Restaurant Reviews

Sfuzzi's Fourth Incarnation Reminds Us That What Was Old Is New Again

Wood-fired pizzas and frozen Bellinis never hurt anyone.
Wood-fired pizzas and frozen Bellinis never hurt anyone. Alison McLean
Most Dallas natives and long-time residents will recognize the Sfuzzi name. The first Sfuzzi restaurant opened in 1987 and quickly gained a rabid following for its blend of great Italian food and vibrant bar scene. Long before anyone knew what "going viral" meant, the Sfuzzi concept expanded to 20 locations, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, before the owners filed for bankruptcy in 1995.

In 2009, Sfuzzi was resurrected on McKinney Avenue and offered wood-fired pizzas and frozen Bellinis to the see-and-be-seen crowd of Uptown Dallas before closing in 2013. A third version of Sfuzzi popped up on Cedar Springs Road in 2015, but lasted just six months before shuttering.

Sfuzzi is back for a fourth go-around, this time on Henderson Avenue. Back again are the red and black motifs, frozen Bellinis and pizza, but now with the promise of more upscale fare on the menu. While the vibe of the new Sfuzzi is lively and rousing, it’s best to remember that Sfuzzi is a bar first and a restaurant second, then set your expectations accordingly.
click to enlarge
Sfuzzi's patio will surely be busy when the weather is nice.
Alison McLean
It’s also best to remember to make a reservation if you're planning to eat. When we arrived around 7 p.m. on a recent Friday, the hostess made clear that a table for two inside wasn’t in the cards without a reservation. We could hope for a seat at the bar, or take an open table on the patio. When the weather is cool, the patio is certainly an option. Fortunately, two spots at the bar opened just as we needed to make a decision, so we opted to sit indoors.

We wised up for a midweek return visit and made a reservation the day before. That turned out to be smart thinking, as a birthday party of 18 filled a third of the dining room shortly after we arrived. Seeing restaurants and bars thriving again certainly makes us happy, but just know Sfuzzi is already a popular destination no matter the day of the week. Calling ahead or making a reservation online is highly recommended.
click to enlarge
Some things never change, and Sfuzzi's great bar is one of them.
Alison McLean
Sfuzzi’s interior is dominated by a large U-shaped bar, with roomy semicircular booths lining the walls and high-top tables filling the aisles. Black and white are the primary colors; come dinner time, the space is predominantly illuminated by red lights and neon. Forget trying to Instagram your food, because every photo will be cast with a red hue, as if you’re eating in a submarine.

Our own deep dive into Sfuzzi’s menu naturally started with appetizers. Classics like fried calamari ($14) are decently executed; the calamari was lightly fried with a breading that held up to the fork but suffered from a somewhat bland flavor unless dipped into the accompanying marinara. We had higher hopes for the prosciutto e melon ($16), which promised chunks of cantaloupe wrapped in 24-month-aged prosciutto. Unfortunately, the savory and salty flavors of prosciutto never materialized, having been drowned out by the sweetness of the melon. The portobello mushroom fries ($12) were a better decision, with spears of portobello battered and lightly fried to tender goodness, served with a bright tomato aioli.
click to enlarge
Spicy vodka rigatoni
Alison McLean
Pizzas and pastas are where Sfuzzi starts to sparkle. Wood-fired pizza was a novel idea from the first Sfuzzi in 1987 but much more commonplace today. That’s not to say that Sfuzzi version 4 is resting on its pizza laurels; the pies we tried deserve high praise for the light yet chewy crust with perfect wood-char flavor. Our sausage rustica pie ($18) sported Italian sausage from Jimmy’s, caramelized onions and roasted peppers that hit the mark. The pizzas come in one (large) size only, and are enough for two or three people to share.

Pesto fusilli ($22) was possibly our favorite pasta dish. The bright and herby pesto filled every nook and cranny of the fusilli, while chunks of flavorful rosemary chicken breast and sweet-tart slivers of sun-dried tomato added layers of complexity. The spicy vodka rigatoni ($18) we tried on our first visit lived up to its name as well. Our bartender/waiter offered the option of getting the rigatoni with either chicken or sausage. We opted for sausage, but when the plate arrived it was chicken. Our waiter was quick to acknowledge the mistake, but the corrected dish took another 20 minutes to arrive, as if the message to expedite a replacement entrée was lost in the shuffle.

On another visit, we opted for the Bolognese with gemelli pasta. Sfuzzi’s Bolognese was savory and hearty, with just a touch of spiciness that was balanced by the creamy dollop of ricotta cheese that topped the bowl. All of the pasta servings were ideally portioned, neither so small as to have you yearning for more food nor so large as to push you into a carb coma.
click to enlarge
Espresso pie
Alison McLean

Dinner at Sfuzzi can be wrapped up with a dessert from a quartet of options. On our first visit, two of us shared the espresso ice cream pie ($11), which is a solid summertime choice. The coffee flavor of the ice cream mixed with bites of the chocolate crumb crust had us all but licking the plate clean. On our second visit, we opted for the more classic tiramisu ($10). The lightness of the ladyfingers was on point, but Sfuzzi oddly tops its tiramisu in a heavy chocolate sauce instead of more traditional cocoa powder; the sauce overpowered the delicate cake beneath.

Service during both of our visits was reasonably good. The mixup in our pasta dish on our first visit was handled gracefully, and perhaps the delay in our replacement dish could be blamed on a busy Friday night. And while most of our interactions with the waitstaff were friendly, the overall feel from the level of service felt right on point for a bar, but somewhere below what you might expect from a restaurant promising elevated Italian dishes. There's also no escaping that Sfuzzi is a loud establishment; if it’s a quiet and romantic Italian dinner you seek, it might be best to look elsewhere.

Growing up happens to all of us, and many times our expectations about what makes for an enjoyable evening out change as we get older. But it’s also fun to throw ourselves back in time now and again, if only to thumb our collective noses at Father Time and prove we still know how to have a party. If you long for the Sfuzzi of a decade ago, where frozen Bellinis flowed freely and beautiful people came to eat, drink and revel with abandon, then this latest incarnation will not disappoint.

Sfuzzi, 2401 N. Henderson Ave. 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.Tuesday – Friday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday – Sunday
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Wolfgang started writing about barbecue for the Dallas Observer in 2015, and became the Observer’s restaurant critic in October 2021. In his free time, he’s a dog owner, plays a mediocre guitar and is likely recovering from his latest rec-league sports injury.
Contact: Chris Wolfgang

Latest Stories