Dallas has steakhouses but not like Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse, a Boston-based chain opening its first Texas location at the Grandscape in The Colony, the mixed-use development anchored by Nebraska Furniture Mart with retailers, dining, entertainment, office, and residences.
Founded by charismatic chef and restaurateur Steve DiFillippo, Davio's does regional Italian foods with a focus on the grill, with a menu that incorporates aged steaks and pastas made in-house. In fact, everything is made by hand.
Italian + steakhouse is not a common combo. Davio's started as a simple Italian restaurant outside Boston when DiFillippo took it over in 1985. After expanding to Philadelphia, which was short on steakhouses, he added a steakhouse component. He brought this Italian-steakhouse model back to Boston and the concept prospered.
"We make all our own pasta and cook it to order," DiFillippo says. "But people want to eat steak. They want to eat fish. At this point we're about 25 percent Italian, 50 percent meat, and 25 percent seafood."
The menu combining steaks and northern Italian food is diverse both in offerings and price, with pastas ranging from $15 to $27 for tagliatelle Bolognese with braised veal, beef, and pork in tomato sauce; to $58 for an 18-ounce Prime aged ribeye.
There are burgers, pizza, and oddly, a big selection of spring rolls, which have become a Davio's signature, including cheesesteak rolls, chicken parm, Buffalo chicken, and spinach & feta cheese.
A full menu of desserts includes panna cotta, olive oil sponge cake, and butterscotch budino. Every location has a pastry chef on staff.
Davio's approaches the bar with the same diligence, even filtering the water for the ice machine.
"We use all fresh juices, fresh OJ, and we don't use a soda gun — everything is in a bottle," he says. "I don't like soda guns. We try to have the best food, but I don't forget the bar. We have great cocktails with an amazing house liquor. Everything is top shelf. We don't have a crappy vodka, you get a good vodka."
"I just try to think of everything I can to make it the best," he says.
All about the guest
DiFillippo is a not unfamiliar face if you've ever swung by QVC, where he's appeared to sell Davio's cheesesteak spring rolls, meatballs, and stuffed salmon. In the Boston restaurant world, he's a major figure, most recently named to the state's COVID-19 commission advising lawmakers on how to restart the state economy.
Unlike your typical chef, he graduated from Boston University, then attended culinary school.
He's also hands-on. Davio's may have the smooth professionalism of a chain, but it's a family-run operation, and DiFillippo is involved on a daily basis. "I know people’s names," he says.
That extends to the clientele. DiFillippio wrote a book called It's All About the Guest and takes the hospitality component seriously.
"We keep notes, which is something I did when I first started," he says. "I had this book: 'Mr. Jones likes this table, hates that server.' We keep information in a computer and all the restaurants are tied together, so that, when you come to the door, we know your preferences."
They currently have six locations around Boston including one at Logan Airport, plus two in Pennsylvania and one in Atlanta, Georgia.
First in Texas
DiFillippo says he met the Grandscape team a couple of years ago at a convention in New York.
"They came to Boston and loved the restaurant," he says. "We started talking and became friends. This is why I do this — for me, it's about the people."
COVID-19 may have thrown a wrench into the works but he says he feels optimistic about the future.
"We won't do lunch during the week — there's nobody in the offices right now," he says.
The restaurant is slated to open in October, joining other Grandscape neighbors that include two pizzerias, Parry's and Heritage, with another Italian restaurant rumored to be opening there as well.
"They have a couple good places and we want to add to it," DiFillippo says. "We hope to do a good job and have great service, that's how I've always done it."