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Coal Fire Pizza - A Local Chain Expanding Into The DC Area Using (Sort Of) Coal Ovens


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Thanks again to a Chowhound post, the hunt was on for a newly open coal-fired pizzeria. They've been open all of four days and are located off of Route 108 about a mile east of the intersection of Routes 108/104/100 and west of Snowden River Parkway. It's in the same shopping center as a Starbucks and Coldstone Creamery.

COAL*FIRE
"Charred to Perfection"
Open daily for lunch & dinner
410-480-COAL (2625)
Located in Shipley's Grant
5725 Richard's Valley Road
Ellicott City, MD 21043

After asking our server too many questions [sorry, we didn't know it was her first day], one of the owners did a drop-by, chatted with us about their 18-month pizza research and told us their oven is from Bellingham Washington. This oven uses coal, gas and electric/convection to keep the temp controlled and the flat surface hot.

Because of this, the crust on our two pizzas were uniformly crispy. After seeing several "blonde" pies go out, we asked specifically for charred crust and were rewarded with this Margherita [12"=$12]:
post-226-1240801863_thumb.jpg
Excellent Moz from Ceriello Fine Foods in Baltimore's Belvedere Square and a choice of one of three pizza sauces. The sauces include Classic (straight up Marinara-plum tomatoes), Signature (a mix of spice and very mild sweetness � no hint of sugar at all) and Spicy (it'll get your attention and reminds me of Arrabiata sauce).

Our second pie was with the Spicy sauce and sausage [12" = $12.50]. Also very good and benefitted from having less cheese on the pie. They also have 16" pies, but we opted for the variety of two 12" pies.

After the Phat Pug flameout, I'm more hopeful for this place because its owners are industry vets though they own Nottingham's [sporty bar: billiards, dartboards, tiki and annoying website] in nearby Columbia.

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After seeing several "blonde" pies go out, we asked specifically for charred crust and were rewarded with this Margherita
A couple of folks have asked if the pie pictured was too charred to allow for flavors other than char.

Here's the upskirt, I hadn't included it in the original post because it's blurry. It isn't burned.

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Also, here's what their building looks like - the shopping center is too new to be on Google Maps.

post-226-1240852535_thumb.jpg

There's also a nice write-up on Frank Heckler including reports on their salads and crab mac & cheese.

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I will upload pictures when I find the time out of my phone. However, I wanted to report on my trip there today for a late lunch.

Whoa.

16" pie, perfectly executed. Took a bit longer than expected since the first pie was not up to their standards, so they brought us out their 'wings'. Not buffalo wings. No, these little creatures are all about the crispy herb infused skin, served with perfectly browned onions and a bit of bread, these are quite good. If only they would put these onions as an option on the pizza toppings (was told by the owner it would be too difficult to handle in a fast paced environment, but he agreed!).

Now the pie. We went with the classic sauce on a plain Margherita, adding only some garlic (not on the menu, you have to ask for it). The crust is quite good. It is not Dar Poeta (in Roma, Italy), nor is it quiiiiiiiiite as good as Grimaldi's (in Brooklyn, NY), but it is damn close. The crust has enough strength to keep it all cohesive, but still be incredibly thin. Only minor complaint is the very tip of the slices were droopy, but I am really, really nitpicking. The classic sauce has a nice tang and kick to it so I am not sure why there are two other sauce choices, but I will try them in time and report back. The classic sauce is quite good. The cheese was not overly done and clearly was 'hunked' around the pie and not shredded, which is to me the hallmark of a good pie. The basil went on after the oven (some might have been sprinkled on for the last 10-15 seconds of the oven-time, not sure).

I could have inhaled this pie, and did both figuratively and in reality. The smell of the pie was intoxicating, and when you open your moth to eat the pie, it clouds every surface of your tongue and nasal cavity in glorious pizza, char tomato and basil smell. So fine. Bubbles in the crust existed, but not overly obnoxious and there was some char on the pizza, but also not overly done, which I also consider the sign of a great pie.

All in all, I really enjoyed this pizza. It is close enough to home (I live in Laurel, this is on the Columbia/Ellicott City line) that I will be back many, many times. I will likely NOT order it 'to go' because I think something would be lost in the travel time to home.

There is a great wine shop right next door, too. Some of it is a bit overpriced, but they have a decent selection of stuff. Worth a look, I picked up a half a case of primarily French wine in my pizzafied bliss.

I am tickled that such a place is close enough to my home, but honestly more surprised a place like this exists in the wasteland that is Columbia. Bravo!

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16" pie, perfectly executed.

<snip>

The crust has enough strength to keep it all cohesive, but still be incredibly thin. Only minor complaint is the very tip of the slices were droopy, but I am really, really nitpicking.

<snip>

I am tickled that such a place is close enough to my home, but honestly more surprised a place like this exists in the wasteland that is Columbia. Bravo!

We went for our second visit yesterday after the O's/Tigers game. Judging by the slightly soggy 16" pie at the table next to ours, we'll continue to order two 12" in sequence. The added benefit is that we get two completely different pies. Yesterday it was a Margherita with classic sauce followed by a roasted pepper & sausage with spicy sauce. Both were ordered "char, char, char" and they emerged from the oven with the hallmark lava bubble-action crusts.
one of the owners did a drop-by, chatted with us about their 18-month pizza research

<snip>

Excellent Moz from Ceriello Fine Foods in Baltimore's Belvedere Square

Yesterday, the other, more food oriented, owner was on premises. He is the one that makes five roundtrips a week to Ceriello for the Moz. He has an excellent perspective on his business and a passion for the coal oven. We also got to see his managerial customer service/education in action with folk unaccustomed to thin and crispy crusts. He even has his sights on a future MoCo site. [Close your eyes for a moment and visualize whirled pizze :D ]
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I didn't really have a major droop issue with the 16" pie, but yeah, the 12" pie is stiffer. Nice light-to-moderate char (we ordered ours "extra char") on a decent crust. I'd like it to have more chew, but it's not exactly Wonder bread soft either. The margherita was pretty enjoyable, even if it's far more NYC than Naples. I wasn't as fond of the sausage with the spicy sauce; Lydia's comment about Arrabiata is spot-on regarding the heat level, but I also found the spicy sauce to be annoyingly sweet. No such problem with the regular sauce though.

They really ought to offer clams and shrimp as toppings. I'm surprised they haven't already, since they already have shrimp and clams on hand for their pasta dishes.

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I went 2 nights ago - we got 3 12" pizzas- the margherita, a pepperoni with the spicy sauce, and a mushroom/sausage with their sweet signature sauce. I really liked the sweetness of the spicy sauce- especially with the pepperoni.

I didn't mind the sweet "signature" sauce- it grew on me, but i did prefer it spicy. Regardless, they have a "classic" sauce which is more like regular tomato sauce.

The crust had a nice char on it and everything was made very quickly.

We also tried their wings- which were also cooked in the oven with some sweet vidalia onions- not bad.

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I hate to rain on this parade but my wife and I recently tried the Pizza at Coal Fire. Simply put it was not very good even by Maryland standards and clearly waaay off from what one would expect in the New York area. It missed on many counts - their signature sauce was overpoweringly sweet, the pizza crust was like card board as it was over cooked and burnt on the bottom, and there was a meager amount of sausage. I am a well experienced Pizza fan and know what an ultra hot oven Pizza should be like. This was not it. I like the charred edge but the one I had last night was charred through in the center. Perhaps they were having an off night but their Pizza was third rate. Note, I know good Pizza as I grew up in a Brooklyn Sicilian neighborhood, have been to Lombardi's, Grimaldi's and Totonnos in NYC, plus had Pizza in Naples, Rome and Palermo. Alas the search for a good local Pizza continues.

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Another write-up

Eroica38 -- While I agree that Coal-Fire is not on the same level as Grimaldi's (or DiFara's) in NYC, both of which I love (and Totonno's...mmm), I think this is quite a good pizza joint myself. I prefer their 'classic' sauce to their 'signature' sauce (which, while I was able to enjoy it closer to the end of the pizza where the heat balances the sweet), I wonder if you tried the classic sauce at all. Worth a try, IMO.

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He even has his sights on a future MoCo site. [Close your eyes for a moment and visualize whirled pizze happy.gif ]
Thanks to maypo's Chowhound post, the future MoCo site has been found in Gaithersburg's Kentlands area . Not sure how long the build-out from a previous beer/wine store [#26 in the map below] will take. This location will also be proximal to a Cold Stone Creamery.map1.gif
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Not sure how long the build-out from a previous beer/wine store will take.
Construction update: The buildout started last Wednesday , January 13th, with a "scheduled" completion in early April. There's a sign on the door noting their January 21st beer/wine/liquor license hearing. [scroll to the bottom of the agenda for mention of another newish board fav]
Hearing on the application by Joseph DeMino and Brian Kannee, on behalf of Coal Fire Pizza of Kentlands, LLC, for a Beer, Wine and Liquor License, Class B, Hotel/Restaurant, On Sale Only, for the premises known as Coal Fire, which premises are located at 305 Kentlands Blvd, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878.
Another update includes a placeholder website and a "good to go" mention in WaPo [do they really make the moz in-house now?].
I'm more hopeful for this place because its owners are industry vets though they own Nottingham's [sporty bar: billiards, dartboards, tiki and annoying website] in nearby Columbia.
Thankfully, they've allowed Nottingham's website to outgrow its adolescent phase and it's now putting a less obnoxious foot forward.
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Thanks for all the detail Lydia. Looking forward to it.

Kind of interesting because on the backside of the row of shops numbered 1-10 is the second outpost of Guiseppi's, a pizza favorite. I've been in the tank for Guiseppi's for some time, however I stopped in the Kentlands store last Friday night and the pizza turned into a workout - after a few bites, the crust, sauce and cheese flavor had gone away and all that was left was a wad of cheese that was becoming increasingly hard to chew. Like gum, it had lost the flavor and was almost hardening in my mouth, making it very difficult to deal with. After a few minutes it started to breakdown and I could swallow it. Did I bite off too much? Was it weak mozzarella? I don't know.

But it will be interesting to have a nearby alternative. I wonder why they didn't pick a spot more in the Kentlands walking area instead of the K-Mart strip mall.

[scroll to the bottom of the agenda for mention of another newish board fav]

Jerry's Subs and Pizza?? :angry:

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But it will be interesting to have a nearby alternative. I wonder why they didn't pick a spot more in the Kentlands walking area instead of the K-Mart strip mall.

I'm not sure of why that chose that site [?parking] -- it's a good question for Shannon [the GM] or the founding partners.

[scroll to the bottom of the agenda for mention of another newish board fav]
Jerry's Subs and Pizza?? :angry:

No, although Jerry's was also getting a Liquor Control Hearing last week:

Hearing to show cause why the Beer and Light Wine license, Class H, issued to Wu Shan Lee and Karen Wang Ping Lee, for the premises known as New Kam Fong Restaurant, located at 2400 University Boulevard, West, Wheaton, Maryland 20902, should not be suspended or revoked, or why other sanctions permitted by law, including but not limited to fines and penalties, should not be imposed for alleged violations of the Rules and Regulations of the Board of License Commissioners as stated in a letter dated December 31, 2009.
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2 Amy's is just a little too far to really be my go-to pizza place, I'm hopeful that Coal Fired will be it!

Today's the day to find out -- they're open to the public as of today.

Perhaps this topic should be moved to the DC-area forum because most of us will frequent the Kentlands location.

Bliss is now much closer to home [menu attached].

CoalFire Menu_May2010.pdf

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Swung by the new Kentlands location tonight.

Eh.

The "signature" sauce was mostly sugar, with maybe some tomatoes thrown in for effect. The dough hadn't risen enough, so it was dense, and the outer crust wasn't thick enough, so even though charred, it was still soft. Olives and mushrooms are from a can, and the little bit of sausage that came on the pizza was bland. Cheese was clearly fresh and good.

The "greek" salad is a pile of iceberg lettuce with 3 pink halved cherry tomatoes, a huge stack of onions, more olives from a can, a few cucumber slices and some crumbles of feta cheese that had no taste. The dressing tasted like ranch.

The crab mac & cheese was the only decent part of the meal - a decent amount of crab that held it's own against the mac & cheese.

Maybe they're still settling in, but since this is their second shop, the recipes are probably set. At $60 for 3 people including soft drinks, tax &, tip, I won't be running back any time soon.

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Also stopped by the Kentlands location last night. Ordered a to go pizza. Had a Liberty Ale (bottles only for now) at the bar while I waited. Friendly atmosphere in the larger bar area with staff from Ellicott City stopping by to say hi. My Ring of Fire (Spicy Sauce is the key) pizza was ordered well done and survived the quick six minute trip home in crisp flavorful condition.

I agree with Daniel that the Signature Sauce is too sweet for my taste. Also have found that a better crust experience is had with a smaller pizza ordered well done.

Very glad that they are here in Gaithersburg! Now I don't have to wait for Sunday O's games to have their pizza.

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I stopped at the Coal Fire Restaurant in the Kentlands for lunch today and was not impressed. We had a Margharita pizza and some pasta with red sauce. There was a small salad that came with the pasta. Again, not impressed.

The Margharita pizza was ok, but the sauce was a little sweet and the crust was not in Mia's or Amy's catagory. I also thought they overdid the basil. The pasta was pricey for non fresh made (and it certainly didn't taste fresh made - they didn't claim it either so...). There was parmagane cheese on the tables in canisters like a pizzaria and they obviously were not fresh. The parmagane cheese on our table was caked in like it had been sitting there for months. Then we noticed there was a lot of mold on the cheese. The parmagne cheese at the table to the right of us was also caked in and moldy. For a restaurant that has only been open a week this does not make sense.

We noticed the mold after we had put it on the pasta, so we called the manager over. The manager apologized said he would take care of it and sent the waiter back over to apologize and see if we wanted anything else. We were disgusted at that point and declind another menu item.

They did take the pasta off the bill (we didn't eat it) which was the right thing for them to do but the manager disappeared after that. This restaurant will not be on my return to list.

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I had modest hopes for the Kentlands location, mainly that it would be as good as the Ellicott City original - which has some promising aspects even though it falls well short of my favorite coal oven pizzerias in the northeast. But after a few months and a few visits, I honestly have to say that Kentlands has moved the chain in the wrong direction, and there isn't anything redeeming about it to make me keep it in my rotation. It doesn't even begin to resemble the pies at the original location.

The back of the staff tee shirts may say "charred to perfection", but I have yet to see anything in the way of char from Kentlands despite several visits. I don't know why they even bothered to install a coal-burning oven, as I've seen better efforts out of electric deck ovens. Tonight's crust was pale and sallow, and apart from the use of fresh basil chiffonade, the whole thing might as well have been someone's attempt to recreate a freezer-section Totino's pie in a sit-down environment. Gutless crust, baked in a far too cool oven. Topping levels were okay. I'd hope that at the height of tomato season that you'd be able to taste some tomato freshness, but the 'classic' sauce had all the flavor of a generic foodservice item from a can.

I'd hoped that my first visit, right after it opened, had been a fluke, so I withheld comment until they'd had time to settle in. But it's been consistently awful in a way that makes the Ledo's franchises look like quality facsimiles. Naturally, they're planning a third location in Frederick.

Giuseppe's, a block away, with its tastier sausage and vastly better crust, has nothing to fear.

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<snip>

I honestly have to say that Kentlands has moved the chain in the wrong direction, and there isn't anything redeeming about it to make me keep it in my rotation. It doesn't even begin to resemble the pies at the original location.

<snip>

Naturally, they're planning a third location in Frederick.

What happens when you get your wish [in this case, a nearby coal pizza oven] and it disappoints? This is one of the mixed sorrows.

After watching the Kentlands pizzas become increasingly indistinguishable from mass-market flat pies and a waste of perfectly good Carbon, I admit to still going because I enjoyed the vibe. [ETA: honestly, I excused the pies because I attributed them to "pizzaiolo learning curve" and hung in hoping for better down the road]

Sadly, a couple of visits to Pizzeria Orso [Pizza Bear is too far for regular rotation] and Tim Carman's review are true CoalFire vibe-kill. Their pizzaiolo purposely kills the bubbles and limits the char? The non-dynamic pies are by design -- really? Ol'Ironstomach mentioned the pending Frederick location, but there are two or three addtitional locations in the works. For comparison, look at the photos upthead from their early days in Ellicot City. Yes, CoalFire is “simplifying” the pie for expansion.

I'm heading to New Haven in a few weeks and will get a needed inoculation.

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From what I can tell from this thread, first visit to the Ellicott City location in 9 months.

Got two pizzas, a margherita and another with the spicy sauce and sausage as the topping. I really enjoyed the classic sauce on the margherita and the basil and such were great. The pizza wasn't super-charred or anything, but I still greatly enjoyed it. However it was my first trip and I wasn't being too adventurous with experimenting how they cooked it, toppings, etc. The spicy sauce was very interesting, could definitely tell it was a bit peppery but not quite up my alley even though I usually like spicier foods. The margherita was good enough that I'd definitely order it again, and the ring of fire pizza really seemed to catch my eye so hopefully I can explore with that one at a future date. I see what an earlier poster was saying about not going into detail about the wines, especially listing vintages, but tonight was 1/2 price wine night (a nice surprise) so we didn't really care too much.

Also, on the menu it said they were opening a third location in Frederick in 2011.

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1 hour ago, Ferris Bueller said:

Apparently the Sterling location is charred to the point of closure tomorrow.

I'd love to cite some newspaper article about this, but there aren't any. i guess you broke this news, Ferris Bueller!

For the 8,394.948th million time, oh, never mind

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13 hours ago, DonRocks said:

I'd love to cite some newspaper article about this, but there aren't any. i guess you broke this news, Ferris Bueller!

For the 8,394.948th million time, oh, never mind

Yea, actually it was in the piece about Fireworks coming to Sterling (in the Coal Fire location), so I do not know I deserve credit, as I sourced it from TheBurn.com in the Fireworks Pizza link.

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