April 3rd, 2012
Collina’s Italian Cafe: Eating with Family
In 7 Words: Artichoke, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Doughy, Family, Take-Out, Checkered
It’s Saturday evening and after a day of hanging curtain rods, and eventually my head in shame (all at 40 degree angles), only the heavier Tex-’talian (like Tex-Mex) dishes carry enough weight to counter a day of futile floundering. I leave the decision to Google Maps, much as I always do. I play a game of computer screen bocce by entering a typical “Houston Restaurants” query—the nearer the red dots the better. Been there. Eaten that. Collina’s? I see it was given high marks over a decade ago. Does it still have IT? IT being magic.
Getting to the Collina’s location on 19th in the Heights was no tough task, but I recall a less-than-favorable review by 29-95. Evidently, to avoid a cold sweat and slight incontinence, one must arrive and at least get an appetizer order in before young families flock Collina’s checkered tables like locusts. It’s 6:30 as our basket of warm doughy bits arrives, and I surmise that my wife and I must have beaten the storm of Mickey Mouse Club members. I stuff nuggets of fresh-baked, buttery bread into my cheeks a pair at a time. Score one for the late twenty-somethings.
As the tempo of our surroundings quickens, I decide we had better order something substantial before the attention of the interchangeable wait staff becomes focused on the table of 12 jovial giants to our aft. “Excusez-moi, Garçon! Mademoiselle!” My pleas are followed by the silence of clanking forks and the fumbling of 20 parentally confiscated butter knives. Scheiße! We’re in Italy. In that case, Excuse-a-me-ah, We-ah would like-ah to order-ah! More silence. “Wife, please translate.”
Surprisingly, after speaking in plain English, our order is taken with the most urgent of urgencies.
That’ll be one stuffed artichoke, plumped with bread crumbs, romano cheese, butter- and of course- more artichokes. You know a food will be delicious when it’s stuffed to the gills with more of the exact same food. We also order one small pizza, a quintessentially italian little number topped with sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoni and mushrooms. My white knuckles relax as I slur the last syllable of “mush-roooooms”, hoping Collina’s will add extra. That’s an old Jedi mind trick. Works every time.
The stuffed artichoke is deceiving. It’s eating chicken wings or crawfish, in that it is not entirely edible. One must first eat the contents of glorious cheese, hearts and bread crumbs, which are delicious. Then one must pull the leaves off, one by one, scraping one’s nourishment off with the teeth, similar to acquiring the seeds from an edamame pod. That pizza is a different story however. There may be an art to making one so savory, but the art of eating one isn’t so complex. It’s more a question of how much of the roof of my mouth am I willing to part with in order to dive right in. It’s too hot to eat, but impossible to resist. The salt of the pepperoni and cheese, brought together with the sweetness of the sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms is perfectly balanced. The crust was a fluffy pillow you could hold over my face any time. I’d eat my way out of that jam. Mark it as another advancement in the Houston pizza scene.
As another member of the Collina’s team takes our plates, the gathering of patrons hits its crescendo—I think. I’m not a musician. But I do know this; I am usually deterred by the presence of rambunctious children and under-bearing parents, but one faces similar obnoxious behavior from adults when hitting the hip hot spots. The scrumptious plates we indulged in were craveable- and at least smaller children can be controlled. Intoxicated bro’s in a pissing match over who’s got the best bracket, or a squawking gaggle of thrill-seeking girls on the other hand…that’s a different story. Good thing I sat down with the Collina’s family.
Where – The Heights – 502 W. 19th st., Houston, TX 77008 (They have a few other locations as well)
What – Tex-’talian; the quality of their crust and bread set ‘em apart
Wear – Families dine here, no assless chaps or mesh shirts
How much – Up to $8.00 for an appetizer; $13.00 for pasta; $24.00 for a large pizza; $8.00 for a panini
When – Sunday through Thursday: 11:00AM to 10:00PM; Friday and Satruday: 11:00AM to 11:00PM
Web – Website