Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Coal New World

There are so many different possibilities with pizza. You can have thin crust, thick crust, white, deep dish, stuffed, vegetarian, organic, kosher, leftover. The variations are endless. And what's great (but daunting for me) is that New York seems to offer every single option.

One type of pizza that was completely foreign to me was grilled pizza. I didn't know you could cook pizza outside of an oven. But why the hell not? Just slap it on the grill and you've created a whole new pizza experience.

Grilled pizza was made famous at Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island and was brought to NY in the 80's by the late Vincent Scotto. Scotto was a sous chef at Al Forno and opened Gonzo, Fresco, and the now closed Scopa here in the city. These Italian restaurants are all slightly upscale but offer the rare grilled pizza.

For my first grilled pizza experience, I skipped the hoity toity trattorias and decided to go to a newer, more casual spot in the far reaches of Morris Park in the Bronx. Coals stands on a busy intersection amongst hospitals and medical schools. The doctors and med students sure need a local watering hole to blow off some steam. And if you eat enough of Coals' grilled pizza, you just might need the doctors and med students for your cholesterol.

The restaurant made me think of a college bar that had been renovated to be more family-friendly. It was definitely homey and comfortable. There was even a cozy little nook in the front furnished with a stocked bookcase and an inviting sofa. Nothing screams college bar more than a bookcase and a sofa!!

At the bar (where I imagine most people know your name), I was impressed by their extensive craft beer list. Maybe I was still in the five boroughs after all.

The grilled pizzas came in two different sizes and some delicious sounding combinations - I was especially tempted by the Sloppy Joe with smoked mozzarella and fontina and the Pure Bliss with ricotta, tomato sauce, and pesto. But I had to try the margherita since it was the most basic and the starting point for all the others.

When the small pie arrived, it was so thin and looked cracker-y. It reminded me of the matzoh pizzas my mom would make for me on Passover. Oh, if only mom had made them this good!

There was nothing cracker-y about this. Sure, it was thin and crispy, but very rich, buttery, and tender. The grilled pizza reminded me a bit of a grilled cheese sandwich (I bet you never saw that one coming), but lighter and more balanced.

The bread was slathered with mozzarella and there were beautiful red mountains of tomato sauce and restrained slivers of basil dotting the canvas. The flavors were in perfect harmony. I was surprised actually since the sauce was a bit sparse, but the strong savory flavors lingered and married well with the buttery cheesy crust. There was also a nice garnish of sharp pecorino cheese which gave the pizza an edgy bite.

I also had to try the fluffernutter dessert which, like the name of the restaurant (the pizza never touches coals) is a misnomer because fluffernutters include both peanut butter and marshmallow. This one didn't have either. It was basically a grilled crepe with a nutella and marscapone filling. It was very tasty, but reminiscent of the pizza I just ate. I'm sorry, but for dessert, I'd like something different than what I had for dinner.

The grilled pizzas at Coals are unique and delicious and I might even have to make another inconvenient trip to the Bronx to try their other options. This is not your usual New York pie, but it'll broaden your horizons and might convert you to the ingenious grilled pizza. Now if only they could figure out a way to make other variations (like fat free pizza) taste this good...

Is Coals the best pizza in NY? It's inventive and really enjoyable, so that's why I give it an 8 out of 10, but this is a creative variation on our beloved pizza and not quite what one thinks of when it comes to NY style.

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