First Look

Graffiti Pasta in Denton is Now Open in the Old Home of J&J's Pizza

Graffiti Pasta is now open on Denton's town square.
Graffiti Pasta is now open on Denton's town square. Daniel Rodrigue
Graffiti Pasta on the square in Denton has big shoes to fill. For 24 years, the previous tenant, J&J's Pizza, was a reliable place to grab a slice of pizza, and the basement below, Ol' Dirty Basement, was a DIY concert den that became a place of local-music legend. Last summer when they announced they were closing because of a rent hike, there was a bit of a panic in the square.

Now a new restaurant has opened. Graffiti Pasta, which still boasts some of the previous tenant’s window art, is a vibrant ode to Denton and pasta. Graffiti covers nearly every visible wall, bench and table — other than an original stone wall, which is still untouched.

We stopped by each night during their first week of business and received a hearty greeting and attentive service from Jon Harwell at the bar.
click to enlarge The space has an '80s and '90s pop-culture theme. - DANIEL RODRIGUE
The space has an '80s and '90s pop-culture theme.
Daniel Rodrigue
A-ha’s “Take on Me” called our attention to two of the large flat-screen TVs above the bar that play through a mix of ‘80s and ‘90s music videos. There's also a colorful nod to Back to the Future II displayed behind the bar. Small jars on the bartop contain silverware, fancy paper napkins and chopsticks.

The menu is based on owner Anthony "Tony" Morel's Sicilian grandmother’s recipes, with some modern embellishments. “She taught the family how to cook,” Morel explains between plating dishes and running plates to tables. “I never met her, but I learned the recipes."

The menu is still expanding and evolving with a couple of items being added and replaced during the first couple of weeks of service. A butter and herb bread knot, which wasn’t printed on the menu nor offered when ordering the first couple of days, was added later in the week.

We were prepared to hype the Tortellini al Denton, which during the first week was a tasty cheese tortellini in a creamy pesto sauce topped with fresh-cut basil. By the next week, the tortellini was gone and replaced with Pasta al Denton described as fresh spinach spaghetti in the pesto sauce.
click to enlarge Graffiti Meatballs - DANIEL RODRIGUE
Graffiti Meatballs
Daniel Rodrigue
The Graffiti Meatballs arrived from the kitchen steaming hot swimming in house-made marinara.

“It’s delicious, and I’m not a big meatball eater,” Kathy Brown, a patron sitting at the bar during one of our visits said of the Graffiti Meatballs and the Banksy’s Baked Ziti. Brown manages a cafeteria and is “picky and hard to please,” but she planned to return for another meal soon. In fact, we spotted her on a return trip Thursday.
click to enlarge Calabrese Caprese - DANIEL RODRIGUE
Calabrese Caprese
Daniel Rodrigue
One standout dish was the Calabrese Caprese with heirloom cherry tomatoes, smoked mozzarella balls, calabrese chili oil, fresh-cut basil and house-made pesto finished with a drizzle of balsamic reduction. The pesto and chili oil combine for a fiery explosion of flavor that will have you craving another bowl.

We also recommend the Sideways Mac Attack, which is made with cavatappi (corkscrew) noodles smothered in a house-made Italian cheese sauce and topped with a blend of cheeses and herbed panko topping. This may be our new favorite mac and cheese in town.

Graffiti Pasta has a dozen canned and bottled beers to choose from, including the Italian staple Peroni. The wine menu includes a brut, prosecco, a few whites and reds, all sold by the glass ($5-11) or bottle ($20-50). Harwell boasts of a “gnarly” classic Negroni and Black Walnut Manhattan.

As for the music scene down below, it's in progress. The first concert is scheduled for May 7, according to Don D’Amico, who is handling the booking. Their online calendar has more details.

The website notes that for now they're only open for dinner service but plan for normal business hours to run from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. with the kitchen closing a 10 p.m.; the bar will serve drinks until 2 a..m. Check their Facebook page for updates before heading out.

Graffit Pasta, 118 W. Oak St. (Denton)
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Daniel Rodrigue
Contact: Daniel Rodrigue