Restaurants / Openings

Tim Love’s New Italian Restaurant Is His Most Intimate Fort Worth Spot Yet — Inside Caterina’s, Where Cellphones Are Banned and Jackets Required

Bringing Real Fine Dining to Mule Alley — and Trying to Slow Things Down

BY // 07.26.22

Chef Tim Love seems to be everywhere you look. Love is the Energizer Bunny of the restaurant world, with spots spanning from Fort Worth to Knoxville, Tennessee, ranging from burgers to a swank new Italian gem. That would be his latest Fort Worth restaurant called Caterina’s Ristorante, which is set to open in Mule Alley this Wednesday, July 27th.

Love describes Caterina’s as “a super-intimate, white table cloth dining space, with seating for 40 in the dining room, and a bar with seating for six.”

“At Caterina’s guests will be treated to a multi-course meal,” Love continues. “It’s slow dining, or what I like to call analog dining where the entire experience encourages you to slow down. There will be lots of little surprises throughout the meal.”

Located right across Mule Alley’s cobblestones from Tannahill’s at 28 E. Exchange Avenue, suite 620, Caterina’s means “pure” in Italian.

When I sat down to discuss the new restaurant with Fort Worth’s most prolific chef last week, Caterina’s space was still very much a work zone. Painters were putting the final coat of gloss on the black railings along its central staircase, which divides the space between its entry and bar (along the right hand wall) and its elegant, intimate dining room. Wood trim was getting its final emerald green stain, the sound system was being installed and furniture was slowly arriving.

The private dining room, with seating for 10, is topped by a shimmery Art Deco painted lattice detail, with its original worn walls in full view ― revealing a century worth of brick, plaster and paint, along with vintage windows. The rest of Caterina’s looks nothing like its former life as a mule barn, with beautiful tile installations and woodwork throughout. Modern mixes with vintage style chandelier lighting, and is warmed by the glow of wall sconces.

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The space feels glamorous. As if, Dean Martin could be dining at the next table.

A jacket is required for the gents and no cell phones are allowed inside Caterina's.
A jacket is required for the gents and no cell phones are allowed inside Caterina’s.

For Love, Caterina’s is another chance to do something different. The 20-plus-year veteran of the restaurant industry, has recently added hotelier to his lengthy resume with Hotel Otto, a boutique container hotel in Fort Worth’s River District. His gigantic music venue Tannahill’s is also opening soon.

Love, who has a handful of restaurants dotted around the Fort Worth Stockyards, recently opened the first of three new restaurants he’s adding to Mule Alley ― his first Tex-Mex spot Paloma Suerte. Next to open is this new snug and stylish Caterina’s Ristorante, which will be followed by Tannahill’s Tavern and Music Hall.

Tannahill’s is currently a giant, dusty, work-in-progress. Concrete is being poured as we speak, but Love tells PaperCity Fort Worth that he already has three 1,000 person events booked at Cowtown’s newest live music venue. Tannahill’s first concert, in conjunction with Live Nation, is set to happen in early October.

But first, Caterina’s will shake up Mule Alley with rules like no cellphones allowed in the dinning room and jackets required for men.

The Caterina’s Experience

Unlike Love’s River District restaurant Gemelle, which is intended to transport you to the Amalfi Coast, the menu of Caterina’s does not point to a specific Italian style.

“It’s American Italian,” Love tells PaperCity. “The dishes are not from any particular region ― a throwback to the ’40s and ’50s style dining. Jackets are required and no cellphones are allowed. The hostess gives each guest a pouch to put their phone in and the pouch stays with the guest the whole dinner.”

If that strikes panic in your heart, you’re not alone.

We forget just how thoroughly addicted we are to our technology these days, and how those tiny supercomputers in our pockets and purses (with all of their social media links) rule our everyday lives. By now, we’ve all heard the adage: “The camera always eats first.”

Caterina’s Ristorante – Yellowfin Tuna Crudo is a sumptuous starter at Caterina’s.
Yellowfin Tuna Crudo is a sumptuous starter at Caterina’s.

I must admit, as a food writer, I am guilty as charged of this atrocious behavior ― forcing my dining companions to lower their forks as I search for just the right angle and lighting to capture each plating before they ever get a taste.

So my first question was: “What about people like me who want to take photos of the space and their memorable meal?”

“We’ve already thought of that,” Love says. “We are going to send a follow-up email to all the reservations the next day, including a photo of everything they ordered. So they can share it online to their hearts’ content.

“And, if someone really needs to access their cell during dinner, they are welcome to simply walk outside to use it.”

No reservation? You can grab a seat at Caterina's bar.
No reservations? You can grab a seat at Caterina’s bar.

The snug bar seats six, and Love thinks it will be a hit in part because its late-night availability. Caterina’s and its bar will be open from 4 pm until 11 pm Fridays and Saturdays. Hotel Drover guests and the like can drop in without reservations and simply eat at the bar. Caterina’s will be open 4 pm until 10 pm Sundays though Thursdays.

Caterina’s Menu

But what about Caterina’s menu?

“The wine list is all Italian and we’ll have six specialty cocktails,” Love says. “They’ll be prepared table-side, and each cocktail will be served with its own small bite. Our martini, for instance, will be served with poached potato, topped with caviar and crème fraiche, and garnished with scallion.”

For starters the swank menu includes two types of fresh crudo ― escolar or yellowfin tuna, along with an appetizer of clams posillipo ― littleneck clams with pancetta and stewed tomato. There are two types of carpaccio as well ― beef carpaccio piemontese topped with shaved white truffle and cremini mushrooms and the vegetarian-friendly asparagus and artichoke topped with pine nuts, Calabrian chile and red wine vinaigrette. Another veggie starter is the fried zucchini served with shaved pecorino, fresh mint and a red wine vinegar aioli.

Caterina’s Ristorante – Layers of pecorino cheese and shaved white truffles atop the beef carpaccio.
Layers of pecorino cheese and shaved white truffles atop the beef carpaccio at Caterina’s.

With Love noting that wild game is very much a part of true Italian cuisine, he’s included rabbit among the proteins at his new Fort Worth restaurant. His coniglia is braised rabbit with golden raisins and pine nuts. The roasted chicken is served in a diavolo sauce with whipped ricotta. Caterina’s show-stopping lobster Allison is a two pounder served with sweet corn ravioli and parmesan cream.

The fresh pasta dishes will all be made in-house — and so will their sauces. Fresh bucatini pasta becomes the base for cacio e pepe. And the classic linguini alle vongole marries tender clams with garlic and lemon. Although there are a few stars, including the very special New York strip (a dish Love says would cost twice as much elsewhere), the menu is not overly thought out. It’s just classically executed.

“I wanted to create a little jewel box,” Love says. “A place where people could get dressed up, and enjoy a relaxed meal and good conversation.”

Reservations are a must at the 40-seat Caterina’s. But parking should not be an issue with a dedicated valet along Exchange Avenue and a golf cart shuttle right to the door.

It seems like Tim Love has thought of everything. As usual.

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