clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Best of the Fort: Cane Rosso and Zoli’s are slingin’ pies with a side of snark. But not ranch dressing.

Fort Worth’s best pizza comes in two forms, and you can get them both to go!

Melissa Triebwasser

There is not a better pizza in the world than the Honey Bastard, and that is a hill I am willing to die on.

Spicy, sweet, salty, and gooey, the New York style pie might be awkward to order the first time, but one bite and you will be sure to get over any initial concerns. I have seen it transform people’s lives, including my mother, who gave me a disapproving glance when I ordered it for us on her last visit to town. I have watch all my friend’s husbands look longingly at my plate when I ordered it, while their wives forced them to chomp on something covered in greens or god-forbid, plain cheese.

It’s a special gift, and it’s ours.

Last week, one of my students used a Zoli’s Pizza box as a prop in a video for a class project, quickly derailing the discussion (as my classes are prone to do when the subject is food or sports). Many of us immediately remarked how much we missed the pies from Cane Rosso and Zoli’s, and I lovingly called out to the Honey Bastard. In a class. Full of high school students.

Whoops.

Well, much to my delight, two Honey Bastards mysteriously appeared on my doorstep that night, delivered by the student who had tempted us with the empty box. One, was hot and fresh and ready for consumption — and consume it I did — while the other was a take and bake, to be eaten later (but not much later, who are we kidding). It was a reminder that pizza, the right pizza, can make any bad day better.

Cane Rosso has been making folks’ days better since 2014, and Zoli’s joined the fray last October. Though they were originally a Dallas company (I know, I know), the fit in Fort Worth has been perfect, according to owner Jay Jerrier, who I had a chance to speak with over email earlier this week. “When we first opened, I think Southside was just on the cusp of blowing up. We had a good couple of years to start off — though I think some people were wary that we were FROM DALLAS — but about by year three, the Fort Worth Cane Rosso just exploded. We love Magnolia — it really lets us be a “neighborhood restaurant”. We have great neighbors in Brewed, Melt and Heim just down the street.”

Jay talks about his neighbors organically; it’s one of the most interesting things I have learned about the Fort Worth food scene over the course of this series — these folks leaned on and supported each other long before COVID-19, but that community has only grown closer over the past six weeks. “I think that is like a duck floating on the water… on the surface it looks very smooth — but underneath we are frantically paddling. Switching to curbside/to go was very abrupt, but then it seemed like there were new tweaks every couple of days. It’s kind of stabilized now and the restaurants are setting into a routine and everyone is sharing “best practices” on what works and what doesn’t.”

In addition to getting help, both Zoli’s and Cane Rosso had to make big adjustments on the fly, a reoccuring theme here. What’s different for these franchises though, is that in an industry normally based on delivery, they had carved a niche as a sit-down establishment. That all changed. “Ever since everything went nuts on 3/12, the response from Fort Worth has been great. We had to pivot to 100% to go/delivery in less than 24 hours. Sales are obviously way down from where we normally are, but we’re trying to power through. We’ve put together family size pastas and lasagnas, cocktail kits to go, 50% off wine, $12 Mix-and-Match 6 packs of beer, and even Take & Bake Pizzas from Zoli’s. I can’t believe how well they cook in a home oven (editor’s note: this is 100% factually accurate. those trays are some kind of magic, and the pizzas come out of your home oven almost as delicious as they do out of the brick oven at the restaurants. ALMOST.). Our team has done a great job of getting creative with food and drink — and Fort Worth is here for it.”

In addition to their award-winning pizza, homemade pastas, and assortment of other delightful menu items, Jerrier has earned a reputation for having one of the liveliest social media feeds around, whether it’s causing an uproar over ranch dressing, or using an assortment of 80’s and 90’s memes and memories to get people interested. “I grew up in the 80s and 90s, so a lot of our content is driven by that — Star Wars, movie quotes, Hip Hop, and all the other stuff I grew up with. I think someone once said that one of our restaurants looked like teenagers bedroom from the 80s. I couldn’t tell if that was awesome or a sick burn. We just want to entertain people with our social media. There’s enough stress going around.” But he’s also turned his trolling into something good, partnering with Hidden Valley Ranch after initially banning the dressing genre from his establishments. “We never had ranch on our salads so we just never had it in the restaurants. When we opened our first place in 2011, I honestly had no idea that people wanted to dip everything in ranch. So we just started trolling people before trolling was cool. It just became on ongoing joke. Hidden Valley has been in on the joke from the start, too. They joke around with us on twitter and have sent us special care packages a few times. We sold a “side of ranch” for $1000 in our Deep Ellum restaurant — and it’s been sold three times now — mostly during fundraisers. Matt & Emily Hyland who are good friends and own Emmy Squared in the Northeast have a pizza on their menu called “The Jerrier” with ranch on it specifically to troll me, and they have donated to our dog rescue group, Cane Rosso Rescue, by selling ranch in NYC.”

Jerrier mentioned fundraisers, and his restaurants have done a lot of good locally and beyond through various events. They have hosted events where 100% of sales went to the Beaumont Humane Society when their shelter burned down, raised money the same way for victims of the Houston flood in 2017, and recently partnered with Hidden Valley to feed area hospital workers. They have an extraordinary passion for animals too, going so far as to have an organization dedicated to it, Cane Rosso Rescue (cane means dog and rosso red in italian).

And while those causes and others remain near and dear to their hearts, the focus is on feeding the people of Fort Worth (and Dallas, and Houston, and soon-to-be Arlington) the best pizza around in these difficult times. “We just want to make sure our staff is healthy and safe, the food is top notch, and the customers feel safe and confident in ordering from us.”

Jerrier wants to be clear, his, and many others, businesses are struggling now, and need our support. And if you want to make sure your favorite spots are around when this is over, “the best thing everyone can do is support their local restaurants by doing carryout. Third party delivery services cost the restaurants a fortune. Focus on the restaurants that are in your neighborhoods… Chick Fil A, McDonalds, and Chipotle will all survive this. Some of your favorite local places may not. Once this is all over, make an effort to visit locally owned places - even if it’s a pain to park or it’s across town.”

He’s got another tip, too, one that isn’t food based, but can certainly improve your spirits now and for years to come. “Another great thing to do? Foster or adopt a dog. We’re all stuck at home and this is the perfect time to empty the shelters. Check out Cane Rosso Rescue on Facebook - we have tons of dogs looking for homes - or go to your local shelter or rescue group and grab a quarantine BFF.”

Cane Rosso is open seven days a week for pickup/delivery on Magnolia Ave in Fort Worth (and several other locations across North Texas). You can get your take-and-bake options, square pizza, and other menu items at Zoli’s on Hulen St Monday through Sunday as well.