The last couple of months haven't been kind to Italian restaurants near the Galleria. Osteria Mazzantini finally closed in January, and Arturo's Uptown Italiano will give way to upscale Tex-Mex restaurant Añejo after March 1.
But Sam Fox isn't worried.
Fox, the James Beard Award restaurateur of the year semifinalist, is in town this week to supervise the final steps in the opening of the newest outpost of North Italia, the Italian restaurant that's part of his company Fox Restaurant Concepts. After all, healthy-oriented True Food Kitchen is already a hit in the same BLVD Place development that North will call home.
"We have an organization that's good at figuring it out," Fox tells CultureMap. "Texas has been a great place for us to do business."
All pizza dough and pasta is made fresh daily — the pizza dough also turns into bread for the meatball sandwich.
Fox notes that the North's Austin location is the best-performing restaurant per seat in the entire company, which is why he's confident that Houston will be a good fit for North's first new location since 2011. North will also add two locations in California this year and expand to Dallas in 2016.
Fueling North's growth is its reputation for providing high-quality, from scratch Italian-American comfort food. All pizza dough and pasta is made fresh daily — the pizza dough also turns into bread for the meatball sandwich. North even makes it own ricotta cheese, which finds a use as ricotta dumplings in a gnocchi dish with braised short ribs.
According to executive chef Jonathan Willis, who joined the company last year after a 10-year stint in the Marriott organization, the only things North doesn't make itself are the ladyfinger cookies for its tiramisu, its gelato and the bread for the bruschetta, which is made by local artisan baker Kraftsmen using North's recipe.
Willis cites North's bolognese sauce as one of the prime examples of the approach. In addition to the usual beef, the sauce, which takes six hours to make, also gets a hit of extra flavor from leftover charcuterie trimmings. After all, prosciutto should never go to waste.
Other dishes to try include the meatball sandwich, which arrives extra gooey thanks to scamorza cheese, and classic arancini, which are made with mushroom risotto. The brunch menu features Italian egg dishes like a frittata and the nonna (fried eggs, red sauce, Italian sausage).
Beverage offering include a selection of reasonably-priced wines, five local craft beers and a dozen cocktails that range from a classic sangria to a Manhattan riff called the Quiet Italian Gentleman that mixes Bulleit rye, Carpano antica, Campari and Disaronno amaretto. Select bottles of wine get really cheap during happy hour, when they can be paired with a pizza, bruschetta or meat and cheese board for only $20.
Taken together, North's offerings should help it find an audience and break the recent string of ill fortune that's struck a couple of nearby Italian restaurants. It opens on Tuesday.