Lunch today was at Dough Pizzeria Napoletana, on Blanco Road, just inside Loop 410, in the shopping center across the road from Park North (what used to be Central Park Mall). The Curmudgeon is frustrated and perplexed, because he couldn't find anything significant to grouse about. Nothing. The place is damn near perfect.
It's a small place, and though it's located in an unremarkable strip center with unremarkable architecture of the purely functional variety, the owner has fixed up the inside with a sensitivity to Italian style that transports me back to the Old Country: a washed concrete floor that could live in any 18th Century Calabrian villa; walls painted a masculine red, accented with blond woods and black tables, black industrial-chic ceiling (except over the kitchen, where there's a gorgeous dropped ceiling of more blond wood). The kitchen takes up nearly half the space, and is right out in the open, surrounded by counter seating, yet the sounds of the kitchen create no distraction in the dining room -- a remarkable feat of auditory engineering that seems to be beyond the capability of every other restauateur in town. The place is gorgeous inside. And though the dining room is surprisingly small, and was fairly crowded, I couldn't overhear anything that was said at any of the other tables. A blessing, and a curse. Recorded music helped cover the ordinarily intrusive sounds of conversation and kitchen, yet was unobtrusive, and suited to the type of place: vaguely Italian-sounding instrumental pieces, and not a single opera solo. Definitely a blessing. Outside are a number of tables, with serapes and gas heaters standing by, but who would want to sit out there, listening to the traffic on Blanco Road, when this majestically created space is available?
The service was astounding. Though I wonder at the wastefulness of whisking away my half-consumed soft drink and replacing it with another, this is the level of service one would anticipate at the finest restaurants in New York or London. I can say it was attentive, refined, knowledgable, timely, efficient, quiet and thorough, yet I do not have words adequate to the description. It was that good.
And then there's the food. It has been a long, long time since I sat in a restaurant in Italy and ate a pizza, but the pizza margherita I had today was better than the best I can remember there. Very different from American pizza, and frankly I think I prefer a good New York-style pizza to any that I've ever had in Italy. But as even the national-chain purveyors of cosiddetto pizza claim to understand, it's about the ingredients, and you cannot fault the ingredients used at Dough.
They make their own mozzarella, and even a paisan like me, who's never spent more than three consecutive days on a farm, knows, mozzarella doesn't travel well. You make it, you use it there, because by the time it gets through any kind of food-distribution system, it will be reduced to ... well, that rubbery crud you get at the grocery store.
They have heirloom tomatoes grown to their specifications. Look at the bowl sitting by the kitchen; there are half a dozen tomatoes in there, varieties you've never seen at HEB. They come from a farm in Schertz.
They grow their own herbs. Well, okay, that's not that hard; I, with my black thumb, grow my own, too, but to grow enough for a business like this requires a significant investment.
The people who own this place have gone to a great deal of trouble to make a pizzeria as authentically Neapolitan as possible. Until today, I would have thought that a distinction of dubious value, never having been impressed with pizza in Italy; but this place, in every respect, is a triumph. I guess I was just going to the wrong places. Now ... well, who needs to go all the way to Italy?