Twenty years ago this August, Chicago-based Pizzeria Uno opened a location next to the then-new AMC Sundance 11 in downtown Fort Worth. Known for its deep-dish pizza, the restaurant did as much as the theater to revitalize downtown, which at the time only had a handful of eateries. Times change, though, and so do pizza tastes; Fireside Pies in the West 7th development gets the kind of Friday-night waits that Uno's used to get. And although there's still plenty of foot traffic near Uno's Houston Street location, the restaurant feels as if it's away from the heart of the action, especially after the closing of the AMC Sundance in 2008.
About a decade ago, Pizzeria Uno morphed into Uno Chicago Grill, and the menu has evolved. What was once a trifold menu focused on deep-dish is now a 20-page spiral-bound monster featuring pasta, steak, seafood, chicken, burgers, sandwiches, drinks and desserts.
The menu is fairly overwhelming, and after two visits -- a lunch for two and dinner for four -- I felt as if I'd barely scratched the surface. One thing does stand out, though: This place still does deep-dish pizza well.
At lunch, we each tried the pizza-of-the-day-and-salad deal ($5.99 apiece). The deep-dish Spinoccoli -- a spinach-and-broccoli pizza with chunky tomatoes and a feta-cheddar-mozzarella-Romano cheese mix -- was the standout, with a crust that was crisp, buttery and not too greasy. The cheeses complemented one another surprisingly well, with the feta standing out but not overpowering the other flavors. The main veggies were fresh, but they were upstaged by the pleasingly tangy tomato sauce.
The thin-crust choice, barbecue chicken, was more of a misfire. It comes with a citrus barbecue sauce artfully drizzled onto the mozzarella, forming a checkerboard pattern with cubes of chicken breast, red onions and barely there parsley. The barbecue sauce dominated everything, and it was simply too sweet. My friend said it brought back memories of the sloppy-joe sauce from a high-school cafeteria. Not good. The crust was cracker-thin but chewy and a bit tough on the edges. As for the salads; the house was good, the Caesar decent but on the verge of being overdressed.
The dinner visit took place at 6:30 on a Friday night, and a reservation for four turned out to be unnecessary, which would have been hard to imagine in Uno's heyday. Again, the deep-dish -- the Chicago Classic (crumbled sausage, chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella and grated Romano; $10.79) this time -- was the champ. Everything I said about the crust above holds true again here, and the sausage and tomato sauce had flavors that jump right out at you. Our friend who ordered it is from Chicago, and she pronounced it great.
Uno offers a few "artisan" pizzas, including a thin-crust wild mushroom and Cabot cheddar pie with shitake, portobello and white Cabot aged cheddar cheese, garlic, Parmesan and shredded mozzarella ($13.99). The thin crust this time was right on target, not too fragile or too tough, and the mushrooms were fresher and more flavorful than the usual 'shroom pizza topping. The cheeses, however, all but disappeared in the mix.
On the off-pizza part of the menu, we tried the traditional (chicken Milanese; $13.79) and the unexpected (chicken tikka masala; $11.79). I wondered if anyone ever orders an Indian dish in a place known for pizza, but the server assured me they do, so I decided to check it out. Not surprisingly, it was a mistake. The chicken breast was well-prepared, but the "masala" was a sad-looking, kickless red sauce plopped across the chicken slices. It was served with bland roasted vegetables and whole-grain brown rice with dried cranberries that lacked both sweetness and tartness.
The chicken Milanese was more successful. The grilled and baked breast was nicely breaded -- we thought we tasted a hint of coconut in the breading -- and the accompanying salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, Parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette) made a good companion.
Uno has an extensive cocktail and beer menu, but the drink that stood out was nonalcoholic -- the toasted almond freeze ($3.50), which can best be described as a Mars bar in a glass.
There's still much to explore on the Uno's menu, but our best advice is to stick with the deep-dish pizza. It has been a hit for 20 years, and it is still the main reason to come to Uno.
Robert Philpot, (817) 390-7872