Earl’s 377 is a pizza oasis, a bright blossom in Argyle’s food desert. When this restaurant opened its doors in May, Argyle’s count of eateries increased by more than 10 percent. With pickings that slim, any restaurant would be a welcome sight. But Earl’s isn’t just any restaurant; it's slinging seriously tasty gourmet pizzas that are definitely worth the drive for anyone along the I-35 corridor. Two custom-built pizza ovens, a serious commitment to quality ingredients and delayed fermented dough contribute to some of the best pizza in the North DFW area.
But why Argyle? Part of the team behind Denton’s LSA Burger and Barley & Board, John “Sparky” Pearson, lives around the corner from the new dining destination. He has big plans for developing the area at the corner of FM 407 and U.S. 377. Pearson and his partners, Steve Watkins and Earl Herrington, own the Fuzzy’s Taco Shop next to the new pizzeria. They also plan to add an ice cream and coffee shop, as well as a smokehouse/barbecue joint. The team seems determined to develop the area into a family-friendly dining enclave.
Whereas most new restaurants strive for an industrial, renovated warehouse aesthetic, the inviting décor at Earl’s is reminiscent of a meal at your grandmother’s home. That is, if your grandma collected Tuscan antiques while your grandfather fashioned chandeliers out of heavily patinated shovels and discarded banjos. The purposeful hominess comes through in little touches: the heavy, Victorian-inspired china, the shelves of ceramic Tuscan water pitchers diners use to decant their wine, the actual bed of a pick-up mounted above the “pick-up door.” We could go on and on about the building’s history. Yes, it’s the old Argyle firehouse. Yes, the truck outside was the actual fire engine used by their volunteer fire department. But when it comes to Earl's 377, we really want to talk about the food, because it’s excellent.
Their selection of “Argylian-style” pies are Neapolitan-inspired but Texas through and through, with toppings like spicy smoked meats and barbecue sauce. The crackly, flavorful crust has more flavor, but carries less toppings than the pizzas most of us are used to. Diners accustomed to the traditional “meat-lovers” or “edge-to-edge cheese” might be surprised to see a good amount of the fresh-made red sauce peeking through their sprinkling of cheese and toppings. But rest assured, what these pies lack in quantity, they more than make up for in quality. The pizzas we sampled were well-curated concoctions of flavors and textures, and there were a few surprises in store.
Take potatoes, for instance. Potato on a pizza sounds great in theory but is often poorly executed. They're often under-cooked, waterlogged or leathery. Not so with Earl’s Yukon Gold pie. It’s like a savory breakfast pizza; a creamy white sauce of ricotta and garlic oil provides a great base for roasted onions, rosemary, bacon and light, fluffy oven-roasted potatoes. Maybe that’s their secret — oven-roasted everything. All the hot dishes at Earl’s 377 – appetizers, pizza, sandwiches, desserts – are cooked in the pizza oven. Essentially, if it wasn’t fired in the pizza oven, it’s either a salad or you’re drinking it.
Being giant fans of pineapple on pizza, the Padre Island was a must-try. Our server warned us about the spice level in advance, as it’s topped with a generous helping of fresh jalapeno. Instead of the standard pineapple chunk topping, this pie features pineapple puree mingled with the sauce and comes topped with bacon, cilantro and sweet onions. It took pineapple pizza to the next level and yes, it was a tad on the spicy side, but for those who like it a little sweet and spicy, this one is a winner.
With Executive Chef Chad Kelley running the show, the quality shouldn’t surprise anyone. He put Denton on the map when he opened Barley & Board early last year, making waves before that when he opened the lauded Meddlesome Moth. He told us he approached pizza with the same attitude as any other cuisine or new menu item.
“I start with the soul of it,” he says. “What is it? I take apart the components. Really for pizza you got dough, sauce and cheese. Everything else, to me, doesn’t really matter. You gotta nail those three components.”
The cheese proved the trickiest mistress.
“I always thought it was a joke when I ordered pizza and it said made with real cheese,” says Kelly. “I was like ‘I hope so – what else are you putting in there?’”
To his dismay, he discovered most the commercially available options came packed with all manner of fillers, emulsifiers and mold inhibitors.
“You’d be surprised at how hard it was just to find real, 100 percent cheese,” he says. They wound up using a vendor out of Wisconsin just to get good quality cheese.
“We paid extra for it, but it pays off in the flavor,” says Narciso Tovar, spokesperson for the restaurant’s development group. “Plus it keeps Chad happy.”
And yes, the cheese is quality, but it’s the dough that excites us. Chef Kelley went down the rabbit hole of dough-velopment to achieve his desired results. He knew the way to get the best dough involved using a starter and a variation of flours for flavor, as well as a longer fermentation. The longer the fermentation, the better the flavor, but the challenge for anything longer than 48 hours is that the dough begins to lose elasticity.
He hit the magic spot with a combination of just enough stoneground whole-grain flour to add a depth of flavor, winter wheat bread flour, semolina for a bit of crunch and texture and 48 hours of fermentation. Everything made with bread on the menu comes from the same house-made dough: The flatbread that comes with the crawfish and artichoke fonduta appetizer, the crostini they serve with Nonna’s Meatballs, even the sandwich bread are all made with freshly baked pizza dough, and each take on their own particular flavor and texture. Same goes for the Perfecto Pizza, Earl 377's dessert pie. The weight from the Nutella cream and marshmallows gives the crust a chewy, nougat-like consistency, so it’s like eating a hot candy bar. Do yourself a favor and save some room for this one.
Earl's 377 Pizza, 427 U.S. 377, Argyle. Open 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday