You don’t have to be a pizzologist to deduce that the wood-fired craze in Indianapolis jumped the shark this fall when one faux-rustic Neapolitan-style pizzeria (Martha Hoover’s Napolese) accused another faux-rustic Neapolitan-style pizzeria (Carmel newcomer Crust Pizzeria Napoletana) of copying its interior decor. As the branding firestorm raged, one more infernally hot oven was quietly turning out puffy-crusted, lightly charred pizzas in the tradition of Naples, Italy. But Rockstone Pizzeria Pub, open since late August at the edge of Fishers, leaves a key ingredient out of the recipe: attitude.
Owner Ed Sahm, best known for his string of 10 eponymous eateries from downtown to the far-north side, didn’t get the memo instructing all new restaurants in the area to stock up on Mason jars and repurposed timber to achieve that meticulously scruffy Indylandia look. Instead, his laid-back 4,600-square-foot family-friendly pub has a dining room painted deep slate with stacked-stone columns and low-hanging pendants illuminating upholstered booths—a casual, vaguely woodsy look that calls to mind Sahm’s earlier ventures, Boulder Creek Dining Company and its sibling Stone Creek Dining Company, which he operated with then-partner Mike Cunningham, who went on to open Mesh on Mass and Bru Burger Bar.
With a CV long enough that he can afford to leave some things out, Sahm rattles off the names of all the restaurants he has opened over the course of his career—The Roost, Mister Roberts, Cafe 251—workhorse establishments just as un-sexy as his Sahm’s mini-chain, an everyman’s eatery best known for its coffeecake. He gets pretty deep into the conversation before he even mentions that a young man by the name of Chris Eley worked for him all through high school and college. “We use a lot of his Smoking Goose products in our restaurants now—the sausage, capocollo, and City Ham,” Sahm says. “I always knew I wanted to buy his stuff when he was ready to go into that.”
The pizzas lean more in the direction of adventurous than gourmet, with oddball ingredients playing together nicely.
If Sahm, a youthful 52-year-old who flips burgers at Little League games in his spare time, isn’t the father of casual dining in Indianapolis, he is certainly the fun uncle. The menu at Rockstone reflects that lighthearted approach, beginning with appetizers like the Spinartigoat Dip, a tangy take on the spinach-artichoke standard, but with goat cheese; and a crowd-pleasing Pale Ale Chorizo Cheese Dip—more mellow than most versions—that has Smoking Goose sausage as its base. The pizzas lean more in the direction of adventurous than gourmet, with oddball ingredients playing together nicely, like the Club Med’s artichokes, feta, ricotta, and pistachios and the Sassy Karl’s chorizo, capocollo, pepperoncini, and tomato sauce spiked with chili oil.
One standout on the wood-fired pizza menu, the Roast Pork Pie, is scattered with chunks of meat that Sahm cooks overnight in the centerpiece red-tiled pizza oven, a dynamic piece of equipment that gives off heat even as the embers die. The tender pulled pork pairs with caramelized onions to create a smoky sweetness, cut by a Dijon barbecue sauce that takes the place of the standard red tomato. It’s a brilliant nontraditional pie, followed closely by a shrimp-bisque pizza that would be easy to poke fun at if the uptight components—wood-roasted shrimp and rich bisque sauce—didn’t taste this mysteriously delicious on a pie dotted with ricotta and (again with the) crushed pistachios. Among the white pizzas (the ones without tomato sauce), the biggest winner is the Archie B, with an olive oil–brushed crust supporting Italian sausage, mushrooms, peperonata relish, ricotta, and crumbled Gorgonzola. When the ingredients fall short, it is usually due to a lack of punch. The Wiki Wahoo’s attempt at pulling off a spicy Hawaiian pizza falls flat, for example. And the Monterey Mex underwhelms with its use of avocado as a topper.
Fine-tuning aside, at this point in Sahm’s career, he is finally running the restaurant he’s always wanted. “I’ve had these sauces and recipes going for a while, and we make our own breads at Sahm’s, so we know what we’re doing with dough,” he notes. Plus, the timing could not be more perfect. After all, wood-fired–pizza places are hot these days.
ROCKSTONE PIZZERIA PUB
11501 Allisonville Rd., Fishers, 317-288-9761, rockstonepizzapub.com
Hours Mon.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–midnight, Fri. 4 p.m.–1 a.m., Sat. noon–1 a.m.,