Good to Go is a column where our food writers explore Dallas’ restaurant scene through takeout orders, delivery boxes and reheated leftovers.
Chef Ryan Ferguson has a new set of pet peeves right now.
Ice cream and overcooked pasta are on the list. He’s wracked by nerves as he imagines berry-laden semifreddo bouncing around in its box on the road. How’s it going to look when his regular at Sprezza opens the container?
Envisioning a soft landing of his bucatini amatriciana — the food neat and tidy and al dente — seems to require NASA-level science. You have to factor in the steam accumulation in the aluminum, as well as the slow burn-way noodles absorb moisture and tighten against snowdrifts of pecorino. Things get salty on the road.
Ferguson fires the bucatini — long spaghetti-like pasta with a hollowed center — partially before tossing it in the plum tomato sauce. The good pancetta oils cling to the long noodles. Before that, they cure the pork belly. It gets dusted with salt in every nook and cranny, enough that it sparkles with crystals. They dice and fry it in the pan until its seared edges are crisp. Red onions (always red onions for that tang-bite, Ferguson says), white wine and a good airdrop of red pepper flakes.
Before this new reality set in, Sprezza had a spartan staff.
A sous chef and Ferguson in the kitchen handled most things. Now, he’s coming home with hands raisiny from washing dishes. He’s nerve-wracked by ice cream. He’s firing pizzas longer in the oven so the crust doesn’t obliterate itself if the delivery driver has to do a hard brake. He’s thinking about food getting saltier as it sits.
Does the gold hue of his fried olives remain on the other end? When the container opens, is the semifreddo a puddle?
All that worry, and, at the opposite end, we get bucatini at the end of the world. It arrives cloaked in a dark red sauce punctuated by tender pancetta. A net of Pecorino Romano, which carries a brighter, saltier bite than Parmesan, rests over the pasta. A fresh bacon flavor enriches the tomatoes.
Another knockout dish is the raviolis in Sunday gravy: a handful of tender-but-not-floppy ravioli in thick sauce. Crumbles of meatballs stud the sauce.
There’s something endlessly romantic, in any time, about those classic aluminum containers with the stiff plastic lids — the way it crackles open is the auditory signal that you’re having a good night in and a glass of wine.
The aroma is garlic and tomatoes and heat. Red onions, caramelized in the deeply porky oil, disappear in the tomatoes. It’s a dish that begs for bread to wheel around the nooks of the to-go container.
It’s a miracle we don’t have to social distance from bucatini. A good dish of pasta can save any troublesome day. It has magical capabilities when things are worse because it’s food that reaches back across hundreds of years of tragedy.
When all else hurts, bucatini can be here for us.
Sprezza’s dish, which only recently became something you could order six days a week, is as good as it gets. Dallas deserves this level of Italian food, the kind that imbues images of turn-of-the-century Little Italy in your mind. The tomatoes are fresh and warm-red. The pork belly is seared, fat-butter soft. It’s unblemished by modern flourishes.
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“It’s a big change,” says Ferguson about adapting to delivery.
They make dishes saucier, crispier for the road. They're ready to do this as long as they are able, he says.
“We’re getting enough to-go orders to keep the lights on."
Sprezza, 4010 Maple Ave. (Oak Lawn). Takeout: call 972-807-9388. Delivery: DoorDash, Caviar, Uber Eats, Favor. 5 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.