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If forced to describe the food at Paulie’s in three words, I’d have to say “spaghetti” and “sugar cookies,” because this second-generation-owned Houston restaurant is perhaps best known for its house-made pasta and frosted cookie confections. But thank God no one has coerced me into such a summation, which fails to illuminate all the dizzying manifestations of Chef Paul Petronella’s culinary prowess.

First, there’s the fact that this ostensibly simple neighborhood restaurant manages to successfully balance familiarity with sophistication. If you briefly scan the menu at Paulie’s, you’ll run into a number of Mediterranean-American classics such as eggplant parmesan, Caesar salad, and pizza. Those dishes are executed par excellence at Paulie’s, so if you order them, never fear, you’ll be eating something a cut above what your Italian grandmother used to make (sorry, Nonna).

Look closer and you’ll discover more enterprising dishes that are certain to please diners seeking more pleasantly complex entrees. Although Paulie’s doesn’t divide its menu into primi and secondi, I suggest you follow the traditional Italian dining style and start with a half order of the bucatini amatraciana, spaghetti tossed with cherry tomatoes, garlic, pecorino cheese, and chili flakes, or the slightly more decadent canestri all funghi, ridged elbow noodles with crimini and shiitake mushrooms coated in a sage marsala cream sauce.

Follow up that carbohydrate starter with one of the more protein-centric entrees. At lunchtime, that might be a panino with either smoked turkey, bacon, and swiss or meatballs and mozzarella. Dinner calls for something more formal, such as the ribeye steak with pesto gnocchi or the veal chops and inventive “spaghetti Caesar,” pasta dressed with seasonings common to the aforementioned salad. Paulie’s also offers a series of nightly specials, standouts of which include the beef & pork lasagna (Tuesday) and the mind-numbingly tender osso bucco (Thursday). Regardless of how stuffed you are after dining at Paulie’s, always always (you’ll see why, later) pick up a few colorfully iced sugar cookies to go.

In the past year, Petronella has expanded his dining and entertainment space by opening a neighboring bar, Camerata, which serves wine, beer, “cyder”, and cheese and sausage nibbles. For the ultimate Paulie’s experience, I suggest having dinner at the restaurant proper then heading to Camerata until the wee hours (it’s open until 2am) for a glass (or two) of the l’Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien sour cider. And should you happen to find yourself still hungry at the end of the night, that’s what the sugar cookies are for.

Paulie’s
1834 Westheimer Rd Houston, TX 77098

Joanna O'Leary

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