If I ever have to permanently leave Houston for unfamiliar territory, it would only take a Star Pizza in my new town to make me feel at home. That’s how many local New Orleans transplants reacted to news that pizzeria chain Reginelli’s chose Houston as its first location in a national expansion plan.
What began as a Big Easy pizza joint that offered college students affordable, authentic Italian fare has become a nostalgia-inducing, salivate-worthy pizza empire. Darryl Reginelli and Bruce Erhardt partnered with Ti Adelaide Martin of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and her brother Alex Brennan-Martin of Brennan’s in Houston to bring this pizza chain to town.
“The food sets us apart — we’ve been roasting our own red peppers since we opened 17 years ago."
Reginelli’s restaurant history includes front-of-the-house experience at high-end French and Italian restaurants in Louisiana, so when it came to opening a wallet-friendly pizza spot, he tapped into that background before deciding on ingredients like pancetta, fresh sausage and real salami.
“The food sets us apart — we’ve been roasting our own red peppers since we opened 17 years ago,” Reginelli says. “I wanted to create a more affordable menu, so I started a pizzeria, but I took all the ingredients that we use in the fine-dining Italian restaurants and incorporated [them].”
When it came to ordering, our table’s playful “When life gives you lemons, put it on a Saltimbocca” sign tempted us into ordering a pie topped with prosciutto, chicken, spinach and lemon. The citrus from the fresh lemon juice added an element of lightness and freshness that made every bite balanced and satisfying. Reginelli personally recommends the hot trio of roasted garlic spread, spinach and artichoke dip and Porta New Orleans (Portabella mushroom pastry) served with crunchy breadsticks and crostini.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to finish it,” he told our table. Out of pride and maybe a little shame, we purposely left a few breadsticks behind, but the pizza — that disappeared almost instantly.
While the new eatery is making itself at home in the Memorial area, it hasn’t lost is its laissez-faire feel, right down to the wine-list-bearing bottle on your table to the sandwich, pasta and pizza menu printed on glossy cardboard. Add to that Monday and Tuesday night $2 pitchers of Abita (natch!) and Wednesday’s $10 bottles of cabernet or chardonnay (hand-picked by Commander’s wine director, no less) and you’ve got a place that’s sure to attract regulars. (My friend calls these prices “almost unconscionably cheap,” but I won’t complain.)
The restaurateurs are already searching for a second Houston location, but in the meantime look for the temporary sign on Kingsride Lane by Memorial City Mall. And whether you opt for the trio, salad or a calzone, make sure you have a pizza and a pitcher of NOLA’s best, too.