By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
But that was before Pastazio's and Fireside Pies began sending dough airborne. OK, sometimes the Fireside renditions can be cluttered, and they collapse under the weight of their gaudy opulence. But more than a few of us like to make a mess of ourselves in the quest to tackle Dallas baroque.
Enter Coal Vines. The name doesn't have the same emotional hook that Fireside or even Piggy Pies does, especially after you discount the too-clever-by-half wordplay. Roll "coal vines" around in your mind a few times. Does it generate visions of sausage and anchovy trapped in mozzarella and accompanied by a nice glass of Chianti? I get visions of doomed canaries, black lung and glassy eyes staring from sooty faces. When I say Coal Vines, I think of a black lump and kudzu. I feel grit in my teeth. No fired pies. No Silver Oak corks. But that's what they want you to think of.
Coal Vines is fueled by a pair of distinctive ovens of a kind that are apparently the rage in New York. Instead of fired by wood, the ovens are fired by lumps of low-sulfur coal. After the coal reaches baking temperature, the ovens cook the pies in less than two minutes.
Yet on one visit we ordered our pizza like you might order a soufflé. Our server explained there was a pizza backlog. The cooks let the coal burn down too low, and it had to be refreshed. She suggested we order our pizzas as soon as possible since they might not enter the coal queue for some 20 minutes.
The servers at Coal Vines seem unflappable. Coal Vines is an earsplitting space with exposed brick, concrete floors, screaming babies, loud guffaws, high-pitched giggles and clinking glasses in impossibly tight quarters. Meanwhile, Dean Martin elbows his way through the clamor. So do the Four Lads with "Standin' on the Corner." Kiss does better. You can actually hear "Ayyyyeeee wanna rock 'n' roll all nyyyyyte," etc. But why on earth would Kiss follow Dean Martin and the Four Lads? At Coal Vines, you sometimes feel like a canary.
Anyway, the servers don't mind repeating the specials into your ear, and they smile as they do it. They check your Spiegelau glasses and refill them at regular intervals. They're prompt and attentive, and they never flash those smiles that brim with under-breath cusses, even though most of us would if we were in their shoes and burgundy T-shirts and tight black trousers.
The pies are delivered to the table on a round aluminum sheet, which is installed on a wire rack. It's cut into wide triangles, just slightly larger than is comfortable to operate. Fold it. Roll it. The toppings stay in place: pepperoni, wild mushrooms, sausage, anchovies and cherry peppers. Extras incur additional fees of $1.50 per each, which can really jack up the pie prices if you go baroque. Spend the money. The slightly scorched crust is crisp and moist. The sauce has a good range with a nice acidic bite on the finish that invigorates the palate. (In theory, you really don't need wine, because of this sauce competence; then again, when Kiss follows the Four Lads, you need wine).
This crust is graceful and resilient, strong enough to support the toppings but insubstantial enough not to clutter them up. In its stock form, the pizza is underwhelmed with cheese, so it's a good idea to order extra if gooey pizza slices with long elastic tethers is primal in your fetish repertoire.
Revel in these pies, because things generally cascade down the coal chute from there. Owner Joe Palladino is linked with Phil Romano in several other endeavors including the "exclusive" nightclub Medici (a pizza slice at Coal Vines will grant you entrance to the semi-private public club should you wish), Nick & Sam's and the unfortunately defunct Il Mulino New York. "We got salads for the ladies," Palladino says, so they have something to chew on while they sip wine. Guys drink beer with pies. Gals sip Jordan with Caesar.
And well had they better. The Coal Vines Caesar is dramatic in its dullness. It's romaine hearts and croutons in a dressing, if there was one, that is barely perceptible: no lemon surge, no garlic sting, no anchovy richness.
Citrus salmon roll salad is different. It's a rat's nest of micro-greens, pushed near the edge of the plate and dewed in a brisk lemony dressing. Fanning out from one end of the heap are four rolls of salmon binding daikon and alfalfa sprouts. They look like freshly pulled carrots, albeit with ribbons of citrus aioli spread across the root. But the salmon sheets are just barely below room temperature, making them a bit alarming.