This Week's Cafe Review: Stuffing Meatballs and Filling Niches at the Casual and Good City Oven
Before I ordered, I got the inside scoop on City Oven from someone who works there. The appetizers and sides are generally great, she said, but the portion sizes are too small. The pizza's not bad either, but the oven accommodates only three pies at a time, so sometimes there's quite a long wait for your pie. Get the Supreme Pizza and the Strawberry Salad. Ask someone about happy hour specials. They might not volunteer the info because the great deals make it hard for the servers to make good money. Or they might not know them. Order dessert.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg The spinach and artichoke dip at City Oven is one of a few great dishes at the casual restaurant.
All of this advice was spot-on, but the server forgot to mention how good the wine and beer lists are. You know, for a place that's neither a craft beer mecca nor a wine bar.
It's neither fine dining nor exactly a pub, but it has elements of both. In spite of its slogan --"Fired. Brewed. Distilled." -- the emphasis seems to be most prominently on the "fired" part, as pizzas are a major draw at City Oven. So, too, are the giant meatballs, which I'd wager are the biggest rounds of ground beef to be found in Houston. As you'll read in this week's café review, the menu is diverse and contains both hits and misses. But the beer list has something for everyone.
It's divided into 12 different categories, each with at least two offerings. There's pilsners and pale lagers; wheat beers; blonde/golden ales; fruit; amber/dark lagers; Belgian and Belgian style ales; pale ales/bitters; Indian pale ales; amber/red ales; brown ales; stouts and porters; and ciders. In other words, if you can't find something you want on this beer list, you're incredibly difficult to please. The wine list is not what you'd find in a swanky restaurant charging $15 and upwards per glass, but you can get a good pour of Alamos Malbec for only $6.50 or a glass of any number of Barefoot brand wines for $3 each during happy hour.
The menu is similarly ... well, diverse isn't quite the right word. Perhaps "all over the place" is a better way to describe it. You might not like all the food once you get it (though I highly recommend the mac and cheese, because it's simple and divinely cheesy, and it's made with beer), but there's something on the menu that should appeal to any taste.
That seems to be what City Oven is going for in all respects. Lots of different types of beer, full bar, varied food options, tables, booths, bar seating, outdoor patio, you name it. The White Oak strip has all of these things already, of course, but not all in the same place. As far as I know, this is the only spot in town where you can find wood-fired pizza, $3.50 glasses of wine, live music and burgers stuffed with cheese and bacon, all in the same place. There was a need for something like this in the neighborhood.