Fort Worth's Stonegate-Hulen Street corridor is traffic-ridden and construction-clogged; maybe that's why it features a dearth of decent, midpriced restaurant options.
So it's somewhat of a relief to see that Daniele Puleo's former Brix Pizzeria is not going anywhere anytime soon. With a newly signed, five-year extension to his lease, Puleo's venue has been rebranded as Inzo Italian Kitchen. And other than a handful of new pastas and other entrees, virtually nothing else has changed at this cozy bistro.
It's a good bet that on any weekend night, the small dining room at Inzo will be packed (spilling into the bar and waiting area) with fans of Puleo's fare. After nearly five years at this location, his authentic wood-fired pizzas are popular and for good reason. There are 10 types that come in 10-inch or 16-inch sizes ($10 to $25), and from our past to our most recent experiences, they're by far the best option here.
Take the Italian meat lovers, a joyful mix of meatballs, pepperoni and sausage. It works because there's thought given to the textures -- the meatball is sliced thick, but crosswise, giving it ample real estate to commingle with the flavorful sausage and pepperoni. We're not meat-and-potatoes people, but we gravitate to this pizza time and again.
The prosciutto e rucola, topped with mozzarella and shaved Parmigiano, highlights the rich prosciutto to good effect. It helps that more than a generous handful of the lush ham is used on the pizza. And the arugula adds an enjoyably fresh note, especially for those among us who have the habit of piling salad atop our slices (much to the chagrin of others at the table).
It's true -- pizza, its iterations and rituals, can be near-dogmatic territory for many of us. Whether you fold or fork-and-knife it, there's always another opinion as how best to enjoy it. And after two recent visits here, we're of the mind that if you stick with the pizza, you'll enjoy yourself.
Because other menu items fall surprisingly flat. When Brix first opened, much was made of its french fries (of all things). They've stayed on the menu at Inzo, so we started one night with the Inzo house fries ($5). Topped with a creamy gorgonzola and Tabasco mix, these were french fries all grown up, but despite the promising mix of cheese and potatoes, the gorgonzola cream was too rich and heavy for the poor fries to handle. A little of the sauce would go a long way.
The stuffed focaccia salad ($9) has a similar slight-gimmick appeal, advertising an antipasto-like salad (pepperoni, olives and shaved Parmesan) in between the bread. The flatbread didn't fit my definition of focaccia, and the ingredients inside disappointed. Is there such thing as an underdressed salad at a restaurant? If so, Inzo scores with its subtle olive-oil-and-vinegar combination. I looked forward to the olives and Parm, but they were either surreptitiously stolen by my dining partner or not so generously included.
The chicken marsala ($12.95) special comes with a side of garlicky linguine, which was the best part of the dish. The marsala sauce seemed watered down, and the chicken had a curious chewy texture.
We visited again for lunch one day soon afterward and hoped for a better meal, but we managed to time our experience a half-step behind a 10-top of celebrating office workers. It was clear our server was overwhelmed, and unfortunately that became our problem, too.
A balsamic vinegar and olive oil mixture was put on our table, but the accompanying rolls came about 20 minutes later with our meal. One of my fellow diners was so hungry that she became nearly surly. The two pasta dishes we had -- a special penne pasta bowl with a creamy buffalo-meat sauce ($12.95) and the linguine calamari ($10) -- were well-executed if not idiosyncratic opposites. The linguine, again, had a welcome garlic kick and the sauteed calamari was perfectly springy. And the penne's sauce was rich but buoyed by the buffalo.
But the panini needed help: The eggplant and its grilled compadres on the veggie version -- zucchini, bell peppers and onions -- all could have used some salt.
Puleo is a welcoming presence (usually at dinner) at the restaurant. And if you dine at the handsome mahogany bar and have a glass of wine and split a pizza, this is a great place. Other menu items need a little more work -- capisce?