Chain of foods

At Ruggeri's, Primo's, and Cafe Express, you are where you eat

A bowl of grilled chicken strips with pasta and pesto over lettuce was good, though overdressed, and so was the simple BLT on wheat.

Again, I have to question the "express" part of this concept. True, it didn't take us long to eat a meal at Cafe Express. This is self-serve: Like that granddaddy of chains, McD's, you place your order and pay at the counter. Thank God the food isn't waiting under lights; you go sit down until your number is called and then retrieve your own food, silverware, and condiments, etc. I don't doubt the system seems more efficient to those whose job it is to stand behind the counter, and it probably streamlines the payroll, as well, but from my point of view, "express" is when someone else brings the food to me.

Ruggeri's downtown location is in a quaint brick building near The Quadrangle, full of the kind of charming inconveniences Dallasites only like to encounter when they travel. At home, they don't put up with them for long. There are rumors, denied by Ruggeri's, that this particular charming and inconvenient building is going to be demolished.

Location Info


Café Express

3230 McKinney Ave.
Dallas, TX 75204

Category: Restaurant > Cafe

Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn

In any case, the new location in Addison is more orthodox in design. Located in one of Addison's premier locations, behind Chamberlain's right next to the Addison Town Hall, the whole back of the restaurant looks out over a rolling green lawn and the old house that serves as the restaurant community's municipal building--in all, a pretty view.

The new Ruggeri's was noisy, crowded, and dark on a recent rainy night, but the service was as effusively friendly as it ever is on Routh Street. The crowd was a little more glitzy, typical of Addison, than the downtown customers. With our wine, we ordered the special garlic toast, which is really a kind of open-face cheese sandwich, the garlicked bread covered with a melted lace of parmesan.

The menu is the same as the original Ruggeri's, whose manicotti has always been the best in town, the limp little crepe enfolding ethereal, cloudlike cheese, with a tangy marinara sauce keeping the whole thing from cloying with its softness. Somehow, it didn't seem quite as wonderful here as it has at the original location, though the soft-shell crab, another Ruggeri's specialty, seemed even better, buttery and brown, the crust breaking into pastrylike bits around the sweet, sea-scented flesh. Veal scallops were pounded to paper-thinness and topped with citrusy artichoke hearts in lemon butter, and red-hearted lamb chops were thick and juicy knobs of meat on fragile little bones.

Primo's on McKinney became notorious as the chefs' favorite after-work hangout, which either says something about the food, the owner, or the amount of tequila in the margaritas, depending on who you talk to. Like Ruggeri's, it's a funny, odd-shaped space in an older building that has annexed more space as business heated up. The new space in Addison is more bland: It looks like any other Mexican restaurant decorated with odd pictures on the wall---a huge painting of a fancy dancer, an oil portrait of Emmitt Smith, a quiet landscape--and a collection of beer cans lined up over the carved wood columns. Anyway, outdoor dining (in Addison, a big wood deck replaces McKinney's cramped streetside patio) is the drawing card here for those people who mysteriously have whole evenings during which to do nothing but sit around and drink.

The kitchen reproduces the downtown food well, including the famous botanas platter with its tiny white-meat-packed flautas; its nachos so loaded with cheese and beef that the tostados turn back into a tortilla, and with their twin peaks of guacamole and commercial sour cream (does anyone really eat that stuff?); the tiny cocktail tacos, fried after filling; and crisp-coated, bullet-shaped stuffed jalapenos.

There are numerous combination plates and a section of fajitas--the word usually meaning "skirt steak," but here encompassing chicken, seafood, or vegetable fajitas, the latter a sputtering platter of sliced squash, peppers, onions, and mushrooms to scoop into a flour tortilla with some of the (hot) hot sauce for a roll-your-own. What's missing is a little cheese to stick the elements together.

Of course, I prefer the original Primo's and the original Ruggeri's; I like the quaintness, the slight funkiness. But I like the downtown Cafe Express better than its uptown location. It's not the food--it's fine and mostly identical uptown and downtown--but the atmosphere (that overused word ambiance) that's different. The point is, it's not just what you eat but where you eat.

Cafe Express McKinney, 3230 McKinney Ave., 999-9444. Open daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Ruggeri's, 5348 Belt Line Rd., 726-9555. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; for dinner daily, 5 p.m.-11 p.m.

Primo's, 14905 Midway Rd., 661-2287. Open Monday-Thursday, 11-midnight; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. (Bar open Monday-Saturday till 2 a.m., Sunday till midnight)

Cafe Express:
Penne Pasta with Grilled Chicken, Sweet Garlic, and Olive Oil $6.75
Half-Roasted Chicken With Baked Potato $7.95

Homemade Garlic Bread $3.75
Soft-Shell Crab a la Ruggeri $7.95
Scaloppine alla Carciofo $16.95

Botanas Platter $7.25
Veggie Fajitas $6.95
Cheese Enchiladas Plate $6.


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