December 2, 2022

North Italia launches restaurant in the woods with chef’s perspective

The second Houston-area location of Northern Italy opens October 5 at the Woodlands Mall, located at 1201 Lake Woodlands. This Italian chain’s Woodlands kitchen, which opened its first Houston location at BLVD Place in 2014, is led by executive chef Shawney Severn, who has creative license to include his personal version of the menu. This is in line with the company’s intention to develop chef-led restaurants. This thoughtful approach means the menus vary slightly from place to place.

Severns grew up in a military family and as a result moved to various countries including England, Germany and Italy. She moved to the United States to attend high school and started working in restaurants as a dishwasher. She held kitchen positions, attended cooking school and worked in restaurants in Jacksonville, New York and Nashville before moving to Texas, where she worked as an executive chef at North Italia in San Antonio. Brynn Neighborhood is the site’s general manager of The Woodlands and was first a bartender in Tampa before moving into management and joining North Italia in 2019.

Houston Food Finder was on hand for a North Italia preview at The Woodlands and sampled some of the dishes. Customers can choose from a variety of starters, including crispy calamari, Italian meatballs or one Chief’s advice with Prosciutto di Parma, spicy coppa, roasted peppers and cheese. There is also a selection of pizzas, including a traditional Daisyvegetarian mushrooms and a chef’s dish of the day.

Pizza in Northern Italy
Margherita, Funghi and Spicy Meatball pizzas in North Italia. Courtesy picture.

The Italian restaurant boasts a variety of pasta dishes prepared daily, such as spaghetti and meatballs and Tonnarelli with squid ink, with sautéed prawns, calamari and a spicy Calabrian chilli sauce. Tonnarelli is similar to spaghetti, but much thicker, adding a more substantial bite. (This is an example of how dishes differ between Houston-area locations, as Northern Italy in the Galleria uses mafaldine, a wavy, ribbon-like pasta.) Meaty entrees include Half Tuscan Chicken, braised end of rib and roasted salmon. In addition, North Italia offers several handmade desserts, such as Tiramisu, Italian butter cake and salted caramel budino.

Bolognese in northern Italy
Bolognese in northern Italy. Courtesy picture.

Unlike many chains, North Italia puts a sincere effort into the craft cocktail program. For the Sfumato, the bar doesn’t play it safe by using mezcal, strega and an Italian aperitif mix, resulting in a smoky grapefruit flavored cocktail in a glass. Other drinks on the menu include New Italian Spritz and Manhattan Figthe latter being a Woodlands exclusive. The wine list is varied and highlights Italian wines, but there are also warm nods to other regions. The beer selection is mostly focused on local options and currently includes Saint Arnold, Karbach, Live Oak and No Label.

For a smooth opening, North Italia in The Woodlands felt like a well-oiled machine. The staff and hostesses were friendly and organized. Our server was personable, had a detailed understanding of the menu, and shared feedback from other customers to help us make our selections.

More importantly, the food made it easy to forget you were at a national chain. The dishes were well done and bold. In particular, the squid ink tonnarelli and the salted caramel budino left lasting impressions.

Reservations will be available on the website. At this time, hours of operation are not currently listed, but North Italia in The Woodlands will be open for lunch, dinner, and brunch, and will also offer happy hour. For customers who want to enjoy the dishes at home, the restaurant has an exclusive delivery partnership with DoorDash.