Lunch is a Battlefield: Cherry Street

'Lunch is a Battlefield' is both my favorite Pat Benatar-ish song and the first
in an ongoing series of dispatches from the noonday front
Cherry Street
1612 Lavaca St. 512-284-9954,
Hours: 11am-10pm Mon-Fri. 5-10pm Sat.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 07.15.13
UPDATED 09/19/13: Cherry Street has closed. Its sister restaurant Péché on Fourth Street remains open. 
Take down the chalkboard menu and the Italian newcomer Cherry Street could be another house of scallops and steak frites, just like its sister restaurant Péché. There’s no cheesy Italian pretense, just a recessed entryway clad in six-sided black-and-white tiles, leading into a den — and a din — of rough stone and dark wood. A curio-lit bar with the pre-fab cabinet look of a model home dominates a back corner, and a TV hovers just above the main line of sight on a wall painted like an avocado’s innards.
Farther down that line of sight is the arching blaze of a pizza oven, and in that oven a Margherita pizza ($9) was burned to distraction on the bottom, as if the floor of the oven hadn’t been brushed after the night shift. A powdery ash, choking and unpleasant, gave rise to a few bubbled towers on the pizza’s surface, like flues of gestating volcanoes. To paint the Margherita’s signature Italian flag colors on top, the green came from torn leaves of basil and a swampy pesto with a mellow herbal buzz. The red arose from clusters of roasted tomatoes, full of acid’s sweet sting against a firm but utterly neutral backdrop of ivory mozzarella.
Flat pennants of house-rolled straccetti pasta with a perfect al dente bite lay like canvasses for a Bolognese sauce in which nuggets of fatty pork were clearly in charge, striated tyrants crowding out the veal with which they shared billing. Their work was done in a sauce the color of late fall with a little tomato for edge but finished with cream for the velvet texture that separates Bolognese from everyday red sauce. Lunch doesn’t have its own menu at Cherry Street, and $15 for that shallow bowl seemed like an indulgence better saved for dinner, when the light’s softer, the hours are longer and the bar is more than just another place to sit.
(TOP: Straccetti pasta Bolognese, focaccia bread and a Margherita pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. INSET: Cherry Street the restaurant lies next to the old Capitol Saddlery on Lavaca Street between 17th Street and 16th Street, which used to be called Cherry Street. ABOVE: The interior is dominated by wooden floors, green walls and a recessed front door landing tiled in black and white. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)