So many kinds of pizza are landing on tables in Dallas, it feels like restaurants are starting to make them up. Matchbox, an East Coast chain that opened its first Texas location at the corner of Walnut Hill and Central Expresway, is introducing the city to Washington, D.C.-style pies. Yes, Washington, where people know how to get their hands on a slice of the pie, even if they can’t agree on the toppings.
Don’t snicker too much, though. Matchbox is making pretty good pizza, and although dining in is a better experience than takeout, the concept is impressive overall.
Even by Preston Hollow standards, the restaurant is polished. On the way in the door, diners walk past a line of gas flames; the airy dining room, which can get loud at dinner, is centered on red brick pizza ovens. A dozen craft beers on tap come from the likes of Revolver, Karbach and Dogfish Head, alongside eight solid tap wines.
Matchbox also sells bottles of its own house wine for $30, a red blend from Lake County, California. Rather than go for a generic big seller like Napa cabernet, the winemakers chose a lighter red with bright cherry and an acidic kick, and it’s a good pairing with pizzas and red-sauce pastas.
A number of thoughtful little touches pop up throughout Matchbox, like the semi-private booth tucked underneath a staircase and the shot glass in which the bill arrives. Lights dim at dinner service, synchronized with sunset. On Sunday, morning every placesetting at the bar has a section of The Dallas Morning News. Mine was “Healthy Living,” so I ordered beer and sliders.
Friends in Washington had alerted me that the sliders are a Matchbox specialty, and they are correct. Choose three as a meal ($9) or more as an appetizer for a big table. With toasted, buttered buns and well-seasoned meat, the sliders are high-quality, but cooking to order can be an issue. I asked for pink and got none, but the patties were juicy enough. The sliders arrive underneath a mountainous serving of paper-thin onion crisps, and salt from the onions trickles down onto the buns.
The menu offers a duo of avocado and crab dips ($14), but it’s not for casual crab fans. As a chain founded near Chesapeake Bay, Matchbox naturally goes heavy on real, fresh crab meat. The appetizer that steals the show is the “ginormous meatball” ($15), accurately named, studded with cheese crumbles, buried under a spicy tomato-meat sauce and served on a cast-iron skillet. The accompanying breadsticks taste the way Olive Garden’s breadsticks would taste if Olive Garden gave a damn.
With those brick ovens beckoning, pizza is the go-to item. Each pizza is $13-15, for a thin-crust pie measuring about 11-12 inches. That cost can add up in a hurry, and for anyone throwing a party at home, the small, costly pizzas make Matchbox a tough takeout option to justify. A hungry party guest can eat about two-thirds of one pie, or half with appetizers.
The good news is, these signature pizzas are very good. Crust is thin, but not too thin, and Matchbox opts for a chewier style rather than the crispness of Roman-style pies at Olivella’s and Sprezza. And the short list of “signature” options is well-crafted indeed. Prosciutto and fig pie is a smartly balanced sweet-savory combo, with honey drizzle and an herb mix sprinkled on the crust edges.
Two pizzas named Charcuterie #1 and Charcuterie #2 are ultra-classy interpretations of the beloved “meat lover’s” pie. Charcuterie #1 brings peppy fennel salami into harmony with speck, a thinly sliced dark red smoked ham. (Or at least it did. The menu has changed since I ordered it, and now the ham is gone.) A regular old meat lover’s pizza is available too, with pleasingly thick-cut pepperoni and hot Italian sausage.
The menu isn’t entirely Italian. The fish and chips platter ($18) showcases a gentle hand at the fryer: flakey-thin batter on the cod, which practically melts in the mouth. Englishmen might disagree with the choice of a lighter batter, as will anybody who tries taking a piece of fish home to reheat. Matchbox seems to have a general philosophy of going easy on the deep-frying, since the churros too ($8) are pillowy-light and sometimes fall apart at a touch.
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Matchbox is a welcoming space with nice design touches and staff who stay friendly even when they’re a touch overworked. For a national chain, it does a great job featuring local craft beers, although the “Lone Star” cocktail is a little puzzling, since it features not-so-Texan pineapple and pear juices.
And the food is consistently good. Doubtless, more affordable pizzas are available elsewhere, even for those craving this particular style of thinnish-crust and eclectic toppings. Other takeout options beckon for a night at home with friends, beers and sports.
But that’s not Matchbox’s scene. And, dining in, it leaves positive memories of just about every offering, like a house wine that’s actually thoughtful, a ginormous meatball that left my table wanting more and a creamy, not-too-sweet peanut butter mousse dessert ($8) that my inner child could have eaten a quart of. Real talk: My inner adult would have eaten a quart of it, too.
For all these reasons, Matchbox feels like a Preston Hollow fixture. And, in a neighborhood that George W. Bush and Ross Perot have called home, this is one Washington insider everybody can appreciate.
Matchbox, 7859 Walnut Hill Lane, Suite #140. 844-712-2369, matchboxrestaurants.com. Open 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Mon-Thur; 11 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Fri; 10 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Sat; 10:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Sun.