4.95