The first time I stepped into Stonedeck Pizza Pub, the dining room was a sight to be seen and then promptly forgotten. I'd walked in from the cold, looking for something to stuff my gut and warm my bones, but I couldn't find a seat. The dining room was mobbed; every bar stool was taken. And no one was wearing pants. They were pounding beers and shoveling pizza in their undies.
I watched as a pantless couple drank beers at the bar in a loose embrace, their brightly colored underwear glowing in the restaurant's lighting. In a booth, a woman wearing a raver hat that looked like a panda with orangutan arms sat in pink boy-shorts. It was early January and everywhere I looked were thighs as pasty white as the freshly pulled mozzarella. Suddenly, I wasn't so hungry.
I left Stonedeck that night -- I valued both my eyes and my Levi's -- but I made a note to come back and figure out what was going on. Deep Ellum already has a much-beloved pizzeria that has been tossing rounds for years, yet this place was as packed as the pepperoni slices on a meat lover's special.
After a stint in New York City, husband-and-wife owners David Haynes and Catherine Jacobus came back to Dallas to open Stonedeck. They'd spent the three previous years running a pizzeria named Slice in the West Village, offering what they called classic American thin-crust pizza. New Yorkers accustomed to the floppy slices that perfume every street corner retched, but Slice found a following in customers who wanted vegetarian pies and weird toppings like eggplant and grilled chicken. The pair might have stayed in New York if it weren't for the rent and the winters.
In Deep Ellum, Haynes and Jacobus have no deeply ingrained pizza culture to contend with. Instead, they inherited a blank slate when it came to tastes, in a neighborhood at the tail end of a significant revitalization and poised to reclaim its status as a hub for nightlife. Nightlife is good for Stonedeck, because drunks love to burn their mouths on steaming slices of pizza, and because the place is as much a bar as it is a pizzeria.
It's the booze that might give Stonedeck an edge in the neighborhood. Cane Rosso is the stiffest competition Haynes and Jacobus will face in the Deep Ellum pizza game, but the two pizzerias are as different as prosciutto and Southern ham from Tennessee. Cane Rosso goes to bed at 11 p.m. on weekends, while Stonedeck caters to night owls, staying open till 2 a.m. Cane Rosso has a tired wine list and a few taps; Stonedeck offers shots of moonshine laced with fruit and a seemingly endless yet well-curated beer list. Cane Rosso offers pizzas loosely adapted from the Neapolitan style, where Stonedeck's pizzas are so unconventional they leave traditionalists scratching their heads. They serve completely different needs in the same pizza 'hood.
If you're a fan of the delicate, almost wispy pizzas that the Cane Rosso brand is making ubiquitous around the Dallas area, Stonedeck may not be for you. Haynes' rounds -- they're squares, actually -- feature a tough, dense crust that gives a good snap when you bite down. It's thicker than the crusts featured at legacy pizzerias like Scalini's and Campisi's but it's still light and crunchy.
Haynes says his two-step process is responsible for the texture. The pizzas are first placed in his oven on a screen, which prevents the crust from resting on the stone floor of his ovens. After two minutes, the screens are removed and the pizzas are allowed to cook directly on the oven floor. The brief elevated period slows down the cooking process and gives the cheese plenty of time to melt before the crust starts crisping, which prevents burning.
In another deviation from traditional pizza-making, Haynes sprinkles the cheese over the toppings, sealing them in with the sauce. His tweak helps the flavors meld a bit, but diners should take caution: With the cheese on top, pizzas straight from the oven can melt the skin off the roof of your mouth.
There are normal toppings and pre-configured pizzas that offer meat, meat and more meat, but some of the best pizzas here continue Haynes' non-conformist trend. Who knew chicken tikka masala could ever be successfully featured on a pizza? At Stonedeck, it's one of the best pies, probably because Haynes avoids shortcuts, making the curry from scratch with chicken thighs and freshly ground spices. It's a solid curry, complemented by a small dish of red onions, which lend the pizza some snap. Other standouts include a pie topped with roasted vegetables and another with pineapple, ham and smoked provolone called Bookemdanno, a nod to the television series Hawaii Five-0.
Stonedeck has its issues. Lettuce wraps showed up with limp leaves, a tomato and goat cheese salad made use of cottony tomatoes, and desserts ate like an afterthought. That sweet tomato sauce will be a point of contention for some, too, as will the crust. But if you're drunk and you need sustenance late at night in Deep Ellum, Stonedeck is by far your best option.
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If you're not drunk and the sun's up, it's still a decent option. The space is quirky enough to be a draw on its own, with a massive mural by artist Frank Campagna covering one wall. One of the best patios in Dallas is just through the back door, and there's enough moonshine on hand to pickle a crowd.
I think that's what I stumbled on when I went to Stonedeck back in January. Those weren't half-assed nudists, I learned later, but participants in a no-pants DART ride. After running around in the cold advocating for a trouser-free existence, they got hungry and decided to keep the buzz going. If you find yourself in a similar situation while you're in Deep Ellum, Stonedeck's a solid bet, pants or none.
Stonedeck Pizza Pub 2613 Elm St., 469-802-6742, stonedeckpizzapub.com, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily, $$
Pizza $12-$24 Salads $8-$9 Pinwheels $3