ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom
Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom has been located on the corner of the Mockingbird Station development for a while now, but for some reason, tucked away as it is on the opposite end of the Angelika Film Center, I never seem to make it all the way down there for a bite. (I’m usually distracted by a beer at Trinity Hall or a cocktail at People’s Last Stand.) But I was in a pizza mood recently, and decided to make stopping by a priority. It was time to put Old Chicago through the drive-by tasting test.
The test is fairly simple: I pick a restaurant, eat there for lunch only, and go by myself. I try to spend under $15, and I only go once. In other words: I eat the way most people do when having lunch — inexpensively, quickly and without gorging themselves. And I ask the question: Would I go back there myself on my own dime?
When it comes to Old Chicago, that ended up being a harder question to answer than I imagined.
The style of the restaurant is more pub than grub, with a large central bar, lots of stools to watch the many TVs broadcasting sports and a few booths lining the walls. Sports bars can be fun places to eat, especially alone — they have energy and distractions, and you can feel like you’re part of something bigger rather than just clocking out your lunch hour solo.
My trip there, though, was less than social. It wasn’t very crowded, although the staff was incredibly friendly. The hostess even took the time to explain to me the lunch specials before I took a seat, going so far as to tell me the prices after taxes depending on what I ordered. Score points for efficiency and cost.
But that positive was marred by the service. The lunch special – $7.99 for a personal pizza and unlimited salad — feels like a less attractive offer when the “unlimited” salad never begins. I waited fully 10 minutes after ordering for it to arrive … which came well after the pizza. The person who delivered the pie didn’t seem to notice that there was no salad to accompany it, and didn’t seem especially curious about it (no offer to check on it for me). I finally hailed down my waitress and she returned with a delicious Caesar: The dressing was flavorful though not too specially tart, shaved Parmesan was visible throughout and the croutons were crisp. It was so good, in fact, I ordered a second round.
That capped off a fully enjoyable Chicago-style deep dish pizza. (When I think of individual slices, I think of New York-style; when I think of personal pizza, I think of Chicago.) The kitchen actually offers two styles of crust here, although both lean towards the yeasty, thick kind. And if you’re in the mood for that, it can be quite tasty. The breading was not heavy, but fluffy and honeycombed with air. The cheese was thick and gooey, the tomato sauce lightly seasoned but fresh. I got it with Italian sausage (about three globules per piece) as well as sliced black olives — one of my favorite pizza toppings, although these were slightly desiccated and less juicy than I prefer. Overall, though, a nice pie, filling and enjoyable. I liked my lunch and thought, “I’ll be back.”
Only I almost never left. It was a bad early sign that the salad didn’t arrive without my asking; the same was true of the check. I sat for half an hour, alone, my empty, dirty dishes stacked on top each other, my water glass dry as a Noel Coward witticism, before anyone came to deliver the bill or bus my table. Eventually, someone did grab the plate, but I had to flail my arms wildly just to get her to call over my waitress. She was cheery when she got there, and positively delighted to bring my check quickly — all smiles. It just took forever. And forever is a long time when you’re on your lunch break.
I was impressed by the beer selection; it’s called the taproom, and that means it should have a wide variety of good (and especially local craft) beers. The Texas beers at Old Chicago are present, though not dominant. But with Peticolas’ Velvet Hammer, the Lakewood Temptress and Rahr for the offing, it’s hard to say they don’t know the local market. They even offer craft flights — four 4-ounce glasses for about five dollars — where you can sample any of the local brews. The only question becomes, once you order them, will they arrive before it’s time for happy hour?
Such is the conundrum of the restaurant lunch recommendation: Friendly staff, pleasant enough atmosphere, uncrowded environment, tasty food, good price. But that bugaboo service can do you in every time.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 4, 2015.