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City Oven Is Fitting in Quite Well

Heights newcomer City Oven has a laudable goal: dependable, satisfying food.

After determining that the meatball was tasty but ground too finely and mixed with too many bread crumbs, I decided to conduct an experiment. I wanted to see if the meatball was similar enough to modeling clay that I could pinch off a piece and make a mini meatball out of it. I could.

What I discovered in dining at City Oven is that some of the best dishes are the ones that blend the restaurant's bar aspect with its restaurant aspect. By that I mean that the chefs are fond of putting booze in the food. And just about any food with alcohol in it, done correctly, is fine by me. Of course, the alcohol in the red wine and mushroom sauce surrounding the gummy meatball had no doubt been cooked away, but the flavors left behind by the wine or beer in any of the dishes add another dimension and make them ideal for pairing with City Oven's extensive beverage menu.

A side dish of Brussels sprouts prepared with bacon and a hint of sweetness, similar to those at Goro & Gun or Uchi (though presented with less finesse), gains some extra zing from a touch of hard cider, while the beer mac and cheese could rival any pasta dish I've tasted at any proper Italian restaurant in town. In between bites of pizza and meatball, I kept going back to that simple mix of penne and melted sharp cheeses with its hint of hoppy beer.

The beer mac and cheese has a great hoppy flavor, and the spinach and artichoke dip is so decadent that you will be tempted to eat it with a spoon.
Troy Fields
The beer mac and cheese has a great hoppy flavor, and the spinach and artichoke dip is so decadent that you will be tempted to eat it with a spoon.

Location Info

Map

City Oven

2802 White Oak Drive
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Chips, salsa & queso: $6.99
Spicy spinach & artichoke dip: $8.99
Wings: $8.99-$15.99
City Oven strawberry salad: $10.99
Grilled salmon spicy Caesar: $12.99
Giant meatballs: $10.99
City Oven supreme pizza: $10.99-$15.99
Bacon cheddar burger: $9.99
Chicken alfredo pasta: $9.79
Brussels sprouts and bacon: $4.99
Mac and cheese: $3.99
Seasonal fruit cobbler: $4.99



For more about City Over:

Slideshow: A Closer Look at City Oven
Blog: Stuffing Meatballs and Filling Niches at the Casual and Good City Oven


If all the food I ate at City Oven that night sounds heavy, that's because it was. When I returned another day for lunch determined to find something lighter, I discovered that there are some gems mixed in among all that meat and cheese. The strawberry and spinach salad is crisp and fresh, and it, too, comes with a bit of alcohol, this time in the form of a slightly bitter hefeweizen vinaigrette; the grilled salmon spicy Caesar salad, though not particularly spicy, is topped with a generous portion of grilled-to-order fish prepared exactly as it should be: slight sear on the outside, still juicy and a little pink on the inside.

I have yet to meet anyone who's dined at City Oven and still had enough room to order dessert at the end of his or her meal, but after munching on a couple of salads, I decided I could do it. At the waitress's suggestion, I had the berry cobbler, and if I'd had the stomach for it I would have ordered several more. It's not quite like a traditional biscuit-topped cobbler, nor is it texturally interesting. It's actually rather mushy, but the flavors of the seasonal berries and the moist, crumbly topping with a hint of cinnamon won me over almost immediately.

In fact, City Oven itself won me over. Yes, one evening I asked what the happy hour specials were and the waitress had no clue. And yes, there is room for improvement with the food. And parking can still be an issue. But I love the way the restaurant doesn't take itself too seriously. You want a meatball? Here's one the size of a fist stuffed with cheese. You want a bacon cheeseburger? Might as well stuff that whole patty with cheese, too. Then they'll give you a side dish made with beer and a glass of decent wine for only $6. Add a piece of buttery cobbler with deep-red fruit juice oozing out of the dough and a scoop of ice cream and caramel sauce on top, and I dare say you'll be won over, too.
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Though City Oven is most definitely a bar that draws a large weekend crowd, on any given weeknight the spot will be buzzing with a mix of diners as eclectic as the menu. A family will be eating on the back patio, one child in a high chair and the other running in circles around the table while the mother calmly sips a glass of half-price wine. An elderly couple will perch at an elevated booth and munch on an oval pizza. An evening business meeting will go down at a table in the corner over big bowls of salad and a smattering of small appetizers. As the evening progresses, the bar will fill up with people making the rounds of neighborhood watering holes and drinkers looking for a quick bite before heading somewhere with a less inclusive menu.

As at Chili's or Fridays, City Oven is filling a niche, but it's doing so with much more charm than your average family-dining spot. Dine at City Oven a few times, and even in the midst of a crowd, someone who works there will remember you and ask about your day. Admit, as someone I overheard did, that you already ate a burger at Christian's Tailgate next door and came by for a drink only, and the staff will still welcome you at the bar as if you're a Vegas high roller.

It's that friendliness — and the generally good food — that sets City Oven apart from chain restaurants with similar menus, and even from other bars in the area that serve food. It's big enough to hold a large birthday party but small enough to give diners a relaxed, comfortable feeling. It has a legit pizza oven. And hey, if I can have my drink and eat it, too, well, that's just gravy. Or, in this case, a red-wine reduction.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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4 comments
naga418
naga418

Seems sad that a great location like White Oak is lost to a place that appears to be a glorified Chili's. 

Eduardo V. Ortiz
Eduardo V. Ortiz

I'm going to try this out maybe tomorrow or Sat! Listen to some music!

P-Mo
P-Mo

The green that you seen in the meatball is from the fresh parsley, oregano and basil that they mix into their meatballs.  Their meatballs are made fresh daily by hand!! YUM! LOVE this place!!!

P-Mo
P-Mo

the green tint you said you seen in the meatball is from the fresh parsley, oregano and basil they use in their receipe.  Their meatballs are made fresh daily by hand!!! YUM!!! LOVE this place!!

 
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