Carbone's: Jimmy's for the 1 Percent

Highland Park Gets Its Very Own Italian Restaurant and Specialty Shop.

Dallas has plenty of Italian-American restaurants. The problem is very few of them are any good. While Lucia, Nonna and other regional Italian restaurants pay homage to the Old World with brilliant dishes featuring little fishes, hand-rolled pastas and wild game, Dallas has a dearth of decent spaghetti and meatballs.

The Campisis have amassed many locations in and around the city, but they've done it more by cashing in on hoary rumors of mob connections than with a stellar calamari fritti. Patrizio is packed with the Highland Park glitterati on weekends, but it's not because of its lifeless Caesar salad. Pietro's and Bellini's ride more on their shtick than the quality of their food, too, and the green neon of countless other ristoranti does little to instill confidence in the cooking that lurks inside. Until two months ago, the best Italian-American food to be had in Dallas, at least in terms of consistency, was likely served at Maggiano's.

That's a shame, because Italian-American food might be the most delicious bastardization of a world cuisine American cooks have ever mustered. Spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna slices the size of car batteries, salads drenched in oil and red wine vinegar and endless baskets of garlic bread — these are the comfort foods of millions of Americans.

Italian-American classics get a serious upgrade at Carbone's.
Lori Bandi
Italian-American classics get a serious upgrade at Carbone's.

Location Info

Map

Carbone's Fine Food and Wine

4208 Oak Lawn Ave.
Dallas, TX 75219

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn

Details

Carbone's Fine Food and Wine
Hoagies $10-11
Prosciutto with melon $12
Caprese salad $9
Sausage and rabbit loin with polenta $16
Spaghettini and meatballs $16
Caesar salad $9
Cannoli $7
Lemon semifreddo $7

When Italian immigrants started flocking to New York City, they may have left the subtleties of Tuscan, Sicilian and Roman cuisine behind — rustic Old World breads became yeast-driven, bland loaves, and pomodoro sauce evolved into a meat laden "gravy" — but they brought with them a love of food and eating. Using their New World bounty, they built their own distinct and iconic food culture.

This is the spirit Julian Barsotti attempts to invoke with Carbone's, his new restaurant and take-out counter in southern Highland Park. Barsotti's first offering, Nonna, opened in 2006 in Oak Lawn and focuses on regional Italian cooking, but with Carbone's, Barsotti wanted to re-create something closer to what Italian immigrants might have encountered when they came to the States.

This is the reason my waiter gives for favoring domestic over Italian wines, along with La Quercia prosciutto from Iowa, Anson Mills polenta from South Carolina and locally grown tomatoes, among other ingredients. It's a nice sentiment, but there is no way any fresh-off-the-boat Italian-American ate a sandwich as good as what the chalkboard menu calls an Italian combo, a mix of hot coppa, mortadella and soppressata cold cuts stuffed into the tough, chewy bread. Shredded lettuce, thinly shaved onions and a tart vinaigrette round out a very compelling hoagie. Other sandwiches are just as good, and they ought to be, since they all cost $10-11.

Forget that tough, dry, breaded chicken cutlet you had at your old favorite Italian-American restaurant. Barsotti's is pounded thin, but not too thin, and cooked perfectly, with a moist center and a brilliantly golden crust. Slathered in a tomato sauce as scarlet as sin and stuffed into another one of those crusty loaves, this chicken Parm sandwich will fast become your new lunchtime friend.

Business is brisk during the day, with a line of Highland Park moms picking up large paper bags stuffed with butcher paper-wrapped sandwiches and other deli snacks. At night, though, a hostess guides customers to sparsely decorated tables, with place mats of butcher paper. Specials dot the menu with Barsotti's freshly rolled pasta, and Carbone's turns into a full-service restaurant.

The space doesn't feel very Italian, however. Draped head to toe in a whitewash of fresh cream, the dining room is as bright as a sunny day at the beach. Un-oiled soapstone counters frame the deli cases in a frosty, slate gray, and shelves, sparsely stocked with pasta and canned tomatoes, look as if they could just as easily display expensive shoes and purses. It's hard to find the romance here, but you don't care — a simple plate of prosciutto and melon just landed on your table.

It's a clichéd plate that has undoubtedly disappointed, and perhaps confused, many diners. What's a dry piece of prosciutto doing wrapped around a vapid piece of melon, anyway? But this cantaloupe is the color of a Creamsicle and tastes as sweet as misbehavior. The ham curls into sumptuous folds when gathered on your fork before it unfurls again, now in your mouth, melting into buttery flavors of fat, pork and salt. At once cool and warm, savory and sweet, a plate like this might inspire you to try something similar at home with ingredients from your local grocery store. Don't bother.

Ingredient sourcing is everything when cooking dishes with few ingredients. A Caprese salad comprising tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and oil is a simple preparation. But if you want to make one as good as Barsotti's, you'll have to find sunny golden, purple Cherokee and heirloom tomatoes the color of blood. You'll have to shill out a little extra for fruity olive oil the color of dry grass. Fnding the right ingredients is hard, and that's exactly where Barsotti excels.

Even in more complicated preparations, great ingredients shine through. They just take more care to prepare. Take the house-made sausage links that grace a perfect polenta puree alongside a rabbit loin. It's not enough to stuff a hog casing with high-quality pig that's so lightly seasoned the flavor of the heritage swine shines. It has to be cooked gently to retain its integrity and a subtle, pink hue. Take one bite and you'll question why you've grilled your sausages into oblivion at home.

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5 comments
Somewhereinthe100percentile
Somewhereinthe100percentile

Well, you're eating there; so I guess you are a part of the %1, as well? Let me guess, the Observer is paying for the meal. Then it/VVM is a part of the %1. And what's so bad about being a part of the %1 anyway? You wouldn't have titled your review as such if you didn't think it was a pejorative.

Halldecker
Halldecker

My Sicilian Godfather grew up in East Dallas with Joe Campisi. He'd laugh, "Nobody would let Joe in their club, he talked too much." The fabled back room at Campisi's, where hundreds of thousands supposedly changed hands each weekend, a storeroom for sauce ingredients. Campisi's went to Hell after Joe died, they expanded into the plumbing store next door, decided they could use less expensive ingredients and less of them. You can make a pizza so cheap, nobody will eat it. Pizza, Scalini's is hard to beat. For Northern Italian, MoMo's on Forest Lane E of Greenville. Beware of others using the Momo's name. The Forest Lane location is the real thing. Perhaps the best Italian in Texas.

Beda
Beda

I'm a Pietro's fan too. I've been eating there since they were in the space now occupied by The Grape.

Jon Daniel
Jon Daniel

I like Pietro's! I hear old people yelling in Italian in the Kitchen. That makes me feel at home...

snugs
snugs

i've been for lunch and dinner -- and both were great. and if you are craving a hearty "fat-man" meal -- get the lasagna topped with sunday "gravy". yum!

 
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