Friday, June 1, 2007

Coal Vines Review: the good, the bad and the burned

Dallas Eats is proud to announce our first tandem review. Below please find our comprehensive and thoroughly entertaining assessment of Coal Vines, a place to see, be seen and, oh, yeah, have some pizza, too.

Who was there?

Sunday brunch was populated by young folks in jogging suits and jeans, some looking a little worse-for-wear from the night before, seeking the hair of the dog. The evening crowd on a weeknight was different...same brunch crowd, dolled up for happy hour, interspersed with affluent professionals ready to let their hair down after a hard day of corporate litigation or real estate sales.

How were the drinks?

At brunch, we tried a wonderful Bellini, which can only be described as delicious. Instead of the usual blended drink, it was a scoop of peach sorbet slowly melting into a glass of champagne. Truly heavenly.

An affordable ($30) pinot grigio/sauvignon blanc blend was a great find at dinner. Oddly, it wasn't noted on the menu as a blend – it was billed as just a pinot grigio. We also loved the on-table marble cooler for the wine. Some places have taken to sticking your bottle in a bar fridge or similar out-of-the-way location, making refills difficult.

We were puzzled, however, with the set-up of the wine list. Whites and reds were listed separately, but not categorized as such. They were listed under headings that described their, flavor? Personality? Socio-economic status? 'Rich & Sophisticated' – what exactly is this supposed to tell the diner? Either describe the flavor of each individual wine, or list them by varietal or region or simply by color.

What were we eating? How did it taste?

We sampled a lot; so we'll keep it to the standouts (both high and low):

An appetizer of garlic bread was deemed “wonderful” by one companion. The fact that this particular individual is the pickiest eater we know, eschewing all condiments, most vegetables and anything from the sea, reinforced our assessment that the lukewarm, cheese covered bread was tasty, if ho-hum. The underlying sesame-studded country loaf had little flavor, and garlic was barely evident in the dish. The main attraction was a generous blanket of melted mozzarella...who can find fault with melted cheese? The marinara alongside was an afterthought, presented with no spoon for serving.

The biggest disappointment, hands down, was the salad pizza, served cold. This is not the salad pizza we have experienced elsewhere in which a fresh salad is placed atop a warm crust for a delightful juxtaposition of textures and temperatures. When questioned, the waitress admitted the dish was pre-made and held in the fridge. This resulted in limp salad on a soggy crust. A real bummer.

The star of our second meal was the “Sausage and Roasted Pepper” pizza. It stood head and shoulders above the pizza we sampled on our initial visit. The improvement? It wasn't burnt. We do mean 'burnt' – as in, beyond all attempts at salvation, unavoidably and unapologetically burnt. The second pie, however, more than made up for the first with a perfect crust and full-flavored toppings. None of the peppers, no matter their color, seemed particularly “roasted”, but the sausage was top-notch and the mozzarella and brightly-flavored sauce were scattered with a skillful, knowing hand. This time the crust was coal-fired to perfection.

How was the service?

We were served by the same waitress on both visits. She was everything that she should be – friendly, attentive, knowledgeable – which is quite a surprise in Dallas today. Our only issue was a long wait for food on our first visit. We also recognized the owner going up to tables and chatting with diners during brunch. He managed to visit just about everyone in the joint, without so much as a glance in our direction. We bathed and smelled pretty...what kept him from schmoozing us, too?

How much did it cost?

This place is cheap, a rarity in the neighborhood. Considering the top-notch service, large portions and comfortably elegant atmosphere, the prices are lower than would be expected.

Was it worth it?

Delicious Bellinis and great prices aside, our answer would have been ‘no' after the first visit. The food was slow, the pizza was burned beyond salvation (a fact ignored by our server), and the salad pizza was a downright disaster. However, the second visit was quite an improvement, and between bites of sausage and pepper pizza and sips of tasty, cheap wine, we'd say 'yes'.

Better for a date or a night out with the girls?

The good natured, noisy bustle of the small dining room is suited to a night with friends or dinner with your s.o....not a date. Don't go here if you're wanting an in-depth conversation or to “get to know” someone, unless it's during off-peak hours.

Would you go there again?

ClassyandSassy: Yes. Planning on it. Next time I get a jones for great pizza and cheap wine, and feel up to changing out of my usual cheap wine-drinking duds (don't ask) and putting on some lipstick, it'll be at the top of the list.

FoodiePrincess: Probably not, unless I was invited there by someone else who REALLY wanted to eat there. Frankly, I had to be talked into going back for a second visit, after the salad pizza incident the first time around. Although I enjoyed the second visit, I have so many better pizza places so much closer to my house in East Dallas (Fireside Pies, Scalini’s and Angelo’s immediately come to mind) that I have no need for this one. Sorry, Coal Vines.

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