Although Southlake has no shortage of pizza, there’s room for more, if done well. Mission accomplished at Taverna Rossa, a new pizzeria that opened in May at the chichi Park Village development.
Taverna Rossa distinguishes itself by doing a thin-crust version of pizza that’s not being served elsewhere. We are talking cracker-crust thin, and topped with aspirational ingredients like arugula, Brussels sprouts and figs.
But the menu goes beyond pizza, with sandwiches, great pastas and salads. There’s beer and wine on tap. Prices are decent, and the atmosphere is classy and lively. It all adds up to a solid addition to Southlake’s dining scene; no wonder the restaurant is experiencing waits at prime time.
This is the second branch of Taverna Rossa; the original opened in Plano in 2013. But owners Preston Lancaster and Tony Smith also own three other pizza spots, including two branches of the Palio’s Pizza Cafe chain. In the handsome dining room and attentive service, you can see the polish that comes from their accumulated experience.
The place has a sense of largesse, with planked wood floors, butcher-block-style tables and industrial-chic riveted sheets of aluminum on the walls. A wall of windows opens onto the shopping center’s courtyard; if you don’t want to wait for a table, you can grab a seat along a counter that runs the periphery and gaze out at the dome-shaped fountain while sipping a saison from Noble Rey ($7).
The menu combines familiar items with the occasional departure to make things more foodie-friendly. For example, instead of Buffalo wings, there is Buffalo-style shrimp ($8), with battered fried shrimp coated in spicy red sauce, served with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. Deviled eggs ($7) were excessive, topped with a blizzard of chopped bacon and drizzled with Balsamic vinegar.
There are also a number of local ingredients, including sausage from Post Oak Red Hots, as well as Lemley’s tomatoes, when in season, and brisket from Hamm’s Custom Meats in McKinney, used with excellent results in the queso ($7 small, $10 large, plus $2 for brisket).
Even without the brisket, the queso was nice and thick, studded with bits of diced onion, tomato, green bell pepper and Luscher’s spicy red sausage. But the chunks of shredded smoky brisket put it over the top.
The queso came with Fritos, a far superior option than the usual tortilla chip. The Fritos’ rounded edges made them the perfect tool to slide along the bottom of the bowl and scoop up a little bit of everything. Don’t forget to stir the queso before you begin, to mix in the brisket, which for us was clumped at the bottom.
You can get salads in half or full sizes, but all come generously portioned, from a wedge with candied bacon to a Caesar with garlic croutons. The Stag ($5 for small) combined spinach, arugula, diced red onion, crumbled Gorgonzola and what they called “crispy pancetta,” but looked more like plain old bacon.
Pastas were easily as good as, maybe even better than, the pizzas. Chicken campanelle ($12) was one of our favorites, an impeccably composed dish that was both light and rich. Campanelle, a cone-shaped pasta with fluted edges, was cooked until nicely tender and served as a good vessel for the lemon cream sauce. The assortment of ingredients was well conceived, including chicken breast with grilled edges, cubes of butternut squash, chopped asparagus, spinach leaves and dabs of goat cheese.
Pizzas were smartly assembled, neither stingy nor so loaded that they overwhelmed the extra-thin crust. At one end of the menu lay the standard supreme ($16), topped with pepperoni, sausage, turkey, bacon, mushroom, olive, onion and pepper. At the other more, upscale end was the local goat cheese and fig ($15) with pancetta.
One notable pie, the Brussels and ham ($17), combined Brussels sprouts leaves with bacon, Benton’s ham, caramelized onions and a garlic cream sauce: hearty, satisfying and unique.
Few pizzerias do their crust as thin as Taverna Rossa. A thin crust functions mainly as a platform for toppings, but Taverna Rossa’s still managed to have a little personality.
Though not as stiff as a cracker, it was definitely crackly, but with the occasional pocket of air to show the presence of yeast. We’ve been on a Neapolitan spree lately, but there will always be thin-crust aficionados, and Taverna Rossa hits that spot.