Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Tony’s Italian Restaurant
Pork tenderloin $15.95
Meat lasagna $6.75
Large cheese pizza $10.99
To New York

A long, strange trip for an adequate meal — that’s the Tony’s experience.


Tony’s Italian Restaurant

1121 W Arkansas Ln, Arlington. 817-460-6082. Mon-Fri 10am-11pm, Sat 10am-midnight, Sun noon-10pm. All major credit cards and personal checks accepted.

Sometimes you gotta give a place the benefit of the doubt.

In this case, I feel compelled to do so because I fear my impressions of Tony’s Italian Restaurant might have been colored by my aversion to driving in Arlington — the place where the lay of the land is never as it’s been described to me and whose residents give even worse directions than New Yorkers. If you have the option, take I-20 rather than I-30 to Tony’s. You’ll avoid the seemingly perpetual road construction on South Cooper Street, where workers have cleverly removed street signs from some intersections. (And I thought they only did that in Grapevine.)

Tony’s is located in a strip mall just east of the South Davis Drive intersection. It’s a spacious, well-lit room, its walls decorated with pictures of famous Italians like Sinatra, Brando (Italian by association), and, uh, JFK (could the rumors be true?). In business since 1995, Tony’s offers up all the usual Italian suspects: pizza, pasta, parmigianas, chicken dishes, and submarine sandwiches, along with a selection of “signature dishes.”

Some folks like to complain about waitstaff “kissing up” to customers, trying to make a good tip. I am not one of them. I admit that I like being spoiled by all those hard-working servers who hover around your table, refilling tea and water before you’ve even had a chance to finish the glass. That wasn’t the case at Tony’s, where our server disappeared after taking our order and reappeared only when our food was ready, during which time our drink glasses went unfilled. When my ever-frugal guest asked if his entrée came with anything, our server peevishly replied, “If it did, I would have told you.” Sorry, guy.

For openers, my guest opted for the soup of the day — cream of potato — and a tossed salad, while I chose a fried calamari appetizer. The soup proved to be rich and creamy, with a hearty cheese flavor, a perfect warm-up for an overcast day. The calamari appetizer was serviceable — rubbery, but not too, too rubbery, and a little greasy — and the marinara sauce dip was zesty. My provincial guest was a little squeamish about eating those tiny breaded octopi, but coming from a culture in which people fight over the eye of a fish, I had no real problem.

Then it was on to the entrées. I have a friend from Australia who, after spending a couple of weeks traveling in the States, wrote to say, “I hate your enormous plates of food (and the fact that you have to tip everywhere).” He would have found Tony’s lasagna to his liking. Accustomed to monstrous, multi-layered lasagna, I was surprised to discover that Tony’s serving was a short and narrow slice, like one of those portion-controlled frozen dinners. Consisting of a humble three layers, the item was long on mozzarella, short on meat and ricotta, with a texture that could only be characterized as crumbly.

About to embark on a low-overhead road trip, I reluctantly passed up a fresh seafood special in favor of something more substantial and decided on the pork tenderloin. It’s a dish I rarely eat in restaurants, although I’ve sampled homemade versions prepared in both a smoker and a crock pot. While Tony’s tenderloin wasn’t quite as moist as either of those variants, it was still perfectly tender, and the raspberry chipotle sauce was a revelation — sweet, smoky, peppery, and made aromatic by a hint of rosemary. A clear winner. I’d love to have the recipe.

In an attempt to ingratiate myself with the younger members of my family, I ordered a large cheese pizza to carry out. Tony’s touts its pizza as “New York style,” but having grown up in a New York neighborhood where, each election year, many residents routinely received postcards of then-Gov. Rockefeller eating calzones at San Gennaro festivals (the handiwork, I believe, of a computer program designed to find people with vowels on the ends of their surnames), I beg to differ. Like most of the pies you can buy around these parts, Tony’s large pizza is smaller than its Noo Yawk cousin, its crust is thinner, and it’s less redolent of the herbs that make a cheese pizza truly great. In a word: bland — a step up from frozen, but only just.

In sum: A long journey for an adequate meal. Although if I ever happened to be in the neighborhood around mealtime, I’d stop in for the pork tenderloin in a New York minute.

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