The Big D

What's the Big Deal About Il Cane Rosso?

A very occasional series exploring the why and how of transitory popularity

By Katharine Shilcutt March 30, 2015

Top: anchovy and crushed San Marzano tomato pizza; bottom: arugula and prosciutto pizza.

Last Tuesday's news that Il Cane Rosso, the Dallas pizza parlor, was opening a location in Houston was met with much excitement from Houstonians—myself included. It occurred to me later that I didn't know exactly why I was excited, however. I knew that Cane Rosso (pronounced KAH-nay ROW-soh) was considered some of the best pizza in Dallas, garnering Metroplex praise from D Magazine and the Dallas Observer. Longtime DFW food critic Teresa Gubbins, whose opinions I trust implicitly, once wrote of Cane Rosso owner Jay Jerrier: "His pies are not simply among the best in town, they're on a par with renowned pizzerias such as A16 in San Francisco and Motorino in New York." And so even though I'd never tried Cane Rosso myself, these accolades alone had me in an excitable mood.

Conveniently, I had already planned to visit Dallas this past weekend to see my family. Even though I like to tease out the Houston-Dallas rivalry (as do we all at Houstonia), the truth is that I am inordinately fond of the city. I like taking in the screaming neon hues of the skyline at night from the pool deck at the Belmont Hotel. I like riding my bike through the scenic trails that loop around White Rock Lake. I find something new to love every time I visit, in fact. This time, it was the quinoa grits with chicken skin and beurre blanc at Joyce & Gigi's Kitchen and the pen of plump, friendly chickens behind Urban Acres—a sort of Revival Market with a working garden and farm out back—in Kessler Park. I also visited Cane Rosso while I was there, hoping to jumpstart my love affair with the pizza chain before it landed here in the Heights.

Here's the thing about going in with high expectations, though: they're usually shattered, and you have no one to blame except yourself. Cane Rosso was good, don't get me wrong. It fluttered my skirt gently, but it didn't blow it up. Our appetizer of mixed cured meats and cheeses was lovely, and the arugula and prosciutto pizza with house-made mozzarella was just about perfect—the crust was puffy and swollen at the edges, growing thinner toward the center, and the toppings were ideally balanced atop the delicate, lightly charred base.

That's the thing with so-called VPN, or Neopolitan-style pizza: the fine, thin crust demands that the toppings be equally sparse. When you put tomato sauce on a VPN pizza, it quickly deteriorates into a soupy, soggy mess. Some VPN aficionados insist that they like this; more power to them. I don't. Our own local VPN joint—notably Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana, which is soon expanding to a second location of its own in Montrose—has figured out how to put the daintiest amount of sauce on top to keep the pizza just at the edge of becoming wet, gummy and unappealing. The anchovy and crushed San Marzano tomato pizza we had at Cane Rosso was definitively across that line; I ate one piece with a knife and fork (the knife necessary to cut through the remarkably tough crust) and called it quits. (Edit: I'm not alone in this sentiment, as Cane Rosso pointed out today on Twitter with a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek video showcasing its lesser Yelp reviews. You can't say Cane Rosso doesn't have a great sense of humor.)

Again, this isn't on Cane Rosso. They're making an acceptable VPN-style pizza that just doesn't happen to jive with my own tastes, or my own exaggerated expectations. I made a dumb joke about flying to Dallas to eat at Cane Rosso on Twitter, based on an old Simpsons joke, and the joke more or less fell flat (one of many reasons I'm not a comedian), but it did succeed at alienating Cane Rosso, who responded: "Dang. Burn on us." No, Cane Rosso! Not burn on you! Burn on my terrible joke for sure, though. I still stand by my original comment that "it's good but I still like Pizaro's more," but that doesn't mean I'm not still glad to have Cane Rosso coming to town, even with my expectations now tempered. Cane Rosso's entry to our market means one more place to get VPN-style pizza, one more place to get good craft beer (which Pizaro's does not offer, as of yet), one more place to marvel at the giant stone ovens that are the centerpiece of the pizza parlors, and one more solid addition to our restaurant scene. Even if that addition comes from Dallas (and I'll take some of those creamy quinoa grits with chicken skin while you're at it).


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