This Dallas-originated eatery come to Houston, the brainchild of Jay Jerrier, does it right. After falling in love with the pizza of Naples while tripping thru Italy, Jerrier got himself a genuine wood-burning pizza oven, certification by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (an organization that promotes and protects the true craft of Neapolitan-style pizza), met with great success in Dallas (five-year winner of best pizza in Dallas) and decided to give the Houston market a go.
Jerrier commenced the Houston staffing search about the same time the talented, maverick Jonathon Jones (native Houstonian who has been cooking for decades – from Mario’s Flying Pizzeria to Max’s Wine Dive, Beaver’s, Hotel ZaZa, El Big Bad) was kicking around for a new job – an “adult gig with insurance and all.”
The two minds – driven by a common passion for good, quality food, a respect for tradition and commitment to local resources – crossed paths.
“Initially we talked about me cheffing at one of the restaurants here (there is one in the Heights and one near the Menil) or in Austin. We had a meeting of the minds, similar food philosophy, he needed a supervisor for the southern territory, I had the managerial experience. Bam! Got the job,” recalls Jones.
As a regional corporate chef, Jones, with guns a-blazing, has “Houstonized” the menu. Adding numerous pizzas – like the Tall Texano, which Jones affectionately declares, “It’s really a taco pizza: salty porchetta, a fine fire-roasted tomatillo sauce, pinky pickled onions, calabrian chiles, fresh mozzarella and plenty of fresh chopped cilantro. Ya can’t help but love it.”
Though the toppings on some of the pizzas may seem untraditional (fire-roasted sweet potato and pickled salumi greens), Jones is not messing with the Napoletano-style crust – baked in a super-hot (900 degree) oven for a blink of the eye, 90 seconds or so – the crust delicate, light, slightly charred, a tad chewy not crunchy. “We get grief about the crust. It’s not New York, Chicago or Detroit style. This is true Napoletano style.” And it is delicious.
For traditionalists, there are plenty of old school combinations – sausage, marinara, mozzarella – no worries.
Jones has been hard at work, sourcing local purveyors, developing some mighty tasty dishes for each location and mentoring young chefs. Here at the Yoakum location Matthew Wommack (most recently of Prohibition) heads up the kitchen team.
And Jones gives Wommack all the credit for the innovative take on the classic salad combo of prosciutto and asparagus. The raw asparagus is shaved, tossed with a tangy lemony dressing and piled high on thinly sliced prosciutto. Best way to eat it? “Stick a fork in it and twirl – eat it like pasta,” advises Jones. “Wommack and I agree we like raw vegetables in our lives.”
“A lot of times, vegetables are an afterthought – like ‘ok, we gotta do something vegetarian – let’s roast a portobello,’” chuckles Jones. “We did not want to get too crazy but we wanted to have some well-thought-out, tasty vegetables on the menu. Remember that grated carrot mess that everyone’s Aunt Mabel made? We did a contemporary riff on it.”
And it is this simple, innovative, fresh salad that actually defines Jones’ effect on the Cane Rosso menu. Wide, shaved planks of carrots, with pickled sultanas, hints of orange, cumin and cinnamon – a southern favorite reconstructed with hints of North Africa. A celebration of the vegetables for which Italian cooking is famous proves Jones is not just a pretty face, but a thinking, informed and talented chef.
Also worthy of accolades: the roasted cauliflower with its creamy, dreamy bagna cauda snapped to tasty attention with an anchovy vinaigrette and capers. Stunningly delicious.
Wommack adds, “The salads are moderately sized so customers don’t feel ‘gut bombed.’ They can share a salad and a pizza and still feel good at the end of the meal.”
Good thing, because the choice is a tough one. In addition to stellar salads and great pizza, Cane Rosso also does some mighty fine pasta dishes such as The Coal Miner, a most peppery rip on the traditional pasta carbonara, and a dish named after the pasta’s cockscomb shape, Cresta di Gallo, a luscious bowl of roasted chicken, arugula, a trio of mushrooms, a splash of broth, zest of lemon and a shaving of grana padano.
And if good, tasty food is not enough to make you happy, the enormous patio is dog-friendly. Jerrier runs a dog rescue charity (Cane Rosso Rescue). Translated from Italian, Cane Rosso means red dog.
The Heights: 1835 N. Shepherd Dr. | Houston, TX 77008 | 713.868.0071
Montrose: 4306 Yoakum Blvd. | Houston, TX 77006 | 713.337.1155