It isn't a coincidence that two Italian-inspired restaurants have opened in Highland Park Village within a few weeks of one another. One's upstairs, the other downstairs, and they come from two of Dallas' most prolific local chefs.
Upstairs is Fachini, a swanky Italian-American restaurant from Julian Barsotti, a Highland Park resident who owns several Italian shops nearby: Carbone's, Nonna and Sprezza. Downstairs is Perfect Union Pizza Co. a casual, kid-friendly pizza joint from Nick Badovinus, who operates Dallas-area restaurants Neighborhood Services, Town Hearth, Off-Site Kitchen and Montlake Cut.
Two restaurants literally on top of one another could be risky, given that they both serve Italian food. Both will likely serve an upper-class clientele, but that's about where the similarities end. Except for one more thing: Barsotti and Badovinus partnered on each other's restaurants. That was "part of the plan," Barsotti says -- to have a restaurateur he respects just downstairs.
Here's the vibe at each new restaurant.
Downstairs: Perfect Union Pizza Co.
Pizza is "familiar," Badovinus explains. "Charming." The restaurant -- which has been completely remodeled since it was a burger joint -- carries a casually happy vibe that seems right for families, dates and friends.
For Badovinus, who says he eats pizza with his 15-year-old son every Saturday night, pizza is the kind of food that brings people together. "There's an adolescence to pizza that I find wonderful and disarming," he says. So he plastered the walls with skateboard decks and prints of cars, buses and surfers. There's even a 1963 Ducati Mountaineer motorcycle perched atop a half wall. (Consider it an Easter egg for Badovinus superfans who know that he has a Ducati on display at one of his other restaurants, Town Hearth.)
Some of the pizza ingredients are proudly displayed on a board: sausage from Jimmy's Food Store in East Dallas, scamorza cheese from Mozzarella Company in Deep Ellum, ice cream from Howdy Homemade in Highland Park.
The pizzas are thin crust, cut into triangles, some given silly names. The #Jeff is a white pizza with scamorza, Canadian bacon, roasted pineapple, shishito peppers and red onion. Who's Jeff? That's Jeff Bekavac, the chef for Neighborhood Services, who hates pineapple on pizza. Other pies include the Rock Me Amadeus, a cordon-bleu-like pizza with vodka sauce and roasted chicken; and the Lyte Funkie One, a vegetarian pizza with zucchini that Badovinus says is a "surprise," even for meat lovers.
"Highland Park Village wanted a place that's fun," Badovinus says. This place is.
Up the stairs and all the way down the hall, you'll find a photo of Barsotti's grandmother Gloria Fachini on the door to the women's bathroom. On the men's, that's a photo of great-grandpa Jimmy Carbone. "This is my obsession with all things Italian-American," Barsotti says of his week-old restaurant. He hopes Grandma Gloria and Great-grandpa Jimmy would like it here.
The dining room feels like it's been there forever, with tiny white and black tiles on the floors and navy walls with giant, heavy drapes. The theme extends into the food, which is basically a list of classic Italian dishes, reimagined with Barsotti's exacting touch. And a touch of New Orleans flair.
Customers get free antipasti when they're seated. Right now, it's garlic bread, house-made ricotta, salumi and a spicy olive salad -- a bit of a play on a deconstructed muffuletta. After diners order antipasto (crab cocktail and baked clams Antoine are two options) and a possible salad, Barsotti recommends they share pastas and house specialties. The 100-layer lasagna alla Sunday takes two days to make and is truly massive. And the classic mains such as veal chop marsala or chicken scarpariello could feed several people.
The servers are formal, which is part of Barsotti's homage to a throwback Italian restaurant. And although reservations are recommended, he says it's a "come as you are" kind of place. So no jackets required, even if the servers are wearing them.
Photographer Laura Wilson's work is splashed up on the walls for anyone looking closely. (That's Luke and Owen Wilson's mom.) Her photographs are of "people with swagger," Barsotti explains, like the giant one of Gene Hackman. Or that photo of Anjelica Huston with Wes Anderson on the set of The Royal Tenenbaums, an odd and alluring touch.
"I like the idea of trying to create a fantasy world," Barsotti says. Perhaps he has: In this blast-from-the-past restaurant, the bustling city streets of Dallas outside feel very far away.