Chow, Baby is always open to new experiences. It is after all my job to go check out new eateries and flutter down the culinary coal mine. But I wasn’t sure whether a change in ownership qualified Thirteen Pies (2949 Crockett St.) as new. The restaurant formerly known as Fireside Pies made a few cosmetic changes, but it’s not like the concept or even the menu changed dramatically. Still, it’s not like I need much of an excuse to visit the outstanding West 7th upscale pizzeria.
The place is as popular as ever. On a recent chilly weekend night, my guest and I arrived at 7 and were told there would be a two-hour wait for a table but that we could get served faster at the bar. We decided to wait out on the heated patio (what did civilization do before space heaters?) and drink delicious grapefruit rickeys ($9) until a spot opened up at the bar.
The L-shaped bar at Thirteen Pies is spacious, comfortable, and inviting –– not one of those cramped, chaotic plywood boxes where diners feel in the way. You get a nice view of the open kitchen, so you kind of feel a part of the action.
I’ve had my issues in the past with the bartender at Fireside (“Pin the Tail on Grumpy,” Feb. 27, 2013), but on recent visits, including this occasion, the barman was professional, knowledgeable, and prompt. I’ve done a complete 180 on the former “Mr. Grumpy” and now regard him as one of the best in town. I’ll think I’ll redub him “Mr. Good Wine Suggestion,” since he introduced us to the peppery, soft 2011 Inama Piu Veneto Rosso ($48), a lovely carmenere blend from Veneto, Italy.
For dinner, we started with the fried artichoke appetizer special ($10), with a pepper aioli. The lightly battered ’chokes were well seasoned, buttery, and crisp, with battered and fried bits of lemon mixed in with the dish. The Texas bibb salad ($12) is a balanced, delicious treat, though it’s not to be confused with diet-friendly rabbit food. It’s a tantalizing mix of flavors and textures, including avocado, heart of palm, cherry tomatoes, creamy goat cheese, salty chunks of bacon, and red wine vinaigrette.
The dish called Thirteenth Pie is a carryover from the Fireside days. The regular menu offers 12 pizzas; the 13th is a chef’s special that’s usually on the exotic side. On that night, the chef’s feature was a creamy, rich, zesty, complex lobster pizza ($16), with gruyere cheese, truffle oil, spinach, dried tomatoes, gremolata –– chopped parsley with lemon zest — and chunks of buttery, delicate lobster meat. All of the ingredients would have worked just as well in a risotto or croustade. It was truly an inspired, unique dish.
Before its name and ownership group changed, Thirteen Pies was one of the best restaurants in town. Even with the recent glut of new places, I still consider it one of the best all-around dining experiences in the area –– especially if you dine at the bar.
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