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Coppa Osteria Is Reinventing Italian with Heart and Flour-Covered Hands

Chef Brandi Key's hands-on approach takes Coppa Osteria outside the box.

If you ask local food lovers which restaurant is better, Coppa Ristorante or Coppa Osteria, they'll generally tell you the ristorante serves more laudable food and has better service. In order to get the new Coppa up and running, much of the staff (including the pizza maker) from the ristorante came to the osteria, and because many of the dishes are the same, figuring out the menu ins and outs shouldn't be an issue. But the space is huge, and the waiters constantly seem frazzled by the demands of serving more than 100 people at a time, inside and outside. I have yet to order wine off the short but diverse wine list and receive what I asked for on the waiter's first try, and sometimes a server will disappear for ten minutes at a time, only to hound you with constant water refills for the following ten minutes. On a few occasions, I was left to wonder whether I'd actually placed a dessert order or just imagined it. But the panna cotta with berries is too wonderful to simply imagine. It must be tasted.

Pizzas, it seems, are not always properly rotated in the oven, so they're sometimes cooked unevenly (but taste great nevertheless), and someone in the kitchen on one of my visits apparently had a heavy hand with the cracked black pepper (which I'll take over a heavy hand with the salt any day). The recipes are there, but the kitchen at Coppa is still working out a few kinks.

In spite of minor slip-ups in the preparation, the food at the osteria is the end product of Key's inventive takes on Italian cuisine, which elevate often-commonplace dishes like meat-lover's pizza to the carnissima — arguably the best combination of meat, cheese and dough in the history of those ingredients. Hopefully Key will start serving the pizza with scamorza cheese already on it, but for now you have to order the cheese as an extra topping, and I highly recommend that you do so. The mixture of the soft, delicate cow's-milk cheese with five different kinds of cured meats and a drizzle of Parmesan cream sauce is decadent and downright heavenly. The carnissima is almost enough to make this Texan forget barbecue altogether in favor of this superior presentation of perfect pork.

The carnissima is topped with five Italian meats and Parmesan cream sauce.
Troy Fields
The carnissima is topped with five Italian meats and Parmesan cream sauce.

Location Info

Map

Coppa Osteria

5210 Morningside Drive
Houston, TX 77005

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Kirby-West U

Details

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Crispy spiced chickpeas: $4

Burrata arancini: $5

Coppa caesar: $11

Meatball sub: $12

Lamb sausage burger: $15

Meatballs al forno: $14

Margherita pizza: $17

Carnissima pizza: $19

Spaghetti carbonara: $21

Fusilli: $23

Chicken under a brick: half $19, whole $27

Veal steak marsala: $24

Tiramisu: $8

In like manner, the homemade "gluten-friendly" pasta could make you forget that pasta was ever supposed to contain gluten at all. During one meal, I dove into a bowl of fettuccini Alfredo that came as a side with my veal steak marsala and relished the entire experience before Key informed me that I had just gone to town on something devoid of gluten. I was so sure I'd know the difference, but I had no idea.

I also had no idea that I liked meatballs so much, since the idea of ground meat rolled into a ball and smothered in sauce has never appealed to me. The "small plate" of meatballs al forno comes with three giant spheres of peppery, spicy meat, with not a hint of chewy or unidentifiable bits (my greatest fear when it comes to meatballs). They're so smooth and ­flavorful, in fact, that I went back for seconds and thirds, leaving my poor friend who had ordered the dish quite hungry by the time his ­entrée ­arrived.

Though main dishes like veal steak marsala and chicken under a brick are well executed, the most solid entrées, the stars of Coppa Osteria's show, are clearly Key's pizzas and pastas. Even a simple dish of fusilli and marble-sized meatballs (polpette) is better than an average bowl of traditional spaghetti and meatballs. The fusilli is made in-house (and can be prepared with gluten-free dough upon request), and the miniature meatballs taste like the same alluring medley that made the larger baked meatballs such a hit. Perhaps the best element of this fusilli dish, though, is the bright, acidic tomato sauce, so simple in its execution yet so wonderfully robust in flavor. Dishes like this most clearly exemplify the Coppa and Brandi Key modus operandi — the best ingredients, simple preparation and a hands-on approach to everything.

At some point during the evening, Brandi Key disappears from the dining room and slips back into the kitchen. She's spent the better part of an hour chatting with diners, assisting the servers and overseeing the kitchen like a proud mother whose children are proving they were listening after all when she taught them how to make the perfect pizza dough. Though Key is a gracious host and clearly relishes watching diners enjoy the fruits of her labor, getting her hands onto a round of dough is what really lights her up.

"There's nothing more fascinating than water, yeast and flour," Key said in an interview back in 2012, before the osteria became a reality. After dining on her fanciful creations made with those three ingredients, I'm inclined to agree.

It's the simplest food at Coppa — the pasta, the pizza crust, the ground meat mixed with a few spices and formed into delectable little balls, the sinfully smooth tiramisu — that has the greatest impact, and that seems to be Key's intent. Diners will always seek hyper-traditional Italian dishes or modernized takes containing 15 extra ingredients, but the middle ground struck by this osteria is certainly a worthy goal. Like a good dough, it just needs some time to rise.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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10 comments
Hennick72
Hennick72

"Re-inventing Italian" ...huh? Bastardizing or molesting Italian classics would be more accurate. There's a reason that you don't de-construct the ingredients in carbonara; stems from the same reason you cook pasta with the sauce to finish it off--absorbs more of the flavor. And I'm sorry: a meat stacked pizza is just wrong, anywhere, and downright evil when combined with a cream sauce.

fiorello
fiorello

Maybe Houston appetites and modern pizza trends demand a five meat pizza with cream sauce, but that ain't my bag. I thought you liked more streamlined, classic pies in the Neapolitan style and this seems like a 180. Is this thing a soggy mess 'o meat and sauce or what? Are you suffering perhaps from a salt/iodine deficit?

But I'm on the same page about Clark/Cooper joints being overpriced and somewhat stilted in tone for good, but not outstanding, food. The best thing they ever did was teaming up Antonio Gianola on wines with Chris Shepherd in the kitchen at...what was the name of that place?

metatronarchetype
metatronarchetype

A review about an osteria that doesn't even mention the oysters?  For shame!

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Sounds good, the pretentious dress code aside.

todoug
todoug

@Teri Ellis Maybe so, but $21 for a plate of spaghetti, way out of line.

sylviana
sylviana

@fiorello 

That pizza borrows more from Papa John's, Pizza Hut and Domino's, than it does from anything you'd find in Italy. I'm in the less-is-more camp of pizza, especially when it comes to meat. I'd rather order the meats on their own, some pizza crust, and a bowl of good olive oil.

 
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