Holy cannoli

Favorite Austin chain tosses artisan pizza and pasta at new downtown spot

Favorite Austin chain tosses artisan pizza and pasta at downtown spot

North Italia pizza ATX
North Italia specializes in artisan pizzas, house pasta, and creative cocktails. Photo courtesy of North Italia

Petula Clark was right — the lights are much brighter downtown. The culinary scene has been erupting over the past few months with a slate of high-profile openings, including New Waterloo’s French restaurant, Le Politique, and the impending launch of the Fareground food hall. Now North Italia is entering the fray with the announcement that its second Austin location will be greeting customers in February.

The downtown North Italia represents a significant investment in the area by the Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, who debuted their healthy cafe Flower Child nearby in December. The hospitality group also operates three other restaurants in Austin: Culinary Dropout, a second location of Flower Child in Domain Northside, and the first location of North Italia in the Domain.

The sustainability-minded space will be an airy lunch and dinner spot, lit by huge windows around the perimeter. An open kitchen will allow patrons to get in on the action while community tables, smaller private tables, and outdoor patio seating will give guests plenty of options for dining experiences.

Although the menu has not been publicized yet, expect offerings similar to the other Austin outpost. The restaurant's specialty is pizza with toppings like roasted mushrooms, cured meats or prosciutto, goat cheese, and arugula. The house pasta selection is made of traditional dishes like chicken pesto and a tagliatelle bolognese, as well as less common choices like burrata tortelloni served in a porcini mushroom brodo and squid ink mafaldine (flat ribbon-shaped strips of pasta — think a skinnier lasagne noodle) served with shrimp, calamari, mint, fennel pollen, and calabrian chili in a spiced acqua pazza broth.

Mains run the gamut from comfort favorites like chicken Parmesan and red wine glazed short rib to lighter fare like roasted salmon served with a white bean ragu, broccolini, saba (an unaged grape syrup that tastes similar to balsamic vinegar), and a lemon-infused olive oil gremolata. And desserts like affogato, local gelato and sorbetto, tiramisu, and an almond and mascarpone tart with a cranberry orange compote and basil will end meals on a sweet note.

The wine list fittingly hones in on Italian varietals, although there are several American selections and affordable glasses from Argentina and New Zealand. Cocktails are original concoctions. We have our eyes on the Sicilian Margarita (Gran Centenario añejo, Solerno blood orange, lime) and the Last Great Wine Thief (Plymouth gin, hopped grapefruit bitters, Sauvignon Blanc, clover honey). Besides a few crowd pleasers, the beer list keeps it mostly local with selections from Real Ale, Austin Beerworks, Oasis Texas Brewing, and Hops & Grain.

Once open (the exact date in February has not been determined), the restaurant will be open seven days a week with lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Downtown workers will be happy to know that a lengthy happy hour will ease the tensions of the day between 3-6 pm.