Tony Vallone's Regional Italian Cuisine Dinner Series

Sicilian homestyle cooking at Ciao Bello.

I ate (past tense) deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's. However, I love (present tense) Chicago-style deep-dish pizza [end stop]. This enduring infatuation means that even pies as fantastic as what I had at Malnati's ultimately leave me hungry for so much more. Thus my quest for Chicago-style deep-dish will continue long after I've left the Windy City. Next stop: Chicago's Italian Beef.

Fast Times

Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger
Not quote pretzel-y, bacon-y.

(Clockwise) 2011 Azienda Agricola COS, Frappato, Sicilian IGT; breaded baked chicken; escarole, cannellini beans, pine nuts and golden raisins.
Mai Pham
(Clockwise) 2011 Azienda Agricola COS, Frappato, Sicilian IGT; breaded baked chicken; escarole, cannellini beans, pine nuts and golden raisins.
Deep-dish at Lou Malnati's
Joanna O'Leary
Deep-dish at Lou Malnati's

Christina Uticone

I am really starting to become a sucker for promotional burgers. Lately, every time I go through the drive-through with Good Salad Intentions, I end up with whatever special burger promotion is going on.

This time it was Wendy's — because who can resist a bacon cheddar burger, especially when it comes on a pretzel bun?

Wendy's calls the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger "a delicious new twist on our classic hot-n-juicy cheeseburger with a sweet & smoky honey mustard sauce, melted cheddar cheese and applewood smoked bacon all on a warm, soft pretzel bun."

Let's explore the accuracy of that ­statement.

Basing a "new" burger entirely on simply changing the bun is a tricky strategy, because that bun had better be pretty epic. I certainly liked the look of my Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger — a dark, caramelized bun that housed a beef patty, melted cheddar cheese, dark and leafy lettuce (green and purple!), and visual evidence of the aforementioned "sweet & smoky honey mustard sauce."

Unfortunately, the visuals do not translate into a winning cheeseburger. You can see the honey mustard sauce, but it gets lost in the more-than-a-little-greasy cheese. And you know what else doesn't work? A dry hamburger patty paired with cheese grease. The bottom of the to-go container was covered in a slick of grease that, as near as I could tell, was coming from the layer of cheese between the burger patty and the bun — the burger was so dry, how could the grease possibly be coming from the meat? It was a strange, and unpleasant, combination of textures.

As for the bacon, I finally found some around the fifth or sixth bite, but again, we're talking about an ingredient that largely gets lost in the grease pit. Finally, the star of the show, the "soft pretzel bun." "Soft" is not a word I would use to describe the bun; in fact, it was a lot closer to an actual pretzel than to a pretzel roll — dry, chalky, almost dusty when tasted on its own. I think you have to skip this one, guys — I expect a lot more for my 680 fast-food calories than grease and cheese.

Bar Beat

D&T Drive Inn's Grand Opening
An old dog with new tricks.

Minh T. Truong

The grand opening of the "new" D&T Drive Inn has been a year and a half in the making. Down House co-owners Chris Cusack and Joey Treadway acquired the place in early 2012 and have been working on transforming the once divey icehouse on Enid and Calvacade into a slicker version of itself.

D&T is still laid-back with a neighborhood vibe, but with shiny new add-ons such as a beautiful new bar and communal table made from an oak tree that had to be taken down during renovations, and a bar with 50 craft beers on tap. A club associated with Down House wouldn't be complete without food offerings, and along with a steak and fried-chicken night, D&T offers a small menu of sandwiches and meats and cheeses.

A good crowd braved the heat to attend the June 29 grand opening. The small front bar area was bustling, as was the large back patio. Patrons were treated to samples from the menu — po-boys, smoked pimento cheese made with sharp Cabot cheddar, housemade giardiniera pickles, potato salad and pickled eggs. As a non-fan of potato salad, I found this one to be extraordinary and kept wanting more. It wasn't your usual creamy variety but more tangy, kicked up with mustard seed and parsley. The pickled eggs were shrimp-boiled, adding a layer of spice. It was simple but unique.

I can easily see that the area will embrace the makeover. For all its modern touches, D&T didn't want to completely change what had been. It wanted to preserve the history of the neighborhood joint and bring out the full potential of the space. Don't worry: You can still get your Lone Star, Miller Lite and Bud Light, in a can, on ice — it still is an icehouse, after all.

Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Heights location of D'Amico's shutters but looks to reopen in Katy.

Molly Dunn

Unfortunately, a few popular restaurants closed their doors last week, but fortunately, they have announced plans to reopen in different locations throughout Houston. Let's start with the beloved Italian eatery D'Amico's.

Eater Houston reports that the Heights location of D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe closed after being in business for the past two years. You can still eat at D'Amico's in Rice Village, though. A statement from the restaurant explains that the owners have enjoyed being in the Heights but decided to move the restaurant to a more suitable location. D'Amico's is opening in Katy in the early fall as well as in Sugar Land, The Woodlands, Memorial and a few more areas later.

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