With Stampede 66, gay chef Stephan Pyles goes home
It hasn’t even officially opened yet, but Stampede 66 may already be just about the hottest table in town. That’s not actually surprising — at least when Texas’ most famous restaurateur, Stephan Pyles, announces he’s opening a new eatery.
Pyles hoped to open his latest concept — which has a had soft opening with special benefit dinners and a VIP party — by this week, but next week is looking more likely.
He’ll wait until everything is exactly as he wants it; after more than 35 years in Dallas dining, he’s earned that right. Before the public gets to see it, he’s redoing several tables (they were too high), repackaging his signature line of sauces (he wanted a different label) and waiting on a few more stars to be added to his night-sky trompe l’oeil ceiling (after all, they should be big and bright deep in the heart of Texas).
“Texas” dominates the idea behind Stampede 66 — much of it, even Pyles’ own past.
“A lot of inspiration was taken from Star Canyon,” he admits, referring to his mid-‘90s restaurant that once occupied the Centrum Building along Cedar Springs and Oak Lawn.
It’s been a while, though, since Pyles has explored cuisine on this side of Woodall Rodgers. A presence in Downtown for the past seven years — he’s represented by Samar and eponymous fine dining spot — Pyles located Stampede 66 in Uptown. But really, he’s gone hundreds of miles away.
“It is a coming home,” he says.
Pyles grew up in Big Spring, learning to cook alongside him mom at the family’s Phillips 66 truck stop. That “66” inspired the name of the new place, which echoes his youthful memories: The buttermilk pie recipe he stole from his mom (minus some sugar — “don’t tell anyone,” he whispers); the corrugated-steel pergola recalls Pyles’ evenings spent fishing in the moonlight in West Texas.
“There’s lots of my childhood in here, lots of the truck stop,” Pyles says wistfully.
But also a good deal of sophistication and thoughtfulness. Hi-def projections on the walls show a loop of cowboy culture (shot this summer on a ranch in Uvalde) with Texana aphorisms. Guests enter to an assault of placards naming actual Texas cities, but arranged so as to make whimsical statements (“Needmore” on this map is next to “Cash”). But perhaps most telling of all is the menu: Not just the taco and tamale bar, but the sourcing is pure Texas.
“We’re the only place in Dallas that will carry only Texas-appellation oysters,” he explains — meaning the succulent bivalves will be identified by individual coves not just “Gulf oysters.” All the beef is Texas bred cattle; there isn’t any fowl on the bill that wasn’t caught in the Lone Star State. That’s taking the locavore movement to a new level.
Still, Pyles isn’t worried.
“If you’re [gonna do locavore], Texas is the best — there’s a whole lot to choose from,” he says.
Spoken like a true Texan.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 2, 2012.