Having been to the Bellaire location and being favorably impressed, my appetite was whetted by a recent review in the Houston Press regarding the more recently opened Washington Avenue location. According to that review, this is the better of the two locations; in fact the review was among the most glowing I have had the pleasure of reading.
Arriving at the restaurant I was greeted by a full parking with a sign indicating that additional parking was to be had next door. I took this as a favorable omen. The decor was warm, with darks woods, Baltic brown granite, and a candle at the table. A generous bar area was located to the right of the entrance, with a piece of leathery pepperoni pizza under a warming lamp a reminder of the happy hour (3-7 p.m..) that had long since passed. We chose to forego the covered wraparound porch for a table inside after placing our order. We had ordered a large Italian sausage pie as advised, N.Y. style on the standard crust (as opposed to five grain crust which is also available). I quaffed a draft Pyramid Hefeweizen ($3.95) as we conversed and waited, our voices struggling to rise above the boisterous ambient din.
When our order arrived, I was surprised to find the most uneven distribution of a pizza topping I have experienced. Indeed two slices were devoid of sausage. What sausage was present was rather lightly applied, being satisfactory on only two of the slices. The crust had an appetizing and bubbly appearance, but was not crisp, rather soft and chewy. It is easy to imagine how some juices from vegetable toppings or grease from multiple meat toppings, if portions were ample, might make a slice difficult to handle. As we continued our meal, my child's meal, forgotten somehow by the server until I produced my receipt, arrived. This is perhaps one of the poorest values in a kid's meal I have witnessed, $4.95 for a cup or less of buttered miniature shell pasta, drink extra. Memo to myself: skip the kid's meal next time and let junior eat the two cheese slices on my Italian sausage pizza. But that begs the question of whether there will be a next time.
Comparing the two locations of Candalari's for me is a matter of style versus substance. The Washington Avenue location is handsome and warm, if loud, and easily the aesthetic favorite. The quality of the food and the friendliness of the staff at the Bellaire location is more important in my estimation, and it is to that location we will return. In the meantime, if you want to try another variation of New York style Italian sausage pizza, try Romano's on West Gray in the River Oaks. The sausage is sliced, the amount ample, and the crust thin and crisp. It is my hands down favorite in Houston.