East Texas recently won the pizza lottery, as cross-country fair stalwarts Stump’s Wood-Fired Pizza has traded in its food truck for a brick-and-mortar storefront rebranded as Stumps Pizza Co. in our own Lufkin Mall.
With regular food critic Olive Waldorf graciously giving me her blessing to check them out first, I grabbed a friend and headed to the mall to dine at this gourmet find in the space that once housed a S’Barro Pizza, across from Bath & Body Works.
Having honed their craft over the years serving up their wood-fired pizzas everywhere from the Angelina County Fair to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to county and state fairs all over the country, the crew at Stumps has refined both the art of the bake as well as their menu to provide an experience that will have local pizza aficionados drooling.
With such fresh ingredients as oregano, Pecorino Romano, crushed San Marzano tomatoes and New Orleans-style olive salad, it was hard to narrow down our selections from the choices of 9-inch regular and specialty pizzas, but we ultimately decided to split the Chong, The Stump and the Rio Grande.
The Chong is a pepperoni pizza, but with a blend of cheeses that sets it apart from others. The Rio Grande’s combination of tender smoked brisket, earthy goat cheese and mild green chiles with just a little bit of heat creates the perfect balance of flavors for an exceptional pizza experience.
But my favorite was their flagship pizza — The Stump. Topped with pepperoni, sausage, olives, garlic and a savory pesto drizzle, this pizza is like an umami bomb of flavor. And because these pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven, the flavors of the ingredients are boosted.
The crust is super soft, making for slices that are closer to inhaled than actually chewed. Before we knew it, we had just a couple slices of each left, and forced ourselves to quit so we’d have snacks to heat up later. Luckily, the experience wasn’t dampened upon reheat in a microwave — the pizza was just as good then as it was fresh from the wood-fired oven. And another benefit of the wood-fired oven is that cook times are a lot faster, so Stumps is able to crank out their little pizzas in a highly efficient manner.
As good as the pizzas are, however, Stumps also serves up what might be the best chef salad in town — and certainly the biggest.
I ordered the large, not realizing it was enough to feed a family of four, and was handed a substantial-sized box stuffed with the freshest blend of iceberg and romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, diced cucumbers and tomatoes, black olives, shredded mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and smoked ham, covered in a blanket of boiled egg crumbles.
While it took me several days to eat by myself, the salad never reached that dreaded point where it’s pretty much just lettuce left — it was chock full of goodies in every bite until the very end. And it was such a pleasure to eat a salad in which the care had been taken to cut the lettuce and other vegetables into bite-size pieces.
Fortunately for me, I had ordered three different kinds of dressings, as I was eager to sample as many of their options — all homemade — as I could. I wound up needing that many for the size of the salad, and they were all fantastic: a ranch so thick there has to be sour cream in the recipe, a pungent blue cheese full of chunky crumbles, and a tangy Thousand Island that is one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
If I had any complaint about my experience at Stumps, it would be that they didn’t have any bags to carry our three pizza boxes and salad box home in, although it really wasn’t too much to juggle. And since my visit was within the first week of the restaurant opening, that’s just an expected oversight.
Customers who are just going for the pizza should park on the JCPenney end of the mall to get to Stumps easiest. But as an added bonus, we parked on the old Sears end and checked out the new Biscuit Eater Bakery/Grace 3 Patisserie on our way out. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like polishing off a few slices of pizza with some homemade cupcakes, cannoli, or turtle or strawberry cheesecake with fresh strawberry topping. But that’s another review for another day!
Stumps Pizza Co. is open from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon-5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information or to view their menu, find their Facebook page.