Dinner that night did not get off to an auspicious start. My wife had called me while I was on my way home from work, telling me that I was to drive out to Westheimer and the Beltway, to meet her and the kids for dinner with her sister. This did not make me happy. About 15 minutes later, as I was fighting Galleria traffic, she called me back with a new plan; we were to meet up with a different sister at a park near our house, then caravan to a pizza joint on the northern edge of the Heights. By the time I met up with them, I felt like a yo-yo. A very frazzled yo-yo.
Of course, it's easy to have your mood changed when your youngest, upon seeing you get out of the car at the park, shouts "Daddy! Watch this!" and flings herself headlong at the monkey-bars, her erstwhile nemesis, finally conquering the twisted steel beast. Basking in the glow of her accomplishment, I scooped her into the car, along with my other daughter and wife, and we were off. Three cars - two sisters-in-law, one mother-in-law, one under-two niece, and my crew - headed to the newest, not quite ITL location of Brother's Pizzeria.
Brother's has long been a favorite of my pizza-addicted sister-in-law, and she was excited to be taking us to this new, somewhat closer outpost of the NY slice shop style stalwart. I'd only been to the original location on Highway 6 once, but had reasonably fond memories. My sister-in-law swears Brother's is superior to several of my own favorites, including the wood-oven pies at Dolce Vita, so she is not entirely to be trusted.
Trouble arose as soon as we announced our destination to the kids, who were chatting excitedly in the backseat about dinner with their aunts and baby cousin. "Peeeeetzuuuhhh!" whined our youngest, drawing out the vowel sounds into a nasally harbinger of impending meltdown. "I hate pizza." For the record, I have no idea how that happened. She stands as one of only two children I've ever met who don't count pizza as one of their favorite foods. We assured her, fingers crossed, that there would be other options aside from the dreaded pizza, and she was pacified, though a bit circumspect.
We arrived and debated orders, the group having ignored my sage advice of figuring that out beforehand. My wife caused a minor stir when she ordered an off-menu Pizza Bianca, or white pizza. She remembered having one - topped only with fresh and fantastic mozzarella, garlic, and olive oil - at Grimaldi's in Brooklyn a few years back. The proprietor was taken aback for a minute, surprised that she knew of the pie's existence. "We only make those for ourselves, usually," he explained, before agreeing to make her their bianca, blanketed in mozz and ricotta cheeses, for her.
As soon as her pie hit the table, I knew we were going to have issues. The ricotta, slathered directly on top of the crust, had given up a considerable amount of liquid while cooking. On top, the mozzarella had divested itself of its milkfat, buttery grease pooling on top of the pie. As I pulled a slice free, the two liquid phases cascaded onto the pan below, semi-emulsifying into a milky-white, yellow-tinged ocean that quickly spread to the other slices, further softening their already flaccid crusts.
In order to eat, and love, NY style pie, you have to be okay with a less than crisp crust. The same can be said of NY pie's Neapolitan cousin. However, the best of both of those species make up for the textural failings of their substrate by having impeccable embellishments on top. I can forgive a soggy crust if it means top-shelf, freshly made mozzarella. That's not what this was. Besides, the crust wasn't just softened, it was wet.
The whole table agreed that the bianca was an inferior pie, my sister in law's simpler order of a standard pie with a scattering of bell pepper showing the pizza in much better light. The crust retained some crispness to offset its general chew; the sauce was clean and bright, and the peppers added sweet and vegetal notes, with slightly charred edges.
My elder daughter declared that her slice of cheese was superior to all of the above, polishing it off and chasing it with a slice of each of the other pies, then using her stray crusts to swipe the sauce from her sister's spaghetti plate. That's right, we did find a pizza alternative for the little one, and she approved of her overcooked noodles and simple, tasty tomato sauce. She left her gray, spongy meatballs discarded to the side, and I can't say that I blame her.
Despite the lackluster performance of our in-crowd pizza selection, we all had a good time. The staff was as affable as could be, probably eager to form some connections and earn some regulars in their new neighborhood. The kids were kept occupied with a supply of well sharpened colored pencils and paper plates, then encouraged to affix their creations to the wall of the restaurant, and take their place in history. That's where our only trouble began.
As we were leaving, the older one decided she just had to keep her decorated plate, because what does every eight year old girl want on her wall, aside from a paper plate decorated with pizza joint exaltations, right? I lobbied heavily against this, as I knew full well that those plates would likely not make it in from the floor of the car or, if they did, would simply add to the growing pile of art projects threatening to topple from their desk. Don't get me wrong, I love my kids' handiwork, I just don't have room for all of it. They're more prolific than Picasso.
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I lost, and we traipsed toward the car, plates in tow. Then, in a moment of surprisingly cooperative behavior, the younger one declared that she would hang hers. She ran back inside, proudly taping her plate next to the cash register, and ran back, grinning from ear to ear. That all would have been well and good, had her sister not offered the wisdom of her increased years, detailing all the reasons she should have kept her plate. We were buckled in and ready to go, at this point. That didn't last.
Back inside, I made her ask for her plate back, and she emerged, triumphant. They made it in from the car last night, too, if for no other reason than the chance to prove their dad wrong. I think I'll have the things framed.