Tarrant County is home to some pretty good pizza: Cane Rosso Fort Worth, Thirteen Pies in West 7th, Fireside Pies in Grapevine, Vivo 53 in downtown Fort Worth and old favorites like Mama’s Pizza and more.
But there’s always room for more pie.
Two very different pizza chains jumped in February, with the Tarrant debuts of Blaze Pizza — officially Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza — in north Arlington and Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom in far north Fort Worth.
Blaze is a fast-casual pizzeria; Old Chicago is a full-service restaurant (and, as the name indicates, bar). We paid early visits to both, and here are our first impressions.
The vibe: Noisy. We should note that this was during a special preview night, so a lot of people were checking the place out, which added to the noise level; no doubt it’s quieter when there’s less of a crowd, but be prepared for some volume with chatter bouncing off the hard floors in this place.
Things moved pretty quickly through the line, staffed by energetic servers. If you’ve been to a Pie Five, you know the drill: Choose a sauce, choose toppings. Or choose from a selection of signature pizzas. There are fewer crust choices than at a Pie Five, but there are more (and better) topping choices at Blaze (as Bud Kennedy pointed out in an Eats Beat column this week, however, neither is as good as the homegrown Pizza Snob near TCU). There is, but the way, a Pie Five practically across Collins Street from this Blaze location, so the new kid in town appears to be throwing down a gauntlet.
Although the serving line was packed, things moved quickly as we ordered a signature “Veg Out” pizza (zucchini, mushrooms, red onion, mozzarella, gorgonzola, red sauce dollops) and a build-your-own with spicy red sauce, gorgonzola, mozzarella and jalapeño (both are $7.95). When Blaze says “Fast-Fire’d,” it isn’t kidding: Pizzas are ready in, as they put it, 180 seconds. We quickly discovered that it’s best to hang out near the ovens, where your name will be called out when your pizza is done — especially since it was a little hard to hear the names amid the rest of the noise.
The food: My wife and I polished off both our 11-inch pizzas without much problem, and preferred our spicy, tangy build-your-own to the relatively more standard Veg Out. Crusts were thin and airy. There are a few bottled beers available, including some from Dallas’ Community Beer Company. Drinks are otherwise self-serve; in his Eats Beat column, Bud mentions a blood orange-lemonade that’s available. We’ll have to try that next time.
The verdict: Yeah, there’s better pizza out there, but we don’t live in north Arlington, and we’d welcome a Blaze in our neighborhood for those nights when we don’t feel like cooking at home. Note that a Blaze is planned for the Waterside Shopping Center that’s coming to south Fort Worth.
Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom
The vibe: Busy, although during our visit, the place had been open only a few days in the booming Presidio Junction center in far north Fort Worth. We were reminded of several nearby places, especially BJ’s Brewhouse, with the difference here being that the less-overwhelming menu puts the emphasis on pizza — although maybe not exactly what you’d expect from a place with “Old Chicago” in its name.
The restaurant has a clean, smooth layout and for the most part lays off the kitsch factor. Walk in a few steps and you’ll see the bar, where there’s an impressive array of taps, including several local brews. After we were told there’d be a 30- to 35-minute wait, we considered speeding things up by eating at the bar, but it was already pretty full.
When there’s a wait, the restaurant uses a texting system to alert you via cellphone when your table is ready (mine buzzed to life in less than 20 minutes, nice when you’re expecting to wait 35). We used the time to take a look at the patio, which is spacious but has a bit of a view problem: It faces I-35W southbound, at a point that’s often choked with traffic. Maybe you can just feel the satisfaction of knowing you’re kicking back on a patio and not stuck on the freeway.
The food (and drink): Old Chicago offers two crusts: “Chicago Thick” and “Ale Crust.” We ordered individual versions of each: For the Ale Crust, a Mediterranean Farmer ($12.49; spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, artichoke hearts, red peppers and goat cheese over basil oil, garnished with parsley); for the Chicago Thick, a Thai Pie ($11.59; sweet Thai chili sauce with mozzarella, pepperjack and cheddar cheeses, roasted chicken, mushrooms, red peppers and broccoli, topped with teriyaki sauce, sesame seeds and finished with green onion).
Our server, who was knowledgeable and enthusiastic to the point of being hyper, quickly let us know not to expect a traditional deep-dish on the Old Chicago crust. This might be where purists will run into an issue: The individual Chicago Thick was out in about 15 minutes, whereas at a place like Gino’s East in Arlington you might have to wait 45 minutes for a pie). The individual also wasn’t served in a deep-dish pan, but on a plate; it did appear, looking around, that the larger servings come in pans.
The Ale Crust, by the way, isn’t exactly thin. My wife preferred it to the Chicago Thick, but I did enjoy the buttery flavor of the thicker crust.
We happened to be there on a pint night for Tupps Brewery, a McKinney brewery that was putting the spotlight on its Northbound 75 ($6.50), a poblano-infused pale ale — an easy, and rewarding, choice for me. Our server quickly answered by wife’s questions about other choices, leading her to a Deep Ellum Double Brown Ale ($4.95) that she enjoyed a lot.
The verdict: We do live in north Fort Worth, where it can be at least a 20-minute drive to most of the pizza spots — all of which we’re fans of — that I mentioned in the first paragraph. It’s nice to have Old Chicago nearby, and we’ll probably return, although we’re more likely to put the Taproom part ahead of the Pizza part. There are also calzones, sandwiches, a variety of mac-n-cheese dishes and several burgers to call us back. Especially the burgers. You know how DFW.com is about burgers.