At Stella’s, a high quality dining experience is the number one priority. From house-made ingredients like pasta and bread to an atmosphere that fosters community and a feeling of coming home, it is no surprise that after nearly two long years, Stella’s is back by popular demand.
Imagine a classic New York deli and convenience store that features fresh, homemade bread, the finest cuts of meat and authentic Italian cuisine. In 1973 this dream became a reality for Stella Rizzo as she opened up shop in Suffern, New York, beneath her family’s apartment. Today, we have come to know and love this legendary establishment through the modern-day adaptation by none other than Stella’s son, Billy Rizzo.
As the owner and genius behind one of Lubbock’s finest dining locations, guests are welcomed with the opportunity to experience the meaningful memories of Billy’s childhood through his lens as they step foot through the doors into what has evolved into the restaurant, deli and speakeasy we frequent on 82nd Street.
Stella’s offers an authentic taste with a rich history. In the late 1980s, the Rizzo family headed west to Lubbock, Texas after Billy’s older brother began his medical career as a cardiologist. It comes as no surprise to locals that the easy living and slow pace of life offered in West Texas was enough to draw in two New York boys looking to live out their dream. With a warm welcome and a favorable economy, Stella’s greeted a new culture and clientele.
Its first location near Texas Tech University offered customers with more of a deli vibe with the diverse selection of deli meats and cheeses. By now, the New York Italian cuisine had been perfected and it didn’t take long for the family business to expand. In 2001, Billy relocated to a larger building in a more centrally located area of the city. It was here that the aesthetic transitioned into a fine dining eatery more than the deli-style diner it had traditionally been. Stella’s remained a popular upscale experience for 18 years.
In 2019, Billy had made the decision to close the doors on the beloved Lubbock staple, only to announce a reopening after months of community pleas. When asked what it was that had made him decide to resurrect this popular “Hub City” staple, he said it was the Lubbock community that inspired him. With a revitalized vision, Stella’s came back, dare I say, bigger and better.
As guests enter the lobby, a wave of fresh-baked focaccia envelopes their senses. The soft hums of jazz music and conversation transports them to an authentic New York City Italian dining room. With exposed brick, portraits of the city skyline and a gallery wall filled with mementos from Billy’s youth, the low-light ambiance gives off an urban feeling in the center of West Texas.
Stella’s also boasts a hot lunch deli on the west side of the building where hoagie lovers and New York-style pizza connoisseurs (like myself) can pick up a lunch in a “New York Minute”. The black and white checkered flooring coupled with a display case filled to the brim with meats and cheeses and a framed picture of the original Stella’s offers visitors a glimpse into the 1970s Stella’s Country Deli.
The time warp truly begins as guests walk the red carpet underneath the marquee lights of Manhattan 9, Lubbock’s first bar and speakeasy lounge of its kind. Step into the 1920s as flapper girls serve delectable cocktails and martinis. This “pour more” bar serves the highest quality alcohol at a premium price. Each detail was intricately thought out down to the discreet menus, retro furniture and choice of “bouncer” awaiting the passcode at the door.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Stella’s impeccable menu. With a plethora of options including fresh seafood and locally grown produce and raised beef, Stella’s features the finest ingredients in its one-of-a-kind scratch kitchen, meaning everything is house-made, down to the salad croutons and breading on the chicken. And, might I add, *chef’s kiss* it is all incredible.
With one look at the menu, customers will recognize the thought that went into curating an economical, upscale dining experience for anyone to enjoy. Beginning with appetizers, a few house favorites include the spinach dip with parmesan toast. The house-made toast paired with the creamy dip is a must-try. It might even be necessary to order two! If you are looking for more of a sharable rather than a dip, look no further than the pretzel charcuterie board. This work of art is as beautiful as it is delicious. Featuring a New York-style pretzel filled with Italian meats and cheeses, honey mustard, truffle cheese and an assortment of dipping sauces, I highly recommend this option!
A few other options include the fried calamari with sweet chili sauce if you are looking for a little spice and the blue crab cakes with chipotle aioli.
When given the choice between the soups and salad, I always choose the salad, and at Stella’s that is no different. The classic Caesar is always a safe and delicious option but with a feature salad that rotates daily, I have to put all of my trust in Chef Alessandro Guerrazzi. With a highly esteemed resume that features experience as an executive chef in Rome, Chef Alessandro’s experience is a brilliant addition to the Lubbock culinary scene.
Stella’s delectable selection of entrees showcases a few familiar options like the classic Stella’s spaghetti with marinara sauce, a Rizzo family recipe, the eggplant parmigiana over spaghetti and the lobster ravioli with spinach, tomato and shrimp in a garlic cream sauce. I personally recommend the parmesan and herb crusted snapper. This fillet is as fresh as it gets and unlike any other. Plated over a lemon butter sauce with a side of broccolini, I cannot begin to describe the series of flavors packed in each bite. It is light, yet very filling.
Every true West Texan knows a quality meal deserves a quality drink to pair it with, and here the options are endless. As any true local establishment would, Stella’s repertoire of Lubbock libations is extensive and rich. I can’t think of a better way to taste the Texas High Plains than in the glass at a local favorite restaurant. High Plains blends include the McPherson Cellars Sparkling (which I can attest is perfect for any toast or celebration) and the Roussanne. From Llano Estacado, order a glass of the Bourbon Barrel Red and I promise you will ask for the bottle after one sip.
For the beer drinkers, local IPAs on tap include the Two Docs Brewing Co. Lubbock Lights, which is a light lager and a great option with a cream sauce, and the Two Docs Bock, which pairs well with a fillet or something more hearty.
In the Manhattan 9 lounge, a variety of martinis, cocktails and drinks are expertly crafted using the highest quality alcohol at a premium price. To mimic the evolving customer trends in alcohol consumption thanks to 2020, M9 has taken to the consumer and recognizes itself as a “pour more” bar. To maximize every glass, I recommend ordering a Chicago Fizz or a The Buck Stops Here. For the straight whiskey drinkers, you can’t go wrong with an Old Fashioned. And, let me just say, when I first looked at the barrel-aged drink, I had to do a double-take. Created with Heaven’s Door Bourbon, dark simple syrup and Angostura Bitters, each glass is garnished with house-made maraschino cherry and a candied orange twist.
Whether it’s a date night or happy hour, Stella’s is a great option that will leave each guest with a delicious taste in their mouth. Make your reservation today and share your favorites with us using #LiveLoveLubbock!
By: Lacie Freelen
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