A Conversation with Graham Blackburn and Scott Gilkey of Vivo 53 in Fort Worth, Texas
You might not expect much from the street front of Fort Worth, Texas restaurant Vivo 53. “Just another pizza joint,” you may be tempted to say. But from the minute you take your first bite of their brunch — let alone their other offerings — you will find yourself completely and happily mistaken.
The food and service is top notch and you’ll even find delicious — yes, truly delicious, gluten-free items on their menu that runs from pizza, to pasta, to inventive appetizers, including fried Brussels sprouts and roasted bone marrow.
I’ll admit, I myself wasn’t expecting anything special, but by the end of the meal, I was fighting for the last slice of margarita pizza and the last bite of their gluten-free pasta Bolognese.
Chef Graham Blackburn and Scott Gilkey, Vivo 53 developer and partner, chatted with us about this little spot whose secret deserves to get out.
The Daily Meal: How would you describe Vivo 53?
Chef Graham Blackburn: Our menu focuses on handcrafted brick oven pizzas. The flavorful dough serves as the base for rich cheeses, house-cured meats and fresh vegetables. Pizza types range from burrata to crispy pancetta to spicy Kobe meatballs. Along with handcrafted pizzas, we serve house made durum pastas, Italian antipasti and desserts.
What makes Vivo 53 different from other pizza/pasta joints?
GB: I can honestly say our dough is truly unique. Nothing like anything else. That's why it took three master bakers over two states, two continents, and four years to develop and perfect our dough. It had to be crispy but with a little softness and chew. It had have a good structure and not get soggy. It had to have a well-balanced flavor on its own without any toppings. The crust had to be perfect with exact rise and flakiness, crunch, soft buttery interior and rich taste.
What would you say makes the perfect pizza?
Scott Gilkey: A pizza that delivers robust savory flavors without a lot of bulky cheese and bread.
GB: The dough of course and unique toppings.
What’s the vibe at Vivo 53?
GB: Our theatre kitchen with a massive brick oven is a constant hub of activity that will entertain and delight. Our design is industrial, you get an urban feeling with a pop of color.
What was the inspiration behind creating Vivo 53?
SG: When the owner first departed college and entered the work force, he worked for California Pizza Kitchen. He left and built a commercial real estate business but always knew he wanted to get back to the restaurant business. He has always been fond of the finer techniques used in Italy to create crave-able foods and so began the dream and reality of Vivo 53.
How would you characterize the menu?
SG: The menu offerings are a mixture of traditional Italian dishes prepared with precision using the finest ingredients.
What are some of the menu favorites of diners at Vivo 53?
GB: Spicy Sausage Pizza with Mama Lil¹s Kick Butt Peppers, crispy prosciutto pizza, and Vivo truffle fettuccine.
What’s your personal favorite dish on the menu?
GB: Our spicy sausage pizza is one of my personal favorites, Mama Lil¹s Kick Butt Peppers gives it literally a perfect kick. My brunch favorite is fresh berry torta, it¹s a savory breakfast pizza and I would have it with a mimosa, voila.
Can you tell readers a bit about what makes the bar program at Vivo 53 special?
GB: “Innovative cocktails, fresh ingredients and our mixologist, Brian Rogers, is a local favorite. A must-try cocktail is our Zagat-rated Italian Mule with fresh raspberries and ginger beer.”
Does the menu rotate at Vivo 53?
SG: “No we like to focus on executing our menu well day in and day out and delivering high quality by that keen focus.”
What is the one thing that you think surprises people about Vivo 53?
GB: I think the most surprising fact is the dough and the story behind it. The owner Paul Daneshrad almost gave up after three years until he found a master baker in Oregon who came from three generations of bakers and was brilliant and a savant with dough. He nailed it.
Anything else you’d like to share?
GB: Our Italian brunch is always fun with $1 mimosas and bellinis, Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Happy H\hour at Vivo¹s craft bar is packed with locals, daily between 3 and 6 p.m. ($3 drinks, $3 beers, $4 selected wines, $4 selected pizzas and half-priced appetizers). Lastly, we are opening our second location in Bellevue, Washington and there’s more to come!