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The Spicy Chupacabras pizza was loaded with goat and beef salamis, cilantro, Calabrian peppers, and goat, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses, with plenty of red onions. Photo by SUE CHEFINGTON

“Ghost kitchen” sounds like a horrible Marvel franchise about a renegade chef-turned-vigilante. Turns out, the term is way sexier than reality: It just refers to cooking facilities that produce food for only delivery or takeout.

As Fort Worth — and every other COVID-worn American city — continues to face economic uncertainty, especially in the restaurant business, . The model allows operators to meet new consumer expectations, reduce operational costs, and provide easy menu expansion. Euromonitor, a market research firm in London, predicts ghost kitchens will be a $1 trillion industry in the next 10 years.

Like so many trends, the ghost kitchen craze that has captivated diners on the coasts still hasn’t found a foothold in sleepy Cowtown. There are a couple of local trailblazers, most notably Lanny Lancarte, owner/chef of haute-healthy Westside staple Righteous Foods.

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The Joe T.’s heir apparent launched Eat Fajitas around the time the ’rona reached our shores. That simple, elegant concept of upscale-ish fajitas worked out of Righteous Foods’ kitchen. Celebri-chef Tim Love countered with a Mexican food ghost kitchen of his own, , and it looked liked the trend had finally arrived in earnest. It would take another year for the next serious ghost kitchen to appear out of the ether, and it was once again Lancarte who authored the menu.

Fantasma Kitchens, set in a former Methodist church on the North Side, will house three different scratch-made concepts, including Eat Fajitas, along with a fried or al carbon[-]style chicken concept, El Pollo Tocayo, and an Italian-meets-Mexico concept with in-house rolled pasta, handmade pizza, and salads, Pizza Zapasta, which just recently launched.

The menu is a decidedly Latin-inspired take on Italian staples, with offerings such as the barbacoa and fennel pie or esquites (Mexican corn) con flor de calabaza, topped with Cotija cheese, esquites, poblano rajas, squash blossoms, and other toppings. There are impressive menus of house-made pastas, signature salads, desserts, and spirits. All pizzas are available on floppy/fold-y New York-style crust (La Flaca) or the denser, airier Detroit-style (El Gordo). In addition to the chef-imagined signature pies, topping snobs can choose their own adventures from an impressive variety of ingredients, ranging from traditional to exotic.

On a recent cool weekend evening at the homestead, my family of five opted for an ambitious order that included a duo of salads, one pasta, and a few pizzas — and we ate for days.

The greens selection is perhaps a nod to Lancarte’s healthier than thou flagship eatery in that both of the ones we ordered featured a garden’s worth of veggies and a delicious, simple vinaigrette.

The chopped offering, with avocado, grilled corn, heirloom cherry tomatoes, chopped pepperoncini, queso Cojita, and Tuscan kale, all topped with house-made croutons and a tomato vinaigrette, was a triumphant amalgam of balance, colors, and fresh-tasting flavors.

Though a little more straightforward, the mixed baby greens salad was punctuated by the nutty, gritty grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the sweetness of the candied walnuts. A simple balsamic vinaigrette played an important supporting role but allowed the more stylish ingredients to soak up the spotlight.

As a rule, any time I can order gnocchi in this town, I jump. Lancarte’s version, a gnocchi sardi Veracruzana — a traditional tomato-based sauce with Spanish roots — was the star of our dinner. The delicate, melt-in-your-mouth pasta footballs were tastefully tossed with capers, Castelvetrano olives, and more Parmigiano-Reggiano. It was the lone dish that didn’t survive the night.

The pizza I was most excited to try was the Queso Nuevo, a south-of-the-border take on a supercharged cheese pizza with fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, provolone, and ricotta, along with basil and a pesto drizzle. While that pie, served on New York-style crust, was a superior entree, the Spicy Chupacabras was the most impressive.

It was loaded with goat and beef salamis, cilantro, Calabrian peppers, and goat, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses, with plenty of red onions. Due to user error on Pizza Zapasta’s website, we ordered one on each of the two crusts — luckily, both were excellent, though I preferred the New York-style.

Every morsel was packed in specially designed cardboard packaging, and both the pizza and pasta arrived still hot. Fantasma uses its own drivers, so you can’t order on predatory third-party apps like Favor or Uber Eats.

Lancarte is two for two on his ghost kitchen concepts, so we’re at least trending in the right direction — if slowly.

 

Pizza Zapasta
Chopped salad $14
Mixed baby greens salad $12
Gnocchi sardi Veracruzana $22
Queso Nuevo pizza $22
Spicy Chupacabras pizza $30

 

Pizza Zapasta, 1300 Gould Av, Fort Worth. 817-720-5090.
11am-9pm daily. All major credit cards accepted.

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