Nonna Tata is small. Make that tiny.
There are no more than six tables inside the Ft. Worth hospital district restaurant’s miniature dining room. These are surrounded are by short bar stools, the kind with nothing going on except bare wood. Tables and chairs are crowded together pretty intimately.
Too intimately for me, I decide, opting instead for a coveted table out on the patio for our party of four. While this outdoor seating may not be as appealing when the weather gets hot during the summer, the patio is a fine place to be the rest of the year. The other choice – and it’s not going to be for everyone – is to grab a barstool. Booth or table at nearby bar “The Usual” and have the food delivered. There’s a lot of that delivery stuff going on in Ft. Worth, but in this case the long distance table service doesn’t involve to-go packaging. Nonna Tata’s servers carry platters of food over to the bar, and you get exactly the same treatment that diners crowded into the little spaces over at Nonna Tata are getting.
That treatment is superb. Nonna Tata more than makes up for what it lacks in space by lavishing customers with unpretentious geniality, knowledgeable attention and hand-crafted, homemade food that shines with the pride of beloved family recipes in this cozy if imperfect setting.
When we first arrived in DFW from sunny California, where there is a fine Italian restaurant on every corner of every burg from Carmel to La Jolla, I did some research and came up with Nona Tata. It took a while to get there, but I’ll return again and again for the simple pleasures that make this place a shining star in a sea of suburban restaurants at a similar price point that have the nerve to put up a sign that says “Italian restaurant.”
Nonna Tata is not expensive. There’s nothing pretentious about the place. It’s not fancy, but it exudes elegance in its own simple way. Both the wait staff and the kitchen crew put their full concentration into turning out and facilitating a fine dining experience at prices that are pretty much unheard when food is this well prepared and tastes this good.
Beverage service other than Pellegrino, Perrier, sodas and tea is BYOB here, and you won’t find pizza on the menu – not the New York style, the Neapolitan style, the Armenian flatbread style, Japanese style or any style, for that matter. I’m a New York City girl, Flash Gordon, and to say that I’m unimpressed with what passes for pizza here in Texas would be an understatement.
Nor is Nonna Tata going to insult your intelligence with lackluster meatballs and spaghetti. Noting the disturbing trend of suburban so-called “Italian restaurants” that get their meatballs straight from Sysco, I am glad for that.
No, this is upscale Italian fare of the northern variety, rich with beautifully-textured presentations of items like homemade pasta filled with eggplant, goat cheese and mascarpone, gnocchi and risotto concoctions, home-made lemon and butter pappardelle and the thinly-pounded Milanese-style chicken breast sautéed to crisp perfection that was the highlight of my meal. And while I wasn’t crazy about the bland lentil soup or rather ordinary Bruschetta, these are small points when stacked up against the rest of the food that’s being served here.
I’m not clear on whether the espresso machine wasn’t working or they have just stopped serving coffee completely here, but a most exciting coffee shop, Avoca Coffee, exists right across the street. Avoca is a partner of Dallas chocolatier Dude, Sweet Chocolate so one can feast on a good iced or hot coffee accompanied by an interesting variety of chocolate’s truffles as well as the coffee shop’s own selection of brownies and cakes, some of which are vegan. Avoca is open until 10 p.m., which gives one plenty of time for a postprandial visitation. I took a few goodies home with me, including a bagel – and I can honestly say that it was the best bagel I’ve had since my husband dragged me kicking and screaming out of Darien, CT in 1978.
In all, a lovely dual dining experience.
Do note that Nonna Tata does not accept reservations, but if you arrive to put your name on the signup list and have to wait for a table, there’s always that dear little coffee shop across the street. Other than a single park bench near the front door of Nonna Tata, it’s really the only place to sit and relax until your table at NT is ready. How will you know? Psychic energy, m’dear.Nonna Tata 1400 West Magnolia Avenue Fort Worth, TX 76104 (817) 332-0250
Judy Chamberlain has been a professional restuarant critic since 1983. She is also a critically-acclaimed jazz singer and bandleader specializing in vintage music for events. Her website is http://www.judychamberlain.com/