Carbs and Karbach at That Pizza Place on Ella
See how the pies are made and check out That Pizza Place On Ella's big beer selection in our slideshow.
That Pizza Place on Ella — you know the one, the one that used to be a Double Dave's and still has an army of wooden booths that bear the Double D brand on them, the one possessed of an Abbot and Costello routine of a name and bright, beckoning patios — is the place to be on a Sunday night in Garden Oaks. Here's why.
Inside, there's an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet that's decidedly not of the CiCi's variety; it holds rounds after hot rounds of That Pizza Place's specialty pizzas, like the Texas Philly and the roasted garlic-topped Poppin' Prosciutto with goat cheese and fresh basil, along with all the stromboli, cheese-covered breadsticks and pepperoni rolls you can fit in your stomach (plus a salad bar for those of you who feel the need to supplement your cheese and carbs with a small side of greenery).
There are also nearly 90 different craft beers to choose from — both on draft and in the bottle — and it's a selection That Pizza Place is clearly proud of, crowing its numbers from the red, white and blue marquee on Ella. There are arcade games you haven't seen since the 1980s in the back and an air hockey table that begs you to change that $5 bill into a satisfying, clangy whoosh of quarters before declaring war on your friends armed only with tiny plastic discs.
Out back on the shady patio, there is usually a band of the laid-back Texas country or "Gulf and Western" variety — inoffensive, easy-listening stuff that's more of a soundtrack than a spectacle but made more enjoyable by the smiles of the men playing it — and families from the surrounding neighborhood taking in the evening with endless pizza and cheap pitchers of really good beer.
That Pizza Place on Ella has developed a smart formula with these Sunday evenings, but that's not where its success begins and ends. Instead, the little pizza joint that broke away from the Double Dave's empire has cultivated a small but loyal following in the area that, with time, may prove to draw in guests from all over the city as well.
Back in 2010, Double Dave's franchise owners Kelly Weddel, Brett Robinson and Kirk Robinson decided that the large pizza chain wasn't the team they wanted to play for anymore and set about transforming their restaurant on Ella Boulevard into a pizza joint of their very own.
They developed new recipes for the sauce and the dough but kept a few things the same for sake of customer satisfaction — the branded booths remained, for example, as did the renamed pepperoni rolls — and set about getting really good beer in the place instead of typical adjunct lagers like Bud and Miller. On the marquee outside, a defiant new sign read: "Same Owners, Better Pizza."
Their commitment to the neighborhood was apparent early on, when the team decided to allow its customers to rename the restaurant itself, with the winner receiving a year's worth of free pizza. Finalists for the new name included Backyard Pizza, owing to its comfortable feel, and Pie Whole. But the winner was That Pizza Place on Ella, both charmingly silly and disarmingly straightforward at once — just like the restaurant itself.
The menu is short here, with only nine specialty pizzas and a handful of side items: stromboli, calzones, some appetizers and a handful of pasta dishes. The specialty pizzas have cheeky names like The Situation and Dirty Bird that reflect the cheerful attitudes of most of the employees — all of whom do an excellent job of remembering their patrons' names and favorite orders from visit to visit. There are specials nearly every night of the week, from large one-toppings and a pitcher for $16 on Saturdays to Geeks Who Drink pub trivia nights on Tuesdays that feature buy-one, get-one pepperoni rolls and cheap Texas beers.
But all of the specials, the service and the neighborhood feel would be moot points if the pizza itself weren't good. Luckily, it is.
The first pizza I received at That Pizza Place came out with such a large, puffy ring of crust around it that my heart sank: I thought my boyfriend and I had mistakenly ordered a deep-dish pizza, the type of pizza that this Texan simply cannot get behind. Instead, I peered over the edge to find that only that outer, puffy ring was thick — the hand-tossed crust itself was perfectly thin, neither cracker-crisp nor spongy and soggy.
We had ordered the White Gold, smitten by the menu's proclamation that "every bite of ricotta is like finding white gold." I feel that way about ricotta, too. In addition to the crumbly bits of creamy, salty cheese, there were also ample rounds of pepperoni and prosciutto draped across each slice, topping off a tangy, robust marinara sauce that bore no trace of the sickly-sweet red sauce so often found on Double Dave's pizzas.
Along with a couple of fresh pints of Karbach's Saison Barn Burner and Hop Barren Stout, we polished off the White Gold almost too quickly, deciding that a medium was definitely enough for two people but that we still wanted more. Our eyes met across the table, and we both uttered the words with relish at the exact same time: "Sunday pizza buffet." Less than a week later, we were back and plowing through slice after slice of Hawaiian and pepperoni pizza while a baseball game played on the TVs and the band played out back. We studiously avoided the oddly sweet pepperoni rolls, however, which neither of us liked at Double Dave's and which we don't like at this new incarnation either.
That Pizza Place will also gladly make you any specialty pizzas you want for the buffet — all you have to do is ask. We took a few slices of the bold Poppin' Prosciutto, with its sweet, musty, oven-softened bulbs of roasted garlic mingling with peppery goat cheese, and we filled up on meat with The Situation, topped with pepperoni, salami, sausage, bacon, spicy capicola and hot soppressata. We noshed on cinnamon-and-sugar-topped breadsticks for dessert, buttery and sweet and tasting of childhood. And we worked it all off demolishing each other at the air hockey table between swigs of (512) Wit and more delicious Karbach.
The next night, I sent my boyfriend back to That Pizza Place to pick up a pie for dinner — I still wanted to try the Dirty Bird, with its promise of pickles on a pizza, but couldn't bring myself to leave the house after a long day at work. The barbecue chicken-and-cheese pizza came back hot, gooey and topped with hand-sliced chunks of dill pickles in between the chicken and layers of cheese. It was all I imagined it to be, tasting like the marriage between a backyard barbecue and pizza night. And sometimes, in the sluggish summer evenings when the air is still and humid, that's all you want in life. Well, that and a really good beer.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.