If you’ve lived in Southern Colorado long enough, you’ve probably taken a side in the great green chile debate: Hatch- or Pueblo-grown chiles?
But here’s a twist: What if the answer’s neither? Restaurateur and former Colorado Springs resident Todd Duplantis brings another variety to the ring. All the chiles he uses at The Stone’s Sports Grill and Bar grow in a small town of roughly 5,000 people called Tucumcari, New Mexico. I find it charming that the grower — who keeps three freezers full of chiles at the end of each season just for Duplantis — is a friend he has known since his days on the track team at Tucumcari High.
Duplantis formerly served his town as a city commissioner and already owns two eateries in Tucumcari: Kix on 66 and Cornerstone’s First Edition Pizza & Subs. The Stone’s operates as a sister restaurant to the latter, which he’s owned for five years. They share similar New Mexico-inspired menus, but Stone’s opened here in December 2021 as the cooler sister, with a full bar that’s not available in New Mexico because of prohibitively expensive liquor licensing, he says. Housed in the former Slinger’s BBQ location (which was Sarges’ Grill before that), Stone’s has kept remnants of both businesses, including a wood-paneled “saloon” that houses a pool table and the bar top that’s inlaid with military badges. Duplantis did have a New Mexico artist add some spice in the form of an eye-catching mural that illustrates the 300-plus mile route from Colorado Springs to Tucumcari.
We drop in to try the menu and grab a few cold ones. I didn’t check their Facebook page before going, and we happen to show up on an open mic night. Stone’s is looking to make a name in the community with almost nightly events, including comedy and biker nights plus live music. (So yeah, do what I didn’t do and check their Facebook page to see what’s happening.) For a random weeknight, we find the place popping. We grab drinks from the bar and seat ourselves at a table near the stage.
Duplantis tells us that Stone’s intentionally places the “grill” before the “bar” in their name as he doesn’t view it primarily as a spot for fancy cocktails; he wants guests to walk away remembering the food. That said, the drinks rate fine, with a solid variety of local craft and domestic beers on tap in the $5 to $6 range, and standard liquor options. We try a vodka soda with a house-made strawberry syrup, which initially sips extremely vodka-forward, so I request more soda. We kick off our meal with Stone’s signature chile relleno pizza — what cheese-pull dreams are made of — with a thick mozzarella base, and layers of whole green chiles topped with cheddar cheese, batter and crushed tortilla chips.
Every bite, not-too-spicy, fuses the classic Mexican restaurant dish with a classic pizza experience, and I can truly attest I’ve never had anything like it. The whole green chiles make all the difference. Stone’s hand-tosses their pies, and the effort proves noticeable when I get to the final bites of rolled and chewy crust. As another appetizer, we order the fried green tomatoes, one of several fried options, with homemade cornmeal batter. They chew crisp on the outside and juicy inside, nothing special, but also nothing to complain about if you’re looking for a quick bar snack.
Next up: the New Mexican Burger and a green chile melt. As on the pizza, the burger’s green chile is quite flavorful, but not overpowering. It’s a solid burger, and I especially appreciate the buttered and toasted bun, as there’s nothing worse to me than a soggy burger. The melt also fares steady if simple, with roast beef, cheddar and the stylizing green chile on a toasted hoagie. The ingredients taste high-quality and a generous portion of sides makes a filling meal. For a crispy choice, stick with the wedge fries or onion rings, as we find the sweet potato fries a flop.
Lastly, we taste Duplantis’ Colorado Cheesesteak, an item he came up with just a few days before opening, as a specialty plate not available in his New Mexico restaurants. I’m initially not sure what screams “Colorado” about brisket with barbecue sauce, Pepper Jack, onions and jalapeños on toasted bread, but the sandwich delivers savory flavor from the tender meat. On the menu, the sandwich claims to come on jalapeño cornbread, but tonight we get toasted sandwich bread. If the quality of the rest of their suppliers’ bread remains consistent, I suspect cornbread might elevate this sandwich from good to memorable, so I’ll have to come back for a second taste.
And on second thought, I realize what places this cheesesteak in the Centennial State rather than the Land of Enchantment: the absence of green chiles. Elsewhere, the menu features New Mexico’s beloved export so prominently that here, we get a moment to rest from its earthy heat. For me, the Tucumcari chiles are what makes The Stone’s menu: The subtly spicy, yet still sweet and smoky peppers offer a unique point of view for common dishes like pizza and burgers. And Stone’s decision to leave them whole instead of dicing them makes sure they’re the flavor you walk away remembering.