Anyone who ever wanted to club Kelly LeBrock like a baby seal for saying “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” will understand that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t know all that much about Italian food. We gravitate to beautiful decor because real Italian languishes between two extremes: there’s the endlessly-adjectived menus in Italian, hoity-toity stuff that makes you feel like an idiot for having to point and ask, and then there’s the comfort food we shovel into our kids’ mouths to keep ’em quiet during American Idol.
But after a lifetime of pizza and pasta in Texas, fly to Italy and order the house specialty. You won’t recognize it. Real Italian isn’t overwhelmed with spice; there is barely enough sauce to cover each noodle. Pizzas are downright monastic compared to the extreme toppings we heap upon our “authentic” hand-tossed doughs.
Which is why I was disturbed to hear San Antonio institution Lorenzo’s being badmouthed recently as an “overpriced, under-quality” joint. Not true at all. Places like Dough may be the Guy-Fieri-sanctioned fashion — but if you discard what’s trendy and consider what most of us really love about Italian food, you’ll find little difference between the two. While Dough’s rebuilt Italian brick oven screams Old World (one has to wonder if Texas brick is not good enough to make pizzas) we still have to admit that the ingredients involved are the most important. To that end both institutions excel.
Dough and Lorenzo’s do the same sauce well. The sugo di pomodoro, the heart of Neapolitan cuisine, serves as the foundation for Lorenzo’s excellent lasagna, their innovative pizzas, and comfort-delivering ziti. The same sauce has the very good taste not to overwhelm the freshness of Dough’s “pork love” or “Margherita STG” pizzas, because as Doug and Lori Horn, the chefs of Dough, are well aware, sometimes a sauce works best when it gets out of the way.
Dough and Lorenzo’s are both wonderful examples of how a “return to the basics” results in a menu that is at once comfortingly familiar and hiply exotic. So long as we admit there are two Italian cuisines in our perception, there’s more than enough room for discerning foodies to admire both restaurants. The service is impeccable in both establishments, if coming from different places: Dough wants to show you what’s glorious about the new school, while Lorenzo’s is so old school they probably don’t know what that means. All they know is that you’re underfed and need some more meat on your bones.
Lorenzo’s might want to reconsider the painting on their front window, and Dough isn’t immune to overdoing it on some dishes: their mushroom bruschetta is a meal in and of itself, which, while legitimately foodgasmic, isn’t what an appetizer is supposed to be. Sample some of Dough’s handmade mozzarella, though, and you’ll realize they appreciate authenticity (especially the burrata caprese, which is worth cruising the crowded parking lot for). Conversely, order a pizza from Lorenzo’s (especially their Deluxe, which tiptoes the line between loaded and overloaded with expert precision) and the simplicity of their ingredients alone will remind you that this is what all the fast-food pizza joints are still trying to achieve.
Don’t hate Dough because it’s beautiful, and don’t hate Lorenzo’s because it’s not. Even if it’s more fun to be seen at Dough, be fed at Lorenzo’s, too. You won’t be disappointed by either.
Lorenzo’s Italian Restaurant
8032 Fredricksburg Rd
THE SKINNY: Better Italian than you deserve.
BEST BETS: Lasagna; baked ziti
HOURS: 10am-10pm Mon-Fri; 4-10pm Sat
PRICES: Lunch Entrees $5.99-$22.99; Dinner Entrees $6.99-$24.99
6989 Blanco Rd