If the large, crowded patio doesn’t catch your eye as you drive down West Sixth Street, the bright green building that glows like a sunburnt lime will.
Winflo Osteria opened in January and quickly established itself as a popular happy hour and dinner spot, its tree-shaded outdoor seating area twinkle-lit like a Clarksville garden party. The restaurant added lunch service in June, and Winflo now maintains a buzz that hums almost continuously throughout the day.
What is driving traffic to this 1922 bungalow between Lamar and MoPac boulevards? Location, design and ambiance. The West Sixth Street location makes for a convenient dinner spot for West Austin residents and a hip-yet-casual place for a lunch with friends or business associates and serves as an ideal detour and respite from the rush hour traffic for those leaving downtown.
Architect Jamie Chioco of Chioco Design has kept much of the original wood from the old house, and the wooden walls, floors and ceiling encapsulate guests with their warm embrace. Touches such as the bar area’s dropped ceiling, which looks like a striated tissue design with light bulbs hanging from outstretched copper tentacles, lend a modern update while maintaining a vintage feel. Taupe columns and beams and white-painted accents frame a sophisticated space divided into a dining room and bar area.
Through the bar you can spy the wood-burning oven that cranks out Winflo’s roster of nine Neapolitan pizzas that range from classic simplicity (Margherita, $13) to indulgent modern takes (carbonara pizza, $13). All of the pizzas are 11 inches.
The pies from chef-partner John Pennington’s kitchen maintain their integrity, the dough holding up under the weight of their ingredients. The crust snaps with a cracker crunch that reveals a chewy interior. Mounds of ricotta cheese flecked with basil, oregano and red peppers give herbal pop to the mild Italian sausage pizza ($14), with roasted red peppers and caramelized onions offering their sweet piquancy.
The hot oven led to mixed results on a bacon and artichoke pizza ($16), the pig rendered to leathery russet bits, while the artichoke hearts maintained a tenderness and vegetal zing. The mozzarella, pooled and congealed like a milky Pangaea, offered as much push and pull as the overcooked edges of the tough crust.
I eschewed the carbonara pizza for the classic spaghetti alla carbonara ($9). The housemade pasta had spent too much time in its boiling bath, leaving the strands limp and bordering on mushy in a thin sauce that needed more Parmesan and cream.
Many chefs refuse to give customers salt and pepper at the table, considering any additional seasoning a rebuke of their cooking, but Winflo doesn’t take such a high-minded approach, delivering dishes with salt, Parmesan, dried oregano and red pepper flakes to the table. I required that quartet’s song for tone-deaf lasagna with overcooked noodles and a meat sauce lacking complexity. That same shallow flavor plagued an appetizer of dry, lukewarm meatballs ($8), made spongy by the inclusion of salami.
The pasta and entrée dishes hew toward familiar, comforting classics — rigatoni with sausage ($16) and osso bucco ($24) — and banquet-style dishes. The ample buerre blanc couldn’t saturate the dry chicken in the saltimbocca di pollo ($16), a dish most noteworthy for its garlicky wilted spinach. Winflo also tosses in a few curveballs, such as a chipotle cannelloni ($14) with a spicy cream sauce that lingers beyond the frustration with more overcooked chicken.
Despite some uneven execution, Winflo, which feels like a stylized version of commercial red-sauce places like Carraba’s, has proven wildly popular. This can mean waits of as long as two hours on busy weekend nights, so you should try to make online reservations.
Winflo apparently has the policy of fully booking the restaurant for the evening, leaving little room for walk-ins. One weeknight a hostess told us there were no tables available in the main dining room but that we could sit at one of the high-top tables in the bar area as long as we finished our meal in 75 minutes. This despite the fact that four tables sat empty in the dining room when we arrived, and three remained that way for the entirety of our meal.
Despite our time constraints, our server that night never made us feel rushed or unwelcome even as we made our way through a passable but frigid take on tiramisu ($7) and a sturdy cinnamon coffee cake special ($8). All of the servers are affable and project a sense of knowledge about the menu, though I think they’d be wise not to brush up on their all-Italian wine list education while leaning against the bar during dinner service.
As we left, a stream of people filed in through the front door, the deck below filled with dinner guests and the valet line backed out into West Sixth. With a convivial atmosphere, a heavily trafficked location and a menu that offers few surprises, there’s little arguing that the owners of Winflo have crafted a winning equation.
1315 W. Sixth St. 512-582-1027, WinfloOsteria.com
Rating: 6 out of 10
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Dinner: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Salads and appetizers, $6-$14; pizzas, $13-$17; pasta, $7-$16; entrees, $16-$24; desserts, $6-$8.
What the rating means: The 10-point scale is an average of weighted scores for food, service, value, ambiance and overall dining experience, with 10 being the best.
Notes: Happy hour from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and all day Monday and Tuesday. Bar open one hour later than kitchen (posted times above).
The Bottom Line: Location, design and ambiance combine to make Winflo a hot spot on West Sixth Street, even if the numbers don’t add up to me.