Jay Jerrier opened his first Cane Rosso pizzeria in Dallas in 2011 and it's been hailed by national publications such as Eater and The Daily Meal as one of the best pizzerias in America. So, it was entirely unsurprising last Friday night that new Houston location at 1835 North Shepherd in the Heights was packed, with avid diners sitting on the sidewalk waiting for their opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.
If that sounds daunting, just wait a bit. It is, of course, the typical furor that surrounds high profile restaurant openings. For that matter, even though there was a crowd, we landed a two-seat table faster than expected.
Even better: a second location in Montrose slated to open at the end of this summer is in the works, so that might lessen the crush of avid diners a bit on this first location.
Houston got its first glimpse at “certified” Neapolitan pizza when Bill Hutchinson opened his first Pizaro’s location in the Memorial area—also in 2011. Jerrier’s and Hutchinson’s paths have run parallel in many ways. It's just that they started in different Texas cities. Both were inspired by true Neapolitan pizza in Italy, noticed the lack of it in the United States and pursued training and certification with Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) before opening their restaurants. (Watch for our in-depth look on what getting certified involves later this week.)
Neapolitan pizza is made in a blistering, 900-degree oven and takes a mere 90 seconds to cook. Someone has to mind it the entire time it’s baking, periodically scooping it up with a “peel” (a big, long-handled spatula of sorts), rotating it and sliding it off the peel and back onto the oven floor. It’s not a “crispy” or “thin” pizza. A hallmark of the style is the charred exterior crust (no, it’s not burned and is supposed to look like that) but the center tends to be soft and floppy, kind of like New York-style. Unlike New York-style, though, it’s traditionally eaten with a fork and knife, not folded.
Cane Rosso offers 22 different pizza topping combinations. They range from uncomplicated renditions that allows each ingredient to shine of its own accord (such as marinara, a blend of San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil) to complex, meatier ones, like the Paulie Gee with hot soppressata, caramelized onions, Calabrian chiles, San Marzano tomatoes, housemade mozzarella and basil.
The fact that Houston now has two VPN-certified pizzerias will lead to avid discussion among pizza fanatics on which is “better.” There are two important distinctions between the two, however: Pizaro’s is BYOB and Cane Rosso has a full bar menu: cocktails, beer and wine. (We were disappointed to find that although there’s a good selection of wine at Cane Rosso, red wine was “room temp,” which in Houston is often a little too warm to be optimal.)
Because the Heights is “dry,” diners will have to go through the usual nonsense of joining the restaurant’s “private club” in order to drink alcoholic beverages. (Perhaps someone can explain what problem keeping Heights restaurants “dry” is solving, exactly, when they all can employ a low-stress workaround, anyway.)
Cane Rosso also has an extensive food menu that includes pasta and sandwiches. Meatball lasagna is offered, but only on Friday and Saturday nights. Unfortunately, they were already sold out by the time we arrived. We tried the cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) pasta instead and while Cane Rosso’s version won’t be unseating Coltivare’s as the best in Houston, we admired the bold commitment to pepper. There was no shortage of pleasant, acrid heat and cheese lovers won’t be disappointed in the hearty doses of Parmigano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, either. Speaking of cheese: balls of housemade burrata are quite hefty (more than enough for two) and come with sides of fresh arugula and greens spiced with red pepper flakes.
Dog lovers should take note: owner Jay Jerrier probably loves dogs even more than you do, so there's a canine-friendly patio at Cane Rosso. (Cane Rosso, in fact, means, "red dog.")
This style of pizza is at its absolute best fresh out of the oven. The delicate crust isn’t going to survive an overnight stay in the fridge at home. Take-out pizza from Cane Rosso should be eaten right away.
Whether dining in or taking out, just remember this important fact about Cane Rosso: don't ask for a side of ranch dressing.
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