Preston Lancaster (top left) and Tony Smith (top right) are in no hurry. It’s Monday evening, and their restaurant, Taverna Rossa, is filling up for dinner, with servers and customers engaged in lively chatter. Sitting in a corner booth, the two owners are enjoying the moment and surveying the scene with pride. I found that spending time with these guys is relaxed and fun — a lot like hanging out with good friends in a neighborhood tavern. Which is, of course, entirely the point.
In 2013, Preston, Tony and their third partner, Jimmy Cannon, (who together own and operate Palio’s Pizza Café in Frisco and Little Elm and Cadillac Pizza Pub off the square in downtown McKinney) opened this approachable, full-service pizza restaurant. “We put a lot of focus on our customers getting a great experience,” says Preston. In fact, it was designed to be the type of place they’d like to hang out.
Creating that place took some time, though. So long, in fact, that people wondered if it would ever open. But it did. And, now that it has, the owners say there’s really nothing they would change, because they took their time to make it special. “It’s been a big, big part of our culture to do things the right way,” says Preston.
That mantra seems to work, because there’s a whole lot to love here, starting with the pizza. It’s made with fresh ingredients that are locally sourced whenever possible. Then, those ingredients are paired in wildly unique combinations, like the buzzworthy pizza named The Bee’s Knees, which is an expression meaning, “You’ve gotta try this.” (Okay, I made that up.) It’s sweet and salty goodness, with spicy pizza sauce, hot sopressata, fresh mozzarella, basil, Pecorino Romano and Texas honey drizzled on top.
Not to be outdone by the pizza, there are the salads — all with fresh ingredients and dressings made from scratch. “I’ve talked to so many people who tell me they love our place, they love our pizza, but they really come for the salads,” says Tony.
The drink menu has the same approach as the food: it’s clean, simple and likeable. The full bar features liquor, wine and beer, and there are 24 taps — 12 of which are Texas beers. There’s no Coors Light or Miller Light on the menu, but the guys promise they’ll have a craft beer that suits your taste. It all goes back to the restaurant’s tagline: “Craft Pizza and Beer.”
Some things at Taverna Rossa – like their commitment to offering quality food and drinks at reasonable prices – won’t change. But the menu, which is already on its seventh iteration, will always change. Items listed as R&D are in the Research & Development phase, and they’ll get tweaked until they’re just right. “We’re constantly adding seasonal stuff and staying dialed in to what the trends are,” says Tony.
The only thing that could make this place any better is live music, and they have that, too. On Fridays and Saturdays, customers can munch on Fritos and queso (Tony’s wife’s recipe) and listen to local favorites like The Zydeco Stingrays and The Great Scott Band.
Whenever you decide to visit Taverna Rossa, make sure to give yourself plenty of time. There’s a lot here to enjoy.Teverna Rossa Website >