This past weekend, my husband and I made the trek up I-35 to visit relatives in Oklahoma, and we made several worthwhile stops along the way to break up the drive. I had been curious about the growing "Babe's Chicken Dinner House" Texas franchise, and a billboard enticed us to stop at the Sanger location—in the historic downtown area—for a late lunch. Downtown Sanger, where 1880s buildings speak of the town's glory days as a cattle-shipping hub on the Santa Fe Railroad, is experiencing a construction boom of sorts, but Babe's was closed for a midday siesta. I poked my head into a candle-and-jewelry shop to ask for a dining recommendation, something local, something interesting.
The woman set aside her beadwork and asked me, "You like Italian food?"
"Yes, we do."
"Then you gotta go to Joe's." She patted her belly. "I just had the manicotti, and let me tell you, it's the best Italian food you'll ever have in your life."
That sounded like a suggestion we couldn't pass up. So we drove back to the main road (FM 455) and drove just past the high school to Joe's Italian Restaurant, a nondescript structure that was probably a Taco Bell in another life. (The drive-up window is now boarded over and decorated with pizza boxes.)
What the place lacks in decor, it more than makes up for in authenticity. We both got house salads, and we split a pepperoni roll and a spinach roll (kind of like stuffed pizzas), which came with a fresh-tasting, chunky marinara sauce. The cheese was hot and elastic, the dough chewy and yeasty—”New York-style, carbo-licious goodness right in the middle of north Texas. We were glad we had a cooler in the car so we could take some home; if we had eaten the whole thing, we might have succumbed to post-prandial slumber in the middle of Fort Worth's rush-hour traffic.
This little joint was a welcome surprise. The best Italian food I've ever had? I wouldn't say that. But it was certainly the best (and most unexpected) road-trip meal I've enjoyed in a long time. Joe's is at 2800 FM 455 West in Sanger. Call 940/458-9125.