Long before Southlake became a mecca for clothes hounds and big-box retailers, Armend's Restaurante was pumping out pasta and tossing pizza dough in the luxe enclave.
The restaurant, owned by Asim Seji, his wife, Mirxhan, and son Armend, has been in the area for 18 years (12 at its location just east of Southlake Town Square), and it's evident that time has done nothing but perhaps improve the outstanding offerings here.
Armend's is cozy with dark wood details, a near-open kitchen and, when we visited, peppy Top 40 music. The requisite flat-screen TV tuned to ESPN kept the sports fan with us happy. And soon enough, we were all wearing big, satiated smiles. (Spaghetti sauce on face, optional.)
For our starter, we chose the antipasto salad ($5.99): a tray of lettuce and tomatoes topped with ham, provolone and salami, rolled into a pinwheel. Everything was light and fresh; the novel rollups of meat and cheese maximized the flavors.
House-made garlic rolls upped the ante, too. Slightly salty and doughy, they are better than any other complimentary roll I've had locally.
I could not resist the appeal of the baked ziti ($6.99), which the menu described as having a mix of mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, and I soon found that it alone is worth the trip to Southlake. In an alfredo-and-marinara pink sauce, the penne noodles were al dente, crispy on top, and studded with enough cheese to sink any diet.
The pollo alla francese ($8.99) was a boneless chicken breast sauteed in white wine and butter sauce. Butterflied nicely, it was the perfect size for sharing if you feel generous and was delightfully lemony and rich.
Other entrees continued to impress. From the lunch special menu ($6.99 with a salad), the cannelloni and lasagna were equally stellar.
With large chunks of ground beef, ricotta and spinach, the former was a hearty take on the classic, and the lasagna's silky noodles topped with Armend's special marinara nearly had us swooning for more. That is, if we weren't already so stuffed.
If the food equaled comfort, so did our service. Our waiter's seeming motto was "tough love."
Gruff and sly with his smile, at first he was distant yet exceedingly attentive if that's possible. Soon, he warmed up to us; we had ordered the better part of the menu.
And in fact, if one over-orders here, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Later that night at home, some 34 miles away, we enjoyed the fruits of our lunchtime labor, plus a few extras.
For the young Italian-food lover, we took home a kids spaghetti and meatballs ($4.99), which turned out to be a very generous portion of sauce-laden noodles with nicely textured and not-too-dense meatballs.
In fact, the only entree to disappoint, and slightly at that, was the eggplant parmigiana ($7.99); the vegetable was a bit mushy, which rendered it lost in the sauce and cheese mix.
Another plus is the fact that Armend's is BYOB. While we didn't take advantage of this at lunch, that night, we enjoyed our feast of leftovers with a little chianti. But you know what? I realized the wine was almost a distraction from the food. And that's about the highest compliment I can give.