This past weekend in Houston, we went to dinner Coppa, an Italian restaurant that seemed to me to epitomize much of the Houston restaurant scene.
Clearly I don’t live in Houston nor have I spent copious amounts of time there, but I’ve eaten at a my fair share of establishments on my semi-annual trips. Here are the broad generalizations I’m going to make, and feel free to disagree (but please cite examples):
1. Lots of upscale or “finer” dining restaurants (notches above fast casual and family friendly) are situated in strip malls. They could be very nice, new, stone strip malls, or they could be run-of-the-mill. Either way, you may not realize that there’s a nice restaurant tucked on the side next to Kroger. You pull up to the parking lot thinking incredulously, “Huh, where are we?” Then you open the trying-to-be-historic-but-is-really-a-new-restaurant-trend obligatory heavy wooden door and boom! you’re in a white tablecloth restaurant. Surprise!
2. Once you enter said strip mall fine restaurant, the dining room(s) will be large, potentially cavernous, and have an eerie similarity to lots of other restaurants, and you may think that you have actually been to that place before. However, while the placement of the bar, bathrooms and kitchen may be reminiscent of other establishments, the decor will vary, and hopefully, as in the case of Coppa, be warm and inviting. When I walked into Coppa, I thought I had been there on an earlier trip, remembering the large wall of windows lined with long tables and the placement of the entryway and bar. I had in fact never been there. The bar was welcoming with large framed mirrors hanging over yet another mirror mounted on the wall, and I liked how the opposite back wall and secondary dining alcove were lined with the wine selection.
3. Tables will be crowded together and it will likely be loud. Because these dining rooms tend to consist of one very large room with high ceilings (and maybe a secondary room like at Coppa), there’s not much in the way of interior structures, such as half-walls, pillars (there were a few at the far end of the room at Coppa) or other alcoves in which to sit. Everyone is in one large room, where the tables are placed apart at the minimum socially acceptable distance. You think your waiter is walking away after only having placed half your party’s order, when you realize he’s just making his away around 12 other tables to get to the opposite side of your table to be able to hear the rest of the orders.
These are the sweeping stereotypes I’ve gleaned about the set up of many Houston restaurants. But on to the food at Coppa specifically:
I ordered a pizza margherita (as you can see, this is my go-to for assessing the true quality of pizza….crazy toppings may be good, but can you make a deliciously simple pie?) and the burrata appetizer. I thought both were done very well.
The pizza was well-balanced in terms of ingredients, and I liked how the crust under the toppings was stiff and didn’t flop. I don’t have much else to say other than I ate the whole thing and will let the photo speak for itself. I also enjoyed that they brought the condiments over on a small plate from which you could take a pinch (or hand-full) and sprinkle it on to your heart’s content.
The burrata was also delicious. It was served with arugula, coppa (an Italian cured pork, that was thinly sliced), campari tomatoes (bright, sweet and juicy), olive oil and sea salt. The sea salt stuck to the cheese via the olive oil and added some crunch to the bites. I liked how it wasn’t uniformly salty, but here and there you would get a little kick. The fresh arugula and tomatoes laced with bits of coppa gave those bites eaten with the burrata a slightly bitter, sweet and salty taste and some added texture. Delightful!
I can’t speak for the meals of my dinner companions, but I would definitely recommend the pizza here, and wouldn’t mind getting some carry out from Coppa next time we’re in town.