by Phaedra Cook
We live on the far West side of Houston. Restaurants on the West side don’t get nearly as much “buzz” as those inside the 610 Loop. There might be a reason for that. There aren’t as many upper-scale places here, although there are some. Bistro Le Cep, Le Mistral, Piatto and Pradaria spring immediately to my mind. There aren’t many well-known chefs who work in this area, either.
Still, there are several jewels that are worth driving a bit for if you don’t live out here. These “West Side Stories” are about being in search of the gems, while identifying the ones that aren’t worth the time.
The Original Destination
Phở One (11148 Westheimer Rd) received the Houston Press Best Phở award in 2009 and has been my family’s default phở place since it opened. It’s a family-owned business, and these are friendly folks that make it a point to get to know their regular customers. The patriarch knows where we like to sit and can make a good guess as to what we’re likely to order. (He’s getting used to the idea that I’m unpredictable.)
The phở is consistently good. Is it the best phở ever? Having made phở myself at home a few times now, I am still looking for a place that dishes out darker stock than the chicken-colored one that we normally see. If you know of a place with a homestyle broth, let me know so I can check it out. Regardless, Phở One is not likely to lose their status of trusted neighborhood spot anytime soon.
A New Neighbor
My daughter and I are both in braces, so soup is generally all we can handle after getting them adjusted. Yesterday, we went for our phở fix at and saw that a brand new place called Tuscany Italian Bakery had opened up next door at 11150 Westheimer. Intrigued, we stepped inside to check it out.
Tuscany Italian Bakery is a combination bakery and café. They offer bread, cookies and pastries, and a small selection of sandwiches, pizzas, soup and lasagna. They had just opened this past Monday, and were definitely still getting their legs under them.
It’s a Cookie, Stupid
I pointed to a small cookie and asked the young man behind the counter, “What is this?”
“It’s a cookie,” he replied.
“Yes, I can see that. What kind of cookie?”
He became a little flustered at that point. “It’s like a sugar cookie,” he said.
“Oh, okay. What about that cookie?” I pointed to the next one over, a sandwich cookie with dark filling.
He noticeably brightened. “That one is filled with Nutella.” I brightened also.
“Would you like a sample of soup?” he asked.
“Sure!” I replied, and he handed me a small plastic cup with a little plastic spoon. The soup was very tasty, with a flavorful chicken stock and an assortment of vegetables, including some hearty chunks of potato. “What kind of soup is this?” I asked.
“Minestrone.” Ah ha. This one he knew.
Short In Supply
I asked my daughter if she’d like to lunch here or if she still had her heart set on phở. She still wanted phở, so we went to our mainstay next door. I promised the young man we’d return for dessert. We did, and ordered a tiramisu, a cappuccino, and a piece of lasagna to go.
“I’m sorry, we just sold the last two pieces of lasagna,” he said. He seemed appropriately sad about this.
A lady behind us asked him, “Is that your last tiramisu?” pointing at the one remaining plastic cup—the one I’d just ordered.
“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry! We’ll have more at 4 pm.”
I told the lady she could take the last tiramisu and selected a small coconut cake instead. Since the lasagna was sold out, I asked if there was any other entree I could take to-go other than sandwiches.
No, there wasn’t. Well, what about the pizzas? I asked, pointing to the menu board. Those were still available. I ordered the “Napoli,” a 10-inch pizza with ham, mozzarella, and red bell pepper strips.
My daughter and I had the coconut cake and cappuccino while we waited on the pizza. The coconut cake was interesting, with a few bits of cherry strewn through. It had a nice balance of sweetness and was not cloying. The layer of coconut along the outside provided nice texture. The one odd thing was the creamy layer at the bottom. This cake seemed more like a tres leches than a traditional coconut. The manager spied me taking a photo, I think, and came over to talk with us. She brought with her two small slices of a different cake to sample. This cake was also spongy and milky, with a dark layer running down the center. “This one is my favorite, she said. “Is that caramel in the middle?” I asked. “No, it’s Nutella,” she said. Well, there would be no shortage of chocolate hazelnut spread in this place. Both cakes were equally good.
The cappuccino pleased me the most, with a thick layer of foam generously sprinkled with a mixture of cinnamon and fine sugar.
The Pizza Quandary
There would be one last bobble before our visit was done. My daughter and I finished our dessert and coffee and I went to the counter to pay and get our to-go pizza. The same young man we visited with before said “It’s going to be another 15 minutes before the pizza is ready. I hope that’s OK?”
Uh-oh. I had to be someplace before 4:30, so no, it really wasn’t. I told him that I had to leave and would come back to pick up the pizza. It seemed to me that the pizza should have been baked while we were having our dessert and coffee, so I’m not sure what the hold-up was.
About 30 minutes later, we returned, and I sent my daughter inside to retrieve the pizza. She came back, bearing not only the pizza but also the $10 I’d paid for it. “They said they were really sorry,” she said. “They said they’re still figuring out the baking time and it should not have taken so long to make it. I told them they didn’t have to give us a refund, but they insisted.”
The pizza was pretty tasty. The toppings were flavorful and seemed to be of good quality. The crust, which was somewhere between thin and medium, was a little boring, but serviceable.
I also took home a loaf of Italian wheat bread. It’s sufficient to make sandwiches with, but nothing special.
I’ll Be Back
I am a fan of small, friendly businesses that are trying to treat their customers right. For that, I am prepared to forgive mistakes and give second and even third chances. The manager said that no one comes in the evening, but the place is open until 8 pm.
I recommend that you visit Tuscany Italian Bakery and show your support. People who live in the area have not discovered them yet. Go next door to Phở One for your entrée, and then drop by Tuscany for one of their frothy, cinnamon-y cappuccinos. Accompany that with a dessert or two. A few weeks from now, they’ll probably have the kinks worked out. I’m hoping to get some lasagna next time.