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Italian Classic

George's Pastaria gives the people what they want.

For behind the scenes photos from George's kitchen - and to see how that wonderful rigatoni campagnolo is made - check out our slideshow.

The table next to us at George's Pastaria was occupied by a high school couple on a date, eyeing each other shyly as they ate bowls of spaghetti. Near the front door, a full table held a quartet of uniformed HPD officers who were greeted with handshakes and warm smiles by the staff. By the flat-screen television, families caught up with each other over pizzas while the men sneaked glances at a football game between conversations.

I'd opted that night for a simple dish: pasta à la George, a kissing cousin to the rigatoni campagnolo, my favorite item on the menu. Onto a mound of spaghetti goes a creamy tomato sauce, not much different from a vodka sauce, topped with a tangy lump of goat cheese and a few stray basil leaves. It was so good that I happily took the rest home and ate it the next morning for breakfast, reheated with a fried egg on top.

You'll come back for the rigatoni campagnolo.
Troy Fields
You'll come back for the rigatoni campagnolo.

Location Info

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George's Pastaria

1722 S. Dairy Ashford
Houston, TX 77077

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Memorial

Details

11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Mondays through Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Wednesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays.

Fried ravioli: $7.50

Greek salad: $8.25

Eggplant parmesan: $10

Pasta à la George: $10.50

Rigatoni campagnolo: $12.95

Grilled salmon: $16.95

10" cheese pizza: $12

George's Pastaria

1722 S. Dairy Ashford, 281-558-1717.

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My dining companion had gone high-end and opted for the grilled salmon at $16.95. His fish was gently cooked in a white wine butter sauce that could have used more capers to punch it up, but was solid otherwise. And, as at those Americanized Italian restaurants of old, it was served with a side of spaghetti.

I thought briefly of Big Night — that cine-food favorite from 1996 — and smiled. George's Pastaria may be more on the Pascal's side of that movie's spectrum than on the Paradise side, but only in a good way. Paradise, the restaurant run by fresh-off-the-boat Italian immigrant brothers, was the more authentic of the two restaurants. But rival restaurant Pascal's was more popular, and with good reason: It gave people what they wanted.

The atmosphere at George's Pastaria on any given night is that of a small town or a close-knit neighborhood joint, where everyone knows everyone else and everyone comes "home" for a few hours in the evening over glasses of wine and straightforward Italian-American dishes like eggplant parmesan and spinach lasagna.
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Eggplant parmesan here is blessedly lacking in that waterlogged texture that can plague some eggplant-based dishes. The eggplant is firm, the breading crunchy and adhering steadfastly with each bite. Lasagna is hearty, served in such a large portion that sharing is advised. And if you're a weirdo like me, George's will happily douse its vegetarian spinach lasagna in savory meat sauce if you so request. The Greek salad and house salads come with two pert anchovies on the side, a small touch that always makes me smile.

I even like the cannoli at George's, and that's saying a lot, considering I tend to find most restaurant desserts overprocessed, overwrought, over-sugared and usually under-salted. The thick wrapper of each cannolo is bubbly and crunchy, barely containing the creamy mascarpone inside. It's just sweet enough for dessert, but not overwhelmingly so for those of us with tiny sweet teeth. I do wish that the cannoli weren't drizzled with chocolate sauce, but I'm probably in the minority there.

But it's that rigatoni campagnolo that keeps me coming back here for more: tubes of rigatoni topped with that creamy tomato sauce, resplendent with plump nuggets of fennel-laced sausage and sautéed bell peppers. And, of course, a dollop of goat cheese on top. It's that Italian classic — sausage and peppers — repurposed in an American setting and greeting you like an old friend.

The pizza is a popular item at George's for two reasons, that I can tell. It's easily shared with a group — and there are usually plenty of groups at pushed-together tables — and it's good, simple stuff. One evening, I took a friend who used to own a busy downtown pizza joint with me to test it out. The cheese pizza won his approval to the extent that he ate an entire pie by himself.

Reflecting on it afterward, he said, "The cheese itself was really good."

"It wasn't over-cheesed, which some places have a tendency to do," he continued. "The sauce was light and not too chunky. The crust held up well, but it was a small, ten-inch pie, so it might be floppier on a larger pie," he warned. I had to agree with his assessment, especially about the fluffy crust and the lack of sag when I brought each piece up to my mouth.

Longtime Houstonians may remember George's Pastaria from its old location at Westheimer and Hillcroft, where owner George Reed first opened his restaurant in 1987. Friends of mine who worked at Channel 39, just down the street, routinely ordered pizzas from there nearly in bulk while using George's almost as their second living room. And although it's now moved to west Houston, it's clear that the patrons still come to George's with that same attitude.
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According to his menu, Reed opened the restaurant with his wife, Rene, in an effort to bring the Italian-American food of his youth to Houston. Reed grew up in Pawling, a small town in upstate New York, and the food at George's Pastaria does remind me — if nothing else — of the homespun Italian food I stuffed myself with many times over in places like Buffalo and Rochester.

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33 comments
Voltaggiodeluc
Voltaggiodeluc

Why call it "Italian Classic"... sausage and peppers ain't Italian, it's Sicilian! And we Italians consider the land South of Rome as not really part of Italy.

Jshare
Jshare

George's is my favorite Italian restaurant and has been for about 15 years. The lunch soup & sandwich special for $8.50 is a steal and even includes free garlic bread. The Pasta ala George with chicken is my wife's favorite dish which she can never seem to finish. Whether you want a great meatball and chicken parm sub, lasagna, ziti or spaghetti, they've got it all. and the pizza is out of this world, especially the crust, cheese and the best Canadian bacon topping anywhere. They even serve an appetizer-sized pizza with 3 topics for $7,50 at lunch that is wonderful. Nice friendly atmosphere and great food. Only problem is that parking can be a chore on weekends.

Bert
Bert

Words that need to go away in 2011.

old-schoolcomfort food

Chef504
Chef504

Hell Yes, a big plate of great food. Thats all you need sometime. Diets, to hell with that. Little portions of food on great big plates can be ridiculous when you just want to eat, and get full.

Ljwiley
Ljwiley

So happy to see that Houston is shifting the focus to Italy and its wonderfully diverse variety of foodstuffs! Gee Willikers, I Love that stuff!

xcto
xcto

Type your comment here.I thought the first location was at richmond & fondren. Was that a differant George's ?

Grottolotto
Grottolotto

No it was the same xcto.George opened at Richmond and Fondren, then moved to Hillcroft and Westheimer.

MzCarmen
MzCarmen

The first location was Richmond/Fondren. We've moved with him over the years and the restaurant and food is every bit fantastic as it was all those years ago. The pene renee is my favorite.

Stereed12
Stereed12

George's started out at the corner of Richmond and Fondren in Nov. of 1987.

Pegleg3
Pegleg3

"George's Pastaria gives the people what they want..."

So sad, so limiting. The only way people 'know what they want" is by what they've had before.

If I adopted this approach with my son, he'd never progress beyond hot dogs, pizza and waffles.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'm pretty sure that George's is catering to adults who've long had the opportunity to decide what they want for themselves, and who just want well-made comfort food. ;) Although, that said, I fully agree with the approach you've taken with your son. Picky eaters are no fun. Good for you for broadening his horizons! :)

Pinoluong
Pinoluong

I'm glad you wrote about George's, but I'm somewhat confused about this overused idea of 'comfort food'. What is it exactly? What defines it? Is it the stuff you grew up eating, and so eating it again in adulthood envelopes you in a blanket of warm nostalgic comfort?

If that's it, ok, I understand.

But then, if Feast serves comfort food, and Haven serves comfort food, why is it that you draw a distinction at Poscol and Da Marco for the Italian category? If you ask the owner/chef at the latter two, I suspect he'd say he's often serving what is to him 'comfort food': stuff he grew up eating, often at home, foods that bring an elemental sense of comfort and isn't contrived. Liver, risotto, the long-cooked lesser cuts of beef and pork etc.

And personally, I don't feel like I'm being trendy or 'cool' to like someone else's comfort food. A good risotto is simply delicious, much the way mac 'n cheese, or broccoli casserole is. Ditto with mastaccioli: I don't feel retrograde eating it.

In sum, don't make these facile delineations about comfort food as it applies to Italian. Italian comfort food isn't always Italian-American, or Sicilian. More likely, it's just cooked by an Italian guy with similar nostalgic longings for what he ate, rather than the spaghetti and meatballs that you once ate.

Deltoidpecs
Deltoidpecs

Yeah, she did mention comfort food, and what a shocker: her idea of comfort food varies from yours, unless you consider Stella Sola, Branchwater and Haven cheap places.

Comfort food has become such an amorphous blob that it has little meaning. But I'm going to Tony's for lunch today to have pasta, which is my comfort food.

redonthehead1
redonthehead1

Again, comfort food is a personal definition...what is comfort food to me may not be to you. If Ms. Shilcutt considers George's to be comfort food, why is she not allowed her opinion without criticism? You people will find the most ridiculous things to criticize sometimes. It's so irritating.

Oh, wait, hot off the presses: Patricia Sharp at Texas Monthly just used the term "comfort food"!! Holy hell! Quick...run over there and freak out because it's not your definition of comfort food!!

http://www.texasmonthly.com/pr...

Xxetac
Xxetac

Red, I think the commenter is just saying that Ms. Shilcutt's definition of comfort food in regards to Italian is bogus, or at least pretty tightly defined. That's all. No need for an Encarta definition....unless, you want to argue how little that def makes sense.

Dustifun1
Dustifun1

Never just about food red; it's about ideas and words...and then food.

redonthehead1
redonthehead1

Um, okay. *shaking head* I'm saying to calm down, it's just food. How does that translate to "ready to explode"? Whatever.

Dustifun1
Dustifun1

Settle down redonthehead1, it's a fair point these guys bring up, and you seem ready to explode.

I mean, why this line between 'authentic' and 'comfort food'?

redonthehead1
redonthehead1

Why does YOUR definition of "comfort food" have to be my exact definition of "comfort food". Or why does Ms. Shilcutt's definition have to fit someone else's exact parameters? How about we let people define it as they wish within their life experiences and tastes? Or how about the Encarta definition?

1. simply prepared digestible food: easily prepared unsophisticated food that is psychologically comforting, especially food that is high in carbohydrates ( informal )

Why such angst and derision over the opinion of FOOD!? It's just FOOD, for the love of Mike. It's not life or death! Good grief!

Telina3
Telina3

So Feast, BRC, and Haven are not selling 'comfort food' either?Because they're not cheap, and might not 'pile it high'?And what about Poscol? That to me is all comfort food and bar food.

redonthehead1
redonthehead1

When someone says "comfort food" I always think of Mom's (anyone's Mom's) homemade-from-scratch-meals - whether it's Southern, Cajun, Mexican or Italian.

Comfort food is usually more rustic, cheaper and the ambiance relaxed and laid back. That differentiates a George's Pastaria from a DaMarco. They are both wonderful restaurants and both have their place, but to try to call DaMarco "comfort food" would not be correct. George's is homey, DaMarco is upscale. George's "piles it deep and sells it cheap". DaMarco's - not so much.

I don't think the delineation is "facile"...have you BEEN to George's to see the difference??

Pegleg3
Pegleg3

It's the same concept with adults: if they believe that Italian is parmigiana and the same constellation of Italian-American favorites, that's what they're going to demand, not realizing there is another universe out there.

To a frog in a well, he looks up, sees the sky, and this is the whole universe to him. ;)

LW
LW

Awesome, this is in my neck of the woods, and I'm excited to try it soon.

Annie Roewe Bulloch
Annie Roewe Bulloch

I drive by this place all the time, but never stopped in. I'll pick "old-school Italian-American comfort food" over frou-frou "authentic" every time, so I definitely will make a point of hitting George's soon.

Dextmontrose
Dextmontrose

that last part of your comment is nonsensical, because authentic Italian food generally IS 'comfort food'. Simple, fresh, good ingredients...this epitomizes Italian food over there probably more than here....so who knows what you mean by frou-frou.My guess would be the Arabic version of Italian that thinks more is better.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I think she was referring to "Italian-American" comfort food versus Italian comfort food. A lot of people were raised on the former and aren't as experienced with the latter. That doesn't mean that one is better than the other. And I think George's does old-school Italian-American very well, although that doesn't mean I think it's better than, say, Da Marco or Antica Osteria.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I feel like Antica straddles both cuisines: Italian-American and authentic Italian.

Coryelldeluc
Coryelldeluc

I think Antica Osteria is basically a more expensive George's, but I could be wrong.

Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick

Yes! I've been a fan of George's for over a decade. Very good food and wonderful people.

Michelangelo
Michelangelo

This is one of my favorite spots! Thank you for featuring the great food and story of George's Pastaria!

 
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