Arlington loves its chain gang, which is why there are nearly always lines at Olive Garden and P.F. Chang's. But a place like Black Dog Pizza, which is aiming for the same midprice dining crowd but lacks name recognition, struggles to find a customer base.
With a menu that is a cross between sports bar and contemporary pasta/pizza joint, Black Dog plays it safe with the food, but reaches for something a bit different by offering entertainment. The restaurant is owned by the same group that owns the Improv Comedy Theatre, next door to its Arlington Highlands location. In addition to the comedy-club connection, Black Dog advertises dueling pianos Saturday nights, although the turnout has been so low that the pianos are on temporary hold while the restaurant tries to build up interest.
The appetizer list included nonsurprises like wings, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks and spinach artichoke dip. We started our meal with an order of toasted meat ravioli ($6.99), which was nicely prepared. Breaded and fried to a perfect golden hue, the ravioli were mildly crunchy on the outside, and filled with a moist, loose-meat mixture on the inside. Homemade marinara was a lively complement.
The chicken Parmesan sub ($8.99) was terrific, a thickly breaded breast smothered in melty mozzarella and marinara and sandwiched between a hearty bun. Substantial and gooey in a good way, we'll be coming back for more of this sandwich.
A traditional-crust pizza ($11.99 for a medium with three toppings) was not as successful. The toppings were parceled out generously and the proportions of cheese and sauce were good, but the crust was dry.
We wanted to give the pizza a second try, though, so we returned another night and ordered a thin-crust, personal-size margherita pizza ($5.99). Excellent decision. The crispy crust was topped with a nice balance of basil, tomato and cheese. At 10 inches, it was generously sized for a personal pizza. When we return, we'll order two personal pizzas rather than sharing a medium.
We also ordered a meatball sub ($8.99) on our second trip and were surprised to find not meatballs but thick slices of something like Italian sausage hiding beneath the cheese and marinara. We were not happy with the substitution. During a follow-up phone call, the manager assured us that some mistake had been made with the order and that the meatball sandwich does normally live up to its name.
The restaurant features that faux-Tuscan look that is so popular, with partial-brick areas peeking through stucco. It's slickly done, and there is a low-ceilinged quality that gives the dining room a comfortable, intimate feel. The only thing missing was the din of a lot of happy diners.
We will make a return trip to Black Dog some Saturday night down the road, when we'll hopefully find piano players, a roomful of guests and, of course, meatballs.