Zoli’s NY Pizza
3501 Hulen St, FW. 817-402-0050. 11am-9pm Sun, 11am-10pm Mon-Thurs, and 11am-11pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
A customer entering Zoli’s NY Pizza in Fort Worth for the first time would be forgiven for not guessing how emblematic it is of all the off-beat and serious foodie precepts of owner Jay Jerrier, the founder of one of North Texas’ most successful family-friendly Italian eateries, Cane Rosso.
Zoli’s, along with its adjoining ice cream purveyor, Cow Tipping Creamery, was built on what was once a rambling field bordering the rush of cars along South Hulen Street, a few pepperoni slices south of Central Market. Like its big brother restaurant, Zoli’s is not about tweezer-applied Italian food, yet its laid-back atmosphere and down-home cooking belie the obsessive level of labor that goes into each dish.
If Cane Rosso and Zoli’s both traffic in pizza and pasta, they part company when it comes to that crucial matter of crust. Cane Rosso is a temple to Neapolitan-style pies, uniformly cooked in a wood-burning oven over scorching heat for a relatively short stretch of time, yielding a crust that sags due to its inherent tenderness.
Zoli’s pizza offers a New York-style crackle, with a thinner, blistered cracker-crust spread out over a round 14-inch shape. The 4-month-old eatery explores additional pizza geometry with its airy-in-the-middle 12-by-12-inch Sicilian pan pie.
The restaurant’s ethos begins and ends with its generous portions. There is nothing stingy about the six hefty slices on its round pie, let alone the nine slices dividing up the Sicilian-style pan pizza.
As for the interior and exterior architecture, the latter is a series of connected silvery arches with an interior ceiling rising to around 40 feet, forming what could either be an upside-down boat hull or a soaring avant-garde church.
Fourteen barstools are done in fanciful candy colors, and even the walls on the way to the restrooms underscore Zoli’s passion, as they are lined with a dozen pizza paddles. Other walls are mammoth canvases for murals with some of founder-owner Jerrier’s favorite themes – including Star Wars.
There can be no more stringent test of an Italian restaurant than how it handles the humble meatball. And Zoli’s meatball starter was a carefully balanced blend of 1855 CBS – the acronym for a complex blend of three meats (chuck, brisket, and short-rib). The kitchen married the fork-tender meatballs to a ricotta crema, floating on a thick rivulet of tangy marinara sauce.
The second appetizer, Lil’ Bastards, elevated the stepchild Brussels sprouts to unaccustomed heights of irresistible taste. The wrinkled veg’s makeover began with a dip in a frying bath before being introduced to a marmalade fashioned from everyone’s favorite food group, bacon.
Before attacking the kitchen’s pizza handiwork, I could not resist trying the pasta carbonara. As the owner had the temerity to alter the classic carbonara formula by adding roasted corn, they earned points for sheer audacity. The result was a creamy smash hit, as this dish orchestrated a sly interplay of smoky pancetta, the salty bite of pecorino cheese, the crunch from nubbins of roasted corn, and the unctuous emulsion from a fork-punctured egg yolk.
The restaurant’s namesake pizzas, the two New York and one Sicilian square versions all showcased a laudable expertise in artisanally crispy crust making.
The Dope Sopp’, a hipster’s reference to one of its main ingredients – soppressata – was used to great effect in the pie’s sweet-heat marmalade. Its New York-style, thin crust boasted blistered edges while supporting seemingly endless layers of soppressata.
Heim Time Supreme’s everything-on-it quality meant a cavalcade of ingredients that played with remarkable harmony: house sausage, pepperoni, bacon, onions, the supple heat of hot cherry peppers, mozzarella, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
The only veggie-centric pizza I sampled was also my meal’s sole Sicilian-style pie. The Prince Rogers combined a parade of creamy mozzarella as the ideal launching pad to layers of mushrooms, zucchini, a pesto-melding mascarpone, and juice-spurting roasted tomatoes.
With the initial bite into the house-made cannoli, it was hard not to mouth the line from The Godfather: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” as the characters might have run off with one of Zoli’s appealing dessert cylinders. Their version of the classic Italian confection was far from cloying, as the sweet ricotta and mascarpone filling were dipped in ground candied pistachios for an added textural lift before being offset by a puckery pool of blackberry bourbon compote.
Given that every Zoli’s patron is greeted by the hyper-positive wall slogan – “You have no idea how high I can fly” – it’s hard not to enter, let alone leave the place, without an equally uplifting smile. And multiple to-go boxes.
Lil’ Bastards $10
Carbonara pasta $14
Dope Sope $18
Heim Time $19
Prince Rogers $17