We have our fast-casual restaurants, where we stroll through a conveyor-belt line for edible, inexpensive and sometimes even good food. And we have our full-service restaurants, where we sit down for a nice meal, smiling service and, more often than not, a sizable check.
But few wave the flag for the middle-ground — the fast-casual restaurant that serves excellent food in an attractive atmosphere, without the hefty prices. That’s where Ralph and John DeVivo come in.
Located in a Keller strip mall, the DeVivo Bros. Eatery is a terrific new American-Italian restaurant, not only because the food is good, but because it fills a unique niche. It’s a fast-casual, family-run restaurant (the brothers have worked for various North Texas restaurants for a combined 20-plus years) whose food is on the brink of fine dining, without the fine dining prices. Two people can eat here for about $35, and eat well.
The brothers’ menu is made up mostly of staples — made in-house with fresh ingredients and subtle and creative flourishes.
Take the spaghetti ($8.99), a seemingly ordinary plate of bright red marinara sauce, noodles and three plump meatballs. But the meatballs were hand-formed, resulting in a pleasingly chunky texture, and contained a neat little surprise: bits of spinach. Didn’t see the rich, peppery marinara sauce’s bite of heat coming, either, but there it was, spicy but not overly so.
Nice surprises were the norm. An appetizer of housemade hummus ($6) had a good creamy consistency and light garlic flavor, but was served with large pieces of toasted, buttered sourdough bread — a welcome change of pace from the usual pita chips and flatbread, and a surprisingly delightful combination.
Likewise, the calamari appetizer ($8) had a wow factor, in that the pieces were unusually large — which made for an impressive presentation as well as enough food for an entree. They came sheathed in a crispy, peppery batter that didn’t crumble at first touch. For dipping, there was that great marinara also found on the spaghetti.
Glazed pork loin ($13) arrived in the form of 10 pan-seared medallions leaning against one another, like fallen dominoes. Outlined in bits of fat, the meat had a good flavor but not enough seasoning. Atop the medallions came a sweet prune sauce that helped considerably, in more ways than one. Combined with the pork juice, it created an excellent sauce that streamed into the skin-on mashed potatoes and sauteed kale, and made them all the better.
During lunch (the restaurant is also open for breakfast and Sunday brunch), we tried the restaurant’s signature sandwich, The Stella ($9), and found much to like: Thinly sliced, grilled chicken breast that had a smoky flavor and tender texture; strands of red peppers that added a touch of fire; and a sundried tomato aioli that added just enough tang. Wish the bread had been better, though — just plain ol’ sourdough, buttered and toasted. Accompanying skinless fries were great, thin, firm and nicely salted.
Of the seven desserts touted on a chalkboard over the counter, we tried two: banana pudding and strawberry shortcake (both $4), both of which took us off-guard, in a good way. No Nilla wafers to be found in this banana pudding. Rather, the body of the pudding had a rippled texture, like mousse, and came drizzled with a fiendishly sweet amaretto-caramel sauce and housemade whipped cream.
Shortcake was good, too. Sliced strawberries, a mountain of whipped cream and a scoop of Henry’s vanilla ice cream came atop the “shortcake,” a pair of housemade biscuits that gave this wonderfully sweet concoction a hearty crunch.
Patience comes in handy here. You’re supposed to order at the counter, but it can be difficult trying to decide with such a large menu, and the longer you dawdle, the longer the line gets. Best advice: Grab your menu on the way in, then have a seat at one of the black tableclothed tables; that way, you can spend some time with the menu, then head to the counter to order. Servers deliver your food and refill your drinks.
For a restaurant that does so much from scratch, food comes out relatively quickly — another nice surprise; this place is just full of them.