Featured Restaurant: Coal Fire Pizza
Politics. Religion. Pizza?
Let’s be honest with ourselves folks; when it comes to divisive topics in this country, few issues cause more of a strain in our national conscience than pizza. Nevermind New York vs. Chicago. These days you’ve got literally dozens of different thought patterns as to who makes the best pie, with locations ranging from New Haven to St. Louis to California all claiming a distinct – but always ‘the best’ – form of one of America’s most beloved foods. Myself somewhat of a connoisseur of this hotly debated Italian transplant, I knew that I just had to check out Maryland’s latest “it” pizzeria last Saturday night, and sure enough made my way to Coal Fire Pizza in Ellicott City.
I first heard about Coal Fire from Brad of the excellent Maryland restaurant blog HowChow. Advertising thin and rustically charred crusts, Coal Fire cooks their pizzas in a single large oven that is heated from both anthracite coal and electricity. With temperatures in the oven approaching 800 degrees, Coal Fire’s pizzas not only form a charred crust, but they literally cook up in a flash. The pizza my party ordered was done in only about five minutes – a point which we considered a saving grace after waiting 10-15 longer than the advertised “five minutes” for our table after we had originally arrived.
As for the food, my party and I split a 16-inch pizza with “spicy” sauce that included red onions and green peppers as toppings. I loved the charred and thin crust, which while not “crispy” like New-Haven style pizza, still had a solid texture that gave it a nice bite. The flour itself had a good neutral flavor that imparted just a hint of the smoke – making for a subtle yet welcomed base for the rest of the pizza. The sauce was outstanding in my mind. While not as spicy as I would prefer, it was full-bodied and flavorful, with both a complimentary sweetness and surprisingly rich tomato flavor. The cheese – which our waitress talked up as being fresh as all get-out – had a slightly smoked flavor and indeed was very flavorful. Applied in slice style and opposed to grated, I liked how it wasn’t overly greasy or running with oil. I thought the red onions were outstanding as well – sweet and caramelized, but done so from the oven, not a skillet. Thus, the onions and the green pepper still had a fantastic crunch and avoided the excessive oiliness that you sometimes find with pre-cooked vegetable toppings. Amazingly neither the onions nor the peppers showed a hint of char, telling me that the guys behind the counter making these pizzas knew what they were doing. While a bit pricy at 16.95 for a two-topping 16-inch pizza, I found that the pizza was well worth it and dare I say the best pizza in Howard County, Maryland.
Unfortunately, some of the other items sampled from Coal Fire could not match the pizza. I sampled half of the Oven Roasted Vegetable Sandwich. A combination of red peppers, mushrooms, squash, and onions, I thought this sandwich was medicore. It seemed a bit small, while the eight-inch hoagie it was served on wasn’t anything you couldn’t find at a standard sub shop. I thought the vegetables were a little too oily, and oddly enough were not as sweet as I would have liked or expected. I don’t know if the coal oven failed to caramelize the vegetables or if the sandwich could have benefited from just more red peppers and red onion, but it was lackluster as a combination. I had wanted a sweet balsamic flavor that would have helped to transform the otherwise plain hoagie; but instead I received a somewhat oily and soggy collection of otherwise flavorful vegetables that was a little steep for the $6.49 price tag. One member of my party enjoyed a pasta dish, which he thought was a bit too olive oil happy and heavy given the restaurant’s profile. The garlic bread which came with his side salad seemed over saturated in olive oil, almost to the point of being deep fried. That being said the pasta was still enjoyed, and the sandwich wasn’t anything to lose sleep over.
Despite some issues with a longer than expected opening wait and lackluster sides, my party and I found the wait staff at Coal Fire to be especially knowledgeable and helpful. They clearly know and love their style of pizza, and it’s that kind of passion which will ultimately allow a place like this to work out the kinks. The menu (which you can view here courtesy of Chowhound.com) is limited, but that’s o.k. This is a place that takes good and fresh ingredients and lets the uniqueness of their coal oven do the rest, which for my money is a welcomed relief in a county which has for far to long hung its hat on places like Papa John’s and Mama Illardo’s. If pizza is about balance between the crust, toppings, sauce, and cheese (and I truly believe that is what pizza is about) you will find the minimalist approach of Coal Fire to be one of the best Pizza experiences in the state of Maryland that you could possibly ask for.
- Recommendations: Any personal pizza combination which includes spicy sauce and red onions. Any pizza option at all, for that matter.
- Food: 8.25/10
- Menu Variety: 6.00 /10
- Atmosphere: Casual/Family/Take-out
- Price: $$ Moderate $7.01-$14.00
- GrubGrade: 8.00/10 (Very Good)
Coal Fire Pizza
5725 Richards Valley Rd
Ellicott City, MD 21043