Eatery’s appeal runs the gamut from soccer moms to biz-types catching a quick – but very good – lunch.
What might seem a casual sandwich shop on a well-positioned corner of Westheimer among the funky shops of Montrose is actually, thanks to Houston’s Petronella family, a multiethnic and even multipurpose social gathering place for couples, mothers with babies and harried office managers grabbing an oversized bag of takeout. The place rocks at mealtime, again tempting us to see Paulie’s as a filling station; a place whose pragmatic usefulness outweighs its culinary panache. Based on several recent visits, I think that assumption would be a mistake.
Yes, Paulie’s does serve sandwiches – though owners Bernard and Kathy Petronella insist on billing the best of them as panini (that Italian word meaning “little breads”). But with a generous tip of the hat to Italy and Brothers Petronella restaurants in South Shore Harbor and Galveston, plus occasional flourishes in the direction of Latin America or Asia, Paulie’s serves up a worldly rendition of easy-to-like pastas, salads, soups and even dinner entrées. If this is a filling station, then it’s one that offers only high-octane to a crowd that clearly knows what it wants and how it should taste.
Service at Paulie’s is that “fast casual” hybrid now immortalized by places like Café Express. In other words, you order and pay like it’s an old-fashioned lunch counter, but then you wait at any available table armed with one of those Star-Trekkian boxes full of blinking lights. At such places, the age-old invite of “No. 7, your order’s ready” becomes something more akin to “Beam me up, Scotty.” Paulie’s is fast and it’s casual, so the use of blinking lights is entirely genre-appropriate.
As we say, at midday you can choose between a collection of eight box lunches to hustle back to the office or transport to a park on a nice spring day. These include lunches built around traditional sandwiches like the club or grilled cheese, or an interesting array of salads as typical but satisfying as the chicken Caesar. There’s even a vegetarian box that sort of blends the two – taking a flavorful array of crisp-tender grilled vegetables and serving them on a sandwich.
It is in the dining room, though, that the real Paulie’s happens – that environment including (but not the least bit limited to) well-dressed corporate types racing in to grab bags, boxes and trays of takeout. Leisurely youthful couples find tables along the windows or near the back, while the updated vision of sweat-pants-and-baseball-cap-clad Ladies Who Lunch meet, hug and catch up over light meals and top-flight baby carriages.
From the salads, we especially like the Italian family – a kind of antipasto in a bowl, complete with olives, peppers, cheeses and salami. Best bets from the pasta list at Paulie’s include the veal Marsala fettuccine (with plenty of mushrooms, of course) and the fusilli with pesto, kalamata olives and pine nuts – gracefully linking Sicily and Greece as though to acknowledge that the two ancient worlds never truly separated.
There are no standard burgers served here (to the sure disappointment of some), and pasta salad turns up where French fries would usually be. Excellent sandwiches include a shrimp cake burger. But our favorites in the “sandwich mode” generally come from the panini list, including the yezi (spinach, roasted tomatoes and feta cheese) and the principe (Italian sausage and mozzarella with Little Italy street food sausages and peppers).
If it gets to be dinnertime before you make it to Paulie’s, the list of actual entrées takes on greater appeal. These include lighter dishes from the Italian repertoire like a spry and delightful chicken piccata, as well as meatier favorites like the grilled roasted salmon or, one of our top choices, the porterhouse pork chop. And yes, Paulie’s does serve a small but enjoyable collection of wines and beers. A glass of wine and one of Paulie’s famous oversized cookies (cobbled together from Kathy Petronella’s Irish and Italian grandmothers’ recipes) would be worthy company for any entrée imaginable.
1834 Westheimer (713) 807-7271 Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday
Asparagus at Piatto
For one of the most memorable appetizers in town, head to Piatto where the dripping-with-butter, crab-wrapped asparagus will make you wish your stomach could hold more. Great as an entrée, we suggest sharing it with the entire table. 4925 W. Alabama, (713) 871-9722