Every neighborhood needs a good pizza joint, and now the Design District – that most fashionable of up-and-coming quarters – has its very own: Pie Tap Pizza Workshop + Bar.
Happy to say, in their more basic iterations, Pie Tap's pizzas are pretty successful. Their supple, slightly crisp, nicely charred and blistered, puffy-edged crusts have some depth of flavor, and the toppings are fashioned from top-notch ingredients. I'd cheerfully commune with the one adorned with smoked mozzarella, caramelized onions, slices of fennel sausage and a judicious smattering of dried oregano any old time. A classic margherita pizza was a tad salty, but its tomato sauce had pure, bright flavor, playing well with melty mozzarella.
Other pies I sampled from the list of eight took some unfortunate turns with their toppings. Rubbery, overcooked clams (some in their shells, others not, a curious choice) wallowed in lemon beurre blanc spooned with unfortunate abandon over one; Medjool dates and pistachios party-crashed another – a signature pizza – topped with prosciutto, arugula, house-made ricotta, balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Of course it's a matter of taste, but I found that one unpleasantly sweet.
These pizzas – about 12 inches across and priced at $12 to $17 – are created to be savored in a spacious, high-ceilinged, argyle-tiled taproom that's noisy, buzzy and fun. A long, open kitchen with counter seating runs across the back; the revolving interiors of its two large pizza ovens make an impressive show. Elsewhere, there are regular tables; long, high communal tables; and centrally located backless round booths that seem ideal for a party of six or so. When I say noisy, I mean really noisy: Loud music and harsh acoustics encourage diners to yell over one another. The front patio is a popular refuge. And yes, this place seems to be an instant hit, filled with students, young professionals – even (one Saturday night) a local celebrity chef.
The rest of the brief menu features some likable bites: a carefully dressed Little Gem Caesar salad showered with grated "house-cured" egg yolk; tender, flavorful, luscious jumbo chicken meatballs (an appetizer) bathed in good marinara and served with warm house-made garlic-rosemary bread; a respectable chicken parm, moist inside, crisply fried, nicely sauced. (Kudos, by the way, for not sending those yolks out to one of those egg-yolk-curing facilities for processing.)
It wasn't exactly by design that the owners of Pie Tap opened their first shop on Oak Lawn Avenue in the district; the original plan was to open on Henderson, but the site got tangled in red tape. Rich Hicks, who owns the pizzeria with Plan B Group's Royce Ring and Alex Urrunaga, has apparently sorted things out with the city (it's a complicated story of alcohol permits and selling drinks near a school) and plans to open the second location next month, with a third in Frisco to follow.
Yep, Pie Tap is just 2 months old, and it's already replicating. Hicks is chief executive of Frisco-based Mooyah Burgers, Fries and Shakes, so it should probably come as no surprise.
It might be wiser to iron out some kinks first.
I made a point of sampling all the items flagged (with little arrows) as signatures. Spiedini, pushed hard by waitstaff on more than one visit, were outsized grilled skewers of prosciutto-wrapped melted fontina, a bit hard and chewy, flanking a mound of jarringly vinegary arugula salad. A salad called "workshop" sounded more interesting and better than it was: Sliced provolone, bits of bacon, roasted red pepper and other tasty-sounding players got lost in overdressed greens set on thin slices of salami.
All three pastas are house-made. The first time I ordered the pappardelle bolognese – another signature – the noodles were good (if stuck together), and I loved the tender, flavorful beefy ragu. Next time the pasta was tough – too thick – and coarse.
House-cured egg yolks? Kudos for not sending them out for processing . . .
Other pastas disappointed, too: Short segments (had they fallen apart?) of bucatini served with chicken meatballs were also tough; spaghetti was limp and overcooked.
House-made ricotta, which appears in a number of dishes, as well as performing a solo on a meat and cheese board, was thin and watery.
Meanwhile, it strikes me as strange that a place that calls itself a workshop would offer a board of cured meats sourced from elsewhere , especially when house-made charcuterie has become so ubiquitous that it's a menu cliché. When I made my three visits, the motto trumpeted across Pie Tap's menus and website was, "Our dough is sacred. Our ingredients are local. Our chef is Sicilian." So I was surprised to find prosciutto from Iowa, salami from Utah, dates and pistachios from California, clams from Virginia and so on. After I pressed the management in the course of fact-checking about the provenance of various ingredients, the motto disappeared from website and menu.
Still, I'd expect a workshop to express some fresher ideas. Pie Tap's menu is likable enough (give me a good Caesar and a sausage pizza and I'm happy), but original it ain't.
The service is wildly inconsistent. One waiter was competent, professional and alert. Another was intrusive – not just interrupting our conversation constantly, but even invading our personal space. A third was warm and pleasant but chronically absent and clueless about wine.
As for the Tap part of the equation, there's a nice selection of local beers on draft, but the cocktails – not even vaguely interesting – were often too sweet, and it was a serious challenge finding something drinkable among the cask wines, offered by the glass and in 600 ml or 800 ml carafes. Too bad; that's such an appealing idea with pizza. I had to go to the bottle list to find something I could actually enjoy, rather than tolerate. A Massolino Barbera ($46) was perfect with pizza and bolognese.
Pie Tap's menu is likable enough, but original it ain't.
I found both desserts delightful: fried bombolini fritters with wonderful bittersweet chocolate sauce for dipping, and an over-the-top chocolaty (but not cloyingly sweet) ganache-cloaked, pudding-filled blackout cake. So I was surprised to hear they've been rethought since my last visit. Dude, Sweet Chocolate's Katherine Clapner, who helped Pie Tap's chefs create the originals, collaborated on them once again – swapping the bombolinis' chocolate for local honey and upping the pudding in the cake, says Clapner. Sounds promising.
I hope the sweet-tweaking and menu correction means the management is keen on improving in general. There's so much to like here – the place has a nice spirit. And a great pizza crust is definitely something to build on.
Pie Tap Pizza Workshop + Bar (2 stars)
Price: $$-$$$ (appetizers and salads $5 to $13; pizzas $12 to $17; pasta and sandwiches $8 to $16; desserts $8)
Service: Uneven. One server was attentive and professional; another seemed to be trying but was scattered; a third was overbearing, constantly interrupting and invading our personal space.
Ambience: A spacious, noisy, lively, buzzy canteen, with varied seating, including regular tables; high communal tables; large round backless booths and a patio
Noise level: High industrial ceilings and
lots of hard surfaces add up to terrible acoustics: It's insanely loud, even when it's not terribly busy.
Location: 1212 Oak Lawn Ave. (at Market Center Boulevard), Dallas; 469-677-0997; pie-tap.com
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar, with 17 craft beefs (many local) offered on tap. A list of cask wines sold by the glass and carafe (600 ml or 800 ml) is poorly curated, but there are some nice Italian selections on the brief list of bottles.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50