Stella Pizza & Ale
5513 Airport Way S (Georgetown), 763-1660. Mon-Fri 11 am-midnight, Sat 3-midnight, Sun 3-11 pm.

The landscape of warehouses and silent storefronts is a lonely one, and if I stare long enough at the Duwamish I get melancholy. I admit, I'm sentimental about Georgetown.

For those of us who are not from here--who don't have memories of what Seattle used to look like or understand how things have changed, but who do realize that we somehow arrived too late--Georgetown reminds us that we live in a town with grimy details and past lives.

It is impossible to talk about Stella Pizza & Ale without talking about Georgetown. This family-friendly pizza joint on Airport Way South, just a little past Lucille Street near the railroad tracks, feels connected to its surroundings. Much like Georgetown itself, Stella's appeal--complete with pinball, pool tables, grinning servers, and retro décor--lies in its unpretentious, emphatically working-class atmosphere.

It is also impossible to read about Georgetown without running into words like "gritty" and "ghost town"--or, in recent years, "funky" (blech) and "quirky," thanks to the fairly recent influx of artists and younger families seeking reasonable rents. A quick flip through articles and archives always yields tales of Georgetown's debauched pioneer past (which included dozens of saloons and brothels, major breweries, and even a popular racetrack by the early 1900s), and its later evolution from an idyllic residential valley to an industrial wasteland dominated by Boeing.

Since its opening in the summer of 2001, Stella has become an unofficial community hub. Each time I'm there, I inevitably see families with toddlers, or refugees from Capitol Hill, or guys who actually look like they belong in their mechanic's jackets huddled at the bar--guys with day jobs that could involve anything from sculpture to auto parts to processed meat to FedEx.

Of course you can find Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap at Stella, as well as Olympia stubbies and Lucky Lagers.

Of course salads and pastas are kept simple but sturdy, with if-it-ain't-broke-then-why-fix-it preparations. There are no traces of contemporary American cuisine in the classic Caesar ($6.50) or Greek salad (chunks of fresh diced cucumber, tomato, olives, red onions, bell peppers, and feta, $6.75). "Mamma Stella's mac 'n' cheese" ($9.50) promises to be "three-cheese comfort food," and vegetable lasagna ($9.50) is deeply satisfying, with mushrooms, eggplant, peppers, and zucchini baked with red sauce under a thick quilt of mozzarella and tender pasta.

And of course there's a sandwich called the "Local 174"--Italian sausage, provolone, marinara, and hot peppers--which, like the other sandwiches (all $6.75), is served with a pinch of mixed greens, juicy stubs of pepperoncini, and Tim's chips. While the roasted turkey pesto sandwich with Gruyère sounds tempting, I recommend the open-faced meatball hero, slathered with marinara and melted cheeses on an honestly soft baguette (not, thank God, crusty artisan torture-bread that ends up tearing up the roof of your mouth). Stella's house meatballs are delicious--aggressively seasoned, with a uniquely spicy finish that gives this sandwich more complexity than most other meatball subs.

Stella's homemade pizzas, available in 16" whole or half-size ($18-$20.25 whole/$10-$11.25 half), maintain a smart balance between old and new. If you're leaning toward semi-haute pies, check out the Corson Classic (Yukon potatoes, gorgonzola, onions) or the Carleton (chicken breast, pesto, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts); but there are also traditional concoctions in the Beanie (lots of pepperoni, extra sauce and cheese) and the Hawaiian Homer (Canadian bacon and pineapple). I loved the Flora Primo (artichoke hearts, olives, and coppacola) and the Georgetowner, which is stacked with pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, olives, and onions; the latter passes my cold-pizza breakfast test beautifully.

If you're going to try the White Orcas (thickly carpeted with roasted whole garlic cloves, sliced onions, artichoke hearts, and feta on olive oil) and play pinball, I advise ordering it with a pesto base for more moisture and slickness--although it was probably my own fault that my pizza cooled and dried out. I let it sit around too long because I was busy yelling at the Twilight Zone machine. I am really, really bad at pinball.