It is without a shred of jealousy or bitterness that we view the dining culture blossoming in nearby Fort Worth. Dallas, after all, has its share of fine restaurants. Why shouldn’t our neighbors to the west have their own sublime pizza parlors and high-end barbecue joints? No need to begrudge them these new arrivals, Brix Pizza & Wine Bar and Lambert’s.
Brix comes from Dallas, from Daniele Puleo, chef-owner of the highly rated Daniele Osteria on Oak Lawn. Lambert’s is an Austin transplant from chefs Lou Lambert and Fort Worth-based Grady Spears. They also co-own Dutch’s, the hamburger place near TCU.
Both Brix and Lambert’s bring a major presence to Fort Worth diners. One serves excellent pizza and Italian food, the other is a temple of Southern-cowboy cuisine. Way to go, Cowtown! Seriously, we’re happy for you.
Lambert’s resides in the old Pedro’s Trailer Park spot, a few doors down from the legendary Angelo’s Bar-B-Que. No conflict there: Lambert’s is more about smoked and grilled meats, Gulf fish, and family-style side dishes.
Fried green tomatoes, a signature item, were a worthy rendition, sliced thick to stay slightly firm, with a tartness that cut the oil in the crunchy breaded crust. An accompanying scoop of crab tasted fresh and sweet.
Another signature dish: achiote-seared chickpeas ($8), whole chickpeas in a spicy-hot sauce, like a deconstructed hummus. In Dallas, they’d probably puree it until smooth. Nothing personal, FW, but maybe that’s not such a bad idea? Trying to scoop up the chickpeas with the accompanying pita triangles was clumsy, as they rolled away.
Smoked chicken, still on the bone, had a moist, tender texture, and an Oaxacan chocolate rub injected a deep, nutty flavor. On the side was avocado salsa, fierce with finely diced fresh jalapeño.
Beef short ribs came with a warning from the server. “Very fatty,” she said. To tell you the truth, they weren’t fattier than your typical short rib. The bigger problem was how bland they tasted, as if they’d been stewed so long that the flavor got lost. But everyone liked the accompanying green-chile grits, with some heat to warm the mouth, and sautéed spinach, cooked just right so the leaves were still distinct.
Side dishes were crowd-pleasers, especially mac and cheese, with big elbow noodles in creamy cheddar, fired up with a shot of Cholula Mexican hot sauce.
The atmosphere felt very Hill Country, with cream-painted brick interior, antler chandeliers, and handsome redwood tables. Thick tumblers for wine and unsophisticated service underscored the casual tone. Curiously, Spears can be seen in the front of the house. He’s usually ambling around in swashbuckler shirts and faded jeans.
With the opening of Brix, Daniele Puleo isn’t abandoning Dallas for Fort Worth. He’s getting to know I-30 intimately. In fact, it’s not unusual to spot him at both Brix and the Osteria on the same night.
Where the Osteria has a cozy feel, Brix is hip and expansive. A patio at the entrance and mod furniture in the foyer create a sense of youthfulness and fun. Like Puleo, half the young male staff hails from Italy: one server from Milan, another from Palermo, one from Genoa. Plenty to look at, and the décor’s nice, too. Located in the space that was formerly the Spice Cafe, the restaurant got a massive remodel, with warm browns and burgundies and an open kitchen with an eye-catching diagonal layout.
The menu is not huge: a dozen pizzas, some panini, salads, and appetizers to share. Running the ovens is pizzaiolo Charlie Cangelosi, whom Puleo persuaded to move here from New York. He knows his dough. The pizza crust was light but not flimsy, with more substance than the typical ultra-thin crust. Toppings ran from gourmet goods like prosciutto and arugula to classic pizza toppers such as sausage and meatballs. Pollo e cipolla was the pick, with grilled chicken and caramelized onion.
Panini excelled because the ingredients were top quality and skillfully handled. Vegetarian had asparagus, zucchini, and yellow squash, all perfectly cooked, with red onion, tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil pesto. Good sandwich. The Fort Worth cheese steak had thinly shaved beef, onion, American cheese, lettuce, and tomato. But no sandwich named for Dallas? Darn.
Bruschetta was superb, with the bread lightly grilled so that it remained soft and edible—superior to the typical bruschetta in which the bread is crunchier than a crouton. Toppings included roasted pepper with goat cheese, and Gorgonzola with baby artichokes. Don’t resist the prosciutto with melted Brie.
The moderately priced wine list merges Italian and Californian labels. It’s easy to find a decent bottle for $25. You’ll for sure find a fantastic tiramisu, so firm and delicious that it’ll make you forget the thousands of other tiramisus you’ve consumed. It might possibly be the best tiramisu ever. Better than any tiramisu in Dallas. Sigh.