An Italian restaurant for Christmas Eve

This year our Christmas was a little different. With Christmas 2020, COVID vaccines were not yet available and the holiday wave was deadly. This Christmas has confronted us with a new wave due to a fairly low vaccination rate coupled with the Omicron variant and its multitude of mutations. Families wanted to “Have a Merry Little Christmas” but for some, fate did not allow it. And some of us had to fend for ourselves one way or another.

My own family was lucky, for the most part, but last Christmas Eve our tradition of reuniting with some family members was crushed by concerns about the elderly and the rate of COVID infection among their friends. . We respected the decision of these family members but that left us with no plan B. We felt like family in A Christmas story. The Bumpu dogs had eaten our turkey, metaphorically.

Click to enlarge

The Milanese chicken also has eggplant.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

However, we did not choose the Chinese restaurant route. Being married to an Italian American, Christmas Eve usually means cooking stuffed seashells or manicotti or eat, in their dialect. So we decided to stick with Italian food and try a place just three minutes from home.

I’m ashamed to say that Trattoria Pizza and Pasta opened two years ago at the front of our subdivision and we hadn’t tried it yet. I had even written about it for the section Openings and Closings in the Houston Press. It’s located in a strip center between Karma Kolache and Yummie, two other places I’ve written about and visited.

Click to enlarge The interior of the restaurant is cozy.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

The interior of the restaurant is cozy.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

I don’t know why we haven’t visited it for the past two years. I am not a food snob. I don’t despise people who love Olive Garden. In my youth, Olive Garden breadsticks and all-you-can-eat salad were a nice lunch break between double bartenders. And I also don’t expect a simple strip center to provide me with authentic and breathtaking Italian cuisine. There are places in Houston to enjoy authentic Tuscan, Roman or Puglia cuisine. Sometimes, however, you just want to take the family out for some old-fashioned red sauce and cheese-packed baked pasta.

And that’s the situation we found ourselves in on our first Christmas Eve without my husband’s family. We didn’t want to venture far so decided that Trattoria Pizza and Pasta would be our Christmas Eve meal. My husband made me promise that I wouldn’t complain if the food was poor and I agreed. I wouldn’t complain that Christmas Eve was ruined, even if it was.

Click to enlarge That's a lot of squid!  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

That’s a lot of squid!

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The interior of Trattoria is a refreshing surprise compared to its central setting. There is a small bar to the left, standard wooden tables, a few tops, and a wall of booths. We were seated in a hybrid, a stand on one side, two chairs on the other.

There was a family of eight in Christmas ornaments and a few other tables, most of them with elderly couples. I had called earlier to check the BYOB status. The restaurant only started serving beer and wine recently, but still allows customers to bring their own wine. I was told over the phone that the corkage charge is $ 15 – a little high for the suburbs but not unusual for most places in town.

Our server approached and we told him we had a bottle of wine. A look of panic passed over his face. She informed us that she was new and believed there was a $ 15 charge. We said we were aware of this and then she disappeared to get glasses. Another waiter arrived, wearing a festive Christmas tree hat, and asked if we were aware of the corkage fee. We said we did and he replied that he hoped we were having a good time. As we were going through the menus a manager came over and asked us again if we knew the corkage fee was $ 15 and we said yes that was fine for us. Unfortunately, no one had yet to provide a corkscrew.

Click to enlarge We don't run marathons, but we love to load up on carbohydrates.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

We don’t run marathons, but we love to load up on carbohydrates.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Eventually our wine was opened and my son and daughter were given their soft drinks. We ordered fried calamari ($ 9.95) and fried cheese ($ 7.95) to start. We wanted to have a quiet meal, so we waited to place our dinner orders. Our smiling waiter then brought us a large basket of bread rolls. The buns were soft and buttery and even better when dipped in the herb-filled olive oil that came with them. As we relaxed, Christmas music played softly in the background and It’s a wonderful life was playing on TV over the bar. So far, everything is going well for our Christmas Eve.

The entrees arrived and we were impressed. The fried cheese was not an order of pre-frozen sticks but instead five large slices of fresh mozzarella with a light coating of breadcrumbs. The calamari was a generous portion of lightly breaded rings and they were perfectly fried. The marinara that was served with the appetizers was rather thin, which I personally prefer. He was also not dominated by garlic and herbs. Instead, it tasted mostly like tomato, a good condiment for fried applications.

Click to enlarge This version handily beats frozen fried cheese.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

This version handily beats frozen fried cheese.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The wine we brought home was an inexpensive bottle, Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico. It costs around $ 13, so with the corkage fee of $ 15, it ended up being on par with the restaurant’s own wine list which ranged from $ 24 to $ 32. Although the selection was small, the prices reflected very good value for money when it comes to the markups.

When our entrees arrived, we were overwhelmed by the portions. We are not a family that usually orders multiple entrees and now we were faced with plates full of food. My 17 year old son ordered a 10 inch pizza ($ 7.95 plus $ 2 per topping), manicotti ($ 10.95), and a Caesar salad ($ 1.99). He does track and field and cross country so I thought he could handle it. It was a bit over the top but we had some leftovers for later.

Click to enlarge Not as good as my mother-in-law's eggplant parma.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

Not as good as my mother-in-law’s eggplant parma.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The manicotti was a cheese explosion and my son really liked it because, well, he loves cheese. He is not a teenager Gourmand but I took his word for it. My Eggplant Parmesan ($ 14.95) consisted of three large slices on a mound of spaghetti. I liked the breadcrumbs but the eggplant was a bit overcooked and the vegetable itself got lost in the crispy coating. The spaghetti was lightly in sauce which was a good thing considering all the fried foods we ate.

My husband had the Tortellini alla Vodka ($ 13.95) which was cheese-filled tortellini in a creamy tomato sauce. He liked its simplicity and it was equal to my own vodka sauce, a fairly easy dish to make. My daughter’s Milanese chicken ($ 16.95) was the best and interesting dish too. She is a huge fan of the chicken cutlets, which is why she ordered the dish. However, the chicken cutlets were also topped with eggplant cutlets, topped with a cream of tomato sauce. The eggplant and chicken were less crispy than mine and much more tender.

Click to enlarge Take home pizza.  - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO

Take home pizza.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

After the bread and entrees, our stomachs were ready to burst and we could only finish half of our meals. We had to convince our server that we enjoyed our food but that it was more than what we could eat in one place. The pizza itself was not touched during dinner but reappeared at breakfast the next day. The crust was chewy but the pepperoni and beef toppings were of good quality and the tomato sauce only had a hint of oregano.

As we left more and more families arrived and we felt filled with the Christmas spirit despite breaking our annual tradition. We were also full of good, solid Italian American food. No truffles, no acorn-fed pork; just a good family restaurant with home cooking and fair prices. I wouldn’t call this a destination restaurant, but it’s definitely a good option for the neighborhood or for anyone traveling through the Willowbrook area looking for an Italian restaurant that isn’t a chain.

And it’s only three minutes from my house.

Pizza Trattoria and Pasta
10211 Cypress

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