North Italia

The North of Italy in the South of Texas

Wow, we’re back. While right now it’s sunny and 75 degrees outside, that was very much not the case a week ago, and we’ve never been more grateful to be safe and sound. Our winter wonderland quickly became a nightmare and we sincerely hope you are all safe and taking care of yourselves. On a quick but very real note, if you were deeply affected by last week’s winter storms and still in need of assistance, FEMA has assistance available and the easiest way to apply is through this website.

Before the apocalypse descended upon Texas, though, we were able to take a visit to North Italia, located in the Uptown/Galleria area of Houston. Our last post was about our at-home Valentine’s Day meal idea, an Italian-inspired Shrimp and Lobster ravioli dish, so we decided to venture out and find an Italian meal you don’t have to cook yourself. The vibe of the whole North Italia restaurant is sort of modern Italian rustic. Plus, the kitchen has glass walls so you can spy on the chef making pasta from scratch, sizzling up your meal, and yelling at the sous chef. It’s dinner and a show. (Kidding about the yelling part, in case you weren’t sure.)

Will you accept this rose? And this Pinot Grigio?

The Fizz

We started our meal off with a glass of the Matteo Braidot Pinot Grigio. This wine was super tasty, with notes of pear and apple. It was balanced, not overly sweet or tart. For a “sweet” wine, it would be considered on the dryer side. If you prefer red wine, we suggest a Chianti or Red Zinfandel to pair with a red sauce dish, or a Pinot Noir to go with a white sauce dish. While we took it easy on the drinks this time around, the cocktail menu at North Italia is nothing to be mocked. Next time we go, we plan to try the Julietta (Ginger and vanilla-infused Tito’s vodka, Italian elderflower, lime, prosecco) or the Ginger Blossom Margarita (Espolon blanco tequila, fiorente elderflower, greenbar ginger, cucumber, and lime). 

The Wild Shrimp Scampi

The Fork

Appetizers can make or break your expectations for a meal, and in this case, they were definitely made. We ordered the Wild Shrimp Scampi, which consisted of shrimp, blistered tomatoes, grana padano, garlic confit, herb butter, charred lemon, and grilled bread. There are four shrimp, so it’s good to share between 2-4 people, and even once the shrimp are gone, the tomato mixture is still wonderful as a bread spread on its own. Considering how heavy Italian food can be, this appetizer is the perfect light option.

Peep those pine nuts!

For the main dish, we ordered a Tuscan kale salad and the Strozzapreti. The Tuscan kale salad was made of crispy pancetta, charred grape, apple, pistachio, breadcrumbs, and parmesan vinaigrette. This is no ordinary salad. We had never tried a charred grape until this dinner, but we can best describe it as a grape, but almost smoky. The grapes were truly the shining star of this dish and added depth to a salad that was overall very light and crisp thanks to the tartness of the apple, tangy parmesan, and saltiness from the pancetta. The other dish was the Strozzapreti…and y’all. This dish was so flippin’ good. It was chicken, roasted mushroom (incredible!!), spinach, toasted pine nut, and parmesan cream. Everything at North Italia, including the pasta, is made from scratch, and it shows. All the flavors in this dish complement each other beautifully. The nuttiness of the pine nuts pairs so well with the earthy roasted mushrooms and the tanginess of the parmesan is the figurative cherry on top. Also, because we wondered at first too, no, parmesan cream is not just another way of saying Alfredo sauce. This sauce is its own beast entirely. It’s not rich like Alfredo–it coats the pasta beautifully and isn’t overwhelming.

It is not in our nature to leave without dessert, especially when gelato is involved. This being an Italian restaurant, gelato was involved, so…we ordered the gelato of the day, the stracciatella. For those not familiar, stracciatella consists of dark chocolate chips folded into a classic vanilla base. It’s the quintessential meal topper because it isn’t too rich with chocolate and won’t leave you feeling overly stuffed. The gelato isn’t pictured because, quite frankly, we were too excited and it was too good. 

This salad is worth the feature

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • Locations: We visited the Houston location, but there are actually North Italia restaurants in several states across the United States. Specifically for our Texas folks, there are locations in Houston, Dallas, Plano, and two in Austin!
  • Hot tip! Located just an elevator ride away from North Italia is the Rooftop Cinema Club. They’ve been closed for Covid reasons, but this open-air movie theater concept is re-opening soon and would make the perfect cherry on top after a dinner at North Italia!
  • Happy hour at North Italia is from 3:00-6:00 pm so if you go for an early dinner you can get some great deals on wine and beer! Plus, all day Sunday are half-price bottles of wine.
Chef’s…and I cannot emphasize this enough…kiss

When Should You Make Your Own Trip to North Italia?

North Italia is an ideal date spot, whether it’s a romantic date or girls’ date. In the evening time, the candles and dark atmosphere are very romantic, but during the day the place is much brighter and, with a solid lunch menu and extravagant cocktail menu, would be a great day date with friends. Either way, North Italia is a great place when you want high-quality, made-from-scratch Italian food but don’t want to completely blow your budget for the whole month (maybe just half the month?).

As the Italians say, *chef’s kiss* 🤌🏼

See you back here next time! Xx

Texas Renaissance Festival

A Texan take on Medieval times and foods

Hear ye, hear ye! We are here to make a proclamation that the Texas Renaissance Festival (TRF)  is more than just jousting and elf ears, more than your average kings, queens, and belly dancing. It is all of those things, certainly, but RenFest also happens to be a festive, fun place to try a smorgasbord of European foods.

When we arrived and traipsed our way across the grounds to the arches of the Arena, we found ourselves seated in the green-and-white-striped French section, complete with sassy queen and flowy-haired knight (We love you, Sir Philippe!). France is one of four countries represented in the famous joust matches, alongside Germany, Spain, and England, but those are far from the only four cuisines represented at the festival. Besides those, there are also options for Greek, Polish, and Italian food, plus endless fusions and mix-and-match options. As you walk, you’ll hop from Medieval country to Medieval country in the span of yards, with plenty of mythical creatures and curious peddlers sprinkled in between.

The Fizz

Our first drink stop was The Sea Devil Tavern, where we picked up the ever-favorite Shiner Oktoberfest beer and a frozen hurricane to keep us cool in the heat that pervades Texas even in the fall. While not cheap per se, food and drinks at RenFest are more affordable than you might expect for a large festival like this.

All hail the Queen(s)

Later, we strolled over to England and stopped at the Tea and Strumpets vendor, where we ordered the Red Queen’s Punch and the White Queen’s Punch. These drinks were described to us as sangria-adjacent, but in our opinion they tasted like spiked iced tea, which was very fitting for an English drink! These punches were refreshing and light and not-too-sweet and oh so yummy! The White Queen’s drink was a bit more floral, with notes of hibiscus and citrus, while the Red Queen’s had a flavor profile more akin to berries and herbs. Both were incredible, a pleasant surprise, and probably our favorite thing we got all day.

Located a short walk from the Arena!

The Fork

Cheese and potato, sauerkraut and mushroom, and ground beef

After cheering on France in the joust, we ambled over to Polonia to get some of our favorite Polish foods. There was a surprisingly wide selection, including three types of pierogi—cheese and potato, sauerkraut and mushroom, and ground beef. Catherine’s favorite of these was the ground beef, and mine (Mindy’s) was the sauerkraut and mushroom. Aside from the pierogi, we also ordered a combination plate to get the best of all worlds. This plate included pierogi, bigos (similar to a hunter’s stew), golabki (the cabbage roll), kielbasa (the sausage), a pickle, and a dinner roll. It was a lot of food, but a great way to try everything on the menu if you can’t decide or don’t know what you’ll like. Also, if you’re not Polish, don’t be too intimidated by the many consonants and names. For the most part, if you like cabbage and sausages, you’ll be a big fan of all of it. We definitely recommend Polonia. The food was great and the people were very sweet and helpful!

Brownies and cheesecake in one? What more could we want?

We got dessert at Tea and Strumpets, the same vendor we ordered our Queen’s Punches drinks from. There, we ordered a cheesecake brownie tarte. While very pretty, it was exactly what it sounds like. The bottom layer was a brownie, topped by a layer of cheesecake and then a decorative piece of chocolate. It was cool, delicious, and not too rich—great for us to share as we relaxed and people watched (There were plague doctors! It was very fun.).

Drool worthy

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • A festival program is going to cost you $5, but it’s fully worth it for the detailed acts and shows schedule alone if nothing else. The map is also great and will absolutely save your feet!
  • Speaking of saving your feet, please wear comfortable shoes. We know it may be tempting to break out your most queenly heels or your brand-new boots, but the grounds are not exactly small and you will be miserable if you’re limping from show to show.
  • If you’re looking for healthy options, don’t fret, they exist! The program has a convenient healthy eating section that outlines meal options and where they can each be found at the festival.
  • Last but not least, eating (and drinking) at TRF is a marathon, not a sprint. You may be tempted to order full meals everywhere you go, but the best tip we can offer is to get small offerings each place you go so that you save plenty of room to try everything you want.

When should you make your own trip to the Texas Renaissance Festival?

Now, now, now! This weekend, November 28th-29th, is actually the last weekend RenFest will be open for the 2020 season. The theme is Celtic Christmas, and we’ve heard rumors that Santa and his elves might make an appearance. If you can’t make it this weekend, don’t worry too much. TRF will be back next year in October 2021 as usual, and you will have your pick of which themed weekend you would like to attend! Next year, we want to go for Pirate Adventure weekend!

One last thing before we go—one of our favorite things about the Texas Renaissance Festival is that nearly all of the vendors and artisans are small local business owners. When you buy things at RenFest shoppes, it’s very likely you’re interacting with the business owner, their family, or their close friends. As we enter this holiday season of giving, we highly encourage you to go and support small Texan-owned businesses like these.

We’ll see you back here next Wednesday for our regularly-scheduled programming! What recipe do you think we were inspired to make?

MAX’s Wine Dive

Dive into your day with brunch at MAX’s Wine Dive

We have been so excited to share this week’s restaurant with you because it also means we get to share our favorite meal with you—BRUNCH.

Not to go on too much of a tangent, but brunch, in our opinion, is the quintessential mealtime. It’s not so early that you feel like you have to drag yourself out of bed to go, but not so late that you can’t enjoy all your favorite breakfast foods. Feel like a syrupy monster stack of pancakes? Fine! Want something heartier, like fried chicken? Great! Want them together? Everything goes! Brunch is truly Hannah Montana-style the best of both worlds…and MAX’s Wine Dive knows how to do brunch.

Caramelized pineapple mimosa and peach bellini

The Fizz

Any brunch savant knows that no meal can truly be considered brunch without a good drink…which is why we here at fizz & fork consider a good drink menu to be just as important as the food selection. Here’s what we love about MAX’s—you can choose a bottle of champagne to purchase and they provide you with a juice selection for DIY mimosas. Orange, cranberry, pomegranate, you name it. If that sounds like too much, they also have a great premade drink selection. From the menu, we ordered a couple bellinis and a caramelized pineapple mimosa. The bellinis were classic, refreshing, and paired nicely with our meal. The caramelized pineapple mimosa was unique and not what we expected. It was good, but tasted almost burnt (if a mimosa can be burnt). Our recommendation is to go with the DIY mimosas to get the most bang for your buck!

The Fork

MAX’s Wine Dive describes their menu as “gourmet comfort food.” From our experience, they don’t have a particular style of food, and there are a lot of eclectic, unique options (like carrot cake pancakes!). We ordered the ham and cheese omelette, the fried egg sandwich, and the honey butter chicken benedict. Each entree was served with MAX’s signature home fries, which were incredible. They were a bit on the spicy side, so be aware, but the seasoning was flavorful and not too salty. The omelette had plenty of hearty ham and wasn’t overcooked as omelettes so often are. The fried egg sandwich was HUGE, and though there was a lot packed into it, the ratios were balanced and no flavor overwhelmed another. Our personal favorite was the honey butter chicken benedict. We cannot say enough good things about it. It’s exactly what it sounds like—biscuits topped with fried chicken, poached eggs, gravy, and honey butter sauce. We were a bit wary of the combo at first, but it proved to be a winner, and it brought together what we love so much about brunch, with sweet and savory beautifully balanced.

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • Parking: Parking at MAX’s on Fairview is either street parking or valet. The valet is tip-based, so make sure you have cash on hand if that’s your plan.
  • The area: MAX’s Wine Dive has two locations in Houston (in Montrose and on Washington Ave), one location in San Antonio, one in Denver, and one in Austin, although the ATX location is temporarily closed at the moment. We visited the Montrose location, on Fairview.
  • Seating: There is indoor and outdoor seating available, but if it’s a nice day, the outdoor seating will go pretty quickly. If you make a reservation, be sure to specify which you prefer.
  • Other meals: MAX’s isn’t just brunch! They also serve dinner, complete with quite the robust wine menu.

So when should you make your own trip to MAX’s Wine Dive?

Brunch with out-of-town friends! MAX’s favorite saying (you’ll find it printed on your server’s shirt) is “fried chicken and champagne..why the hell not?” As evidenced by that motto, it’s pretty easy to find something for everyone—from the classy friend who wants only eggs benedict (it’s fine, we’re that friend), or a simple pleasures kind of pal who just wants to go to town on a good chicken and waffles platter. MAX’s Wine Dive has it all, and anyone you bring is sure to be impressed!

Have you been to MAX’s? When did you go, for brunch or dinner? Let us know, and be sure to subscribe to receive notification emails whenever we have a new post! See you next Wednesday!