Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Italian Wine and Food Business is booming in Flyover Country!

Yeah, you can laugh at "them Texans" with their funny accents and their big hair, but where in America can you find, on the Monday before Christmas, a restaurant doing a wine dinner that packed the house? Had to turn people away? On Football night? Basketball too? Did I say it was the Monday before Christmas? And the first night in 456 years since we last had a total lunar eclipse?

Well, the friends of Salvatore’s Gisellu’s smashing success, Urban Crust, located, in all places, old Plano, they came, they drank and they ate. And ate. And drank some more. And with long tables like that I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them got up on the tables and starting dancing!

Owner Nathan Shea "in the zone". Urban Crust has made close to a quarter-million pizzas since opening 18 months ago
Urban Crust, the creation of Nathan and Bonnie Shea and partners Salvatore and his wife Jeanne-Marie, started out as an experiment to bring authentic pizza to the sub-urbs. An old harness and saddle shop, and we’re talking old (from the 1800’s) has been refitted into a restaurant on the first two floors, and on the third floor, retrofitted with a 30 foot long, frozen rooftop bar overlooking downtown Plano.

I have taken my Italian friends there and they just can’t believe their eyes. The room rocks, with Patron Silver Tequila and Tuaca on tap (yes, on tap!) and this gorgeous thirty-foot bar where you can set your beer down on shaved ice that never melts. And on a hot day in Texas, let me tell you folks in New York and California, that’s mighty big! Stuff that in your tastevin, all you flyover nay Sayers!

The event sold out in minutes, they had to "turn people away"

Back to the party. Billed as Big Reds and Bubbles, a title borrowed from another successful industry party, there must have been 70+ folks crammed into the downstairs dining room. I couldn’t believe it. Full moons do wonderful things to people

That was some mighty fine stuffed eggplant. Want the recipe?
The menu was light(ish) and the price ($30) was right. Five wines, five tastes, served family style. The food was great, from the hot foccacia to the fresh gulf oysters and spinach, a “risotto” of Umbrian farro, turkey and winter squash, and the ultimate dish, Salvatore’s mamma’s stuffed eggplant dish (recipe here). “We used to have it every Thursday. My mamma would prepare it with veal, cheese, eggplant and fresh herbs from outside. Real Sardininan comfort food.” Salvatore misses his mom, and anyone who went to the dinner she made a few years ago misses her too. Came back, mamma, your sons and grandsons need to see you!

Life is sweet! Homemade panna cotta with cranberry caviar and Mionetto sparkling Moscato Dolce
We let a few California wines in and an inexpensive French sparkler, just to show we Italians aren’t the type that have to have front stage and center all the time. Hey, we’re in Texas, people like to mix it up. So we did. Live with it. By the pictures, you can tell folks were having a mighty big time of it.

Especially liked was the Campodelsole Palpedrigo, one of my favorite wines and a winery I have made a mission to bring to flyover country. You want Sangiovese? Tuscany has disappointed you? Me too. So lets drink wine from Emilia-Romagna and move on with our lives. Let the Brunello and Chianti folks figure it out (or destroy it), we’ll just sip on wines from Campodelsole. To make it even more ironic, the Palpedrigo has 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. And I like it, which shook my world because I usually don’t like Cabernet and Merlot in Sangiovese blends. But a wine made well is a wine worth trying and if it is delicious, who cares? Heck, Suckling would give it 90 points just looking at it, wouldn’t he Alice? Moving on…

Most folks were sleeping when ace photographer and insomniac Teresa Rafidi grabbed this shot

I’m about done here, just a post that I wanted to slip in because we had such a great time and it was in the spirit of what this blog is all about- the wine trail in Italy or Plano, who cares? Wild times in the Old West..

Thanks to Tore' and Nathan for hosting a great event. Merry Christmas and a big yee-hah to y’all! God Bless.

The nicest guy in the wine business, Sean Koch, getting last-minute notes on one of the wines. Hey, Chef Tore', Sean has more kids than we can keep count of, would you throw him some more business? He has a lot of mouths to feed, too!

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