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Review: Coalhouse Pizza

A Bull's Head bastion of pizza, wings and beer.

When it comes to pizza, Stamford is a tough town in which to gain a foothold. With dozens of firmly established pizzerias — headlined by the legendary — it takes a little something extra these days to make it work in The City That Works.

Which takes us to …

Opened in late October 2009, the neon lights of Coalhouse burn like a beacon in the fog… or perhaps more appropriately, the flaming embers of a coal-fired pizza oven. Coalhouse quickly became a favorite of local pizza-vores, making an already-busy strip mall even more jam-packed. Located in the Bull’s Head Shopping Center, parking can be an issue, particularly during  the primetime hours of lunch and dinner. But, fortunately, this was the only potential deterrent to the dining experience at Coalhouse, as we found the hype and popularity unquestionably justified.

The theme at Coalhouse is jazz and blues. Portraits of legendary artists such as Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald adorn the walls along with cigar box guitars  and speakers pumping out the sounds of live Eric Clapton, Charlie Parker and Robert Cray performances looping on flat screen TVs. To top off the motif, menu items are named for famous songs and standards from the genre, including “Lucille,” “Lover Man,” “Crossroads” and “Minnie the Moocher.” Under suspended exposed light bulbs, tables and booths are tightly packed. Stools line a long L-shaped counter, behind which patrons can view the huge centerpiece of Coalhouse Pizza — the oven.

Someone once said you can cook a shoe in a brick oven, and it would come out tasting great. Thankfully, footwear is not part of the menu at Coalhouse, but the pizzas that emerge from the oven might make you actually believe it. Showcasing an ultra-thin crust, derived from Caputo “00” flour (widely considered to be the best available flour of its kind), remarkably consistent and charred to perfection, the pies delivered on their promise. The smoked flavor of the crust provided an ideal template and contrast to the toppings. And boy, are there a lot of toppings.

Coalhouse currently features 26 special pizzas on the menu, with 12” small pies and 16” large pies. The “Blue Skies” ($7.75/$12.75) is the most-basic pizza of the lot, but it’s also a great place to start your Coalhouse experience. A Margherita-style creation with fresh tomato sauce made from San Marzanos, fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese, fresh basil and olive oil, the pie is divine in its simplicity and stands equally well on its own, or with any combo of the 24 toppings from which to choose.

Those with a little adventure should give the “Kicker” ($8.75/$12.75) a try. With jalapeno and poblano peppers, and an infusion of hot oil and garlic cloves, this pizza is delicious, but not for the faint of heart. “Birth of the Cool” ($14.75/$17.75) is a gorgeous salad pizza, topped with mixed greens and veggies, gorgonzola cheese and balsamic reduction. The addition of nut pesto provided just the right amount of bite and flavor. And while the “Hoochie Coochie Man” ($11.75/$15.75) might be a little too busy for our liking with squash, zucchini, artichokes, peppers and pesto, it will remind some of the late, great Sunrise Pizza Cafe of Norwalk and New Canaan fame, who used to serve a similar pie.

More successful was the “Bumpin on Sunset” ($14.75/$17.75), an inspired creation featuring goat cheese, roasted pear slices, honey truffle oil, red onion and pistachios. The subtle flavor of the goat cheese worked well with the sweetness of the pears and onion, while the roasted pistachios added a nice depth of flavor and texture. And for those who like penne a la vodka, the “Unforgettable” ($14.75/$18.75) is exactly that. Smooth as Nat King Cole himself, the housemade vodka sauce, bacon and Pecorino Romano was a decadent treat.

But it’s not just pizza and a hip atmosphere that will keep you coming back to Coalhouse. Ma Rainey’s Roadhouse Chicken Wings are not your average finger food. Marinated in a concoction of beer, honey mustard, olive oil and garlic for 24 hours, the huge, succulent wings are then coated in panko bread crumbs, fried, then tossed with one of nine homemade sauces. Our favorites were the medium hot sauce and the chipotle BBQ. While those with a “mature” palate might enjoy the Mojo hot sauce, we found the medium to provide a sufficient kick without compromising the flavor. Never overcooked, always of ample size and drenched in the sauce of your choice, these are quite possibly the best wings in Fairfield County.

As if the pizza and wings weren’t enough to seal anyone’s endorsement, the beer list completes the triumvirate. Coalhouse’s lineup features an astounding list of brew deserving of its own menu. In fact, Coalhouse has a beer club, hosts beer dinners and offers tastings from its many breweries (Harpoon, Brooklyn, Dogfish Head, etc.). Factor in other special events such as Sunday Brunch, Trivia Night, Open Mic Night, Beer Garden Night with outdoor movies, live bands and “Kids Make a Pizza Day," there really is something for everyone at Coalhouse.

Other menu items include salads ($8.75 - $14.75), pastas ($12.75 - $17.75) and chef specialties ($8.75 - $ 19.75), including crostini, BBQ pork sandwich, eggplant parm, chicken scarpiell, and lasagna.

Desserts include a rich ricotta cheesecake ($6.75) served with strawberry and balsamic vinaigrette reduction, and a decent tiramisu ($6.75). But this is a pizza place, so the rightful star of the show is the dessert pizza ($7.75). Featuring a Coalhouse crust topped with Nutella, marshmallows, strawberries, powdered sugar and a strawberry, it’s a cross between a dessert crepe, pizza and a S’more and is indulgence at its best.

Service at Coalhouse takes a back seat to the food, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The wait staff is friendly and helpful with suggestions and beer pairings, and warm and affable co-owner Gerard Robertson — who seemingly lives at Coalhouse (lucky guy)  — expertly seats the crowded dining room and turns over tables of happy and satisfied customers with relative ease. There is also a takeout window, but we’ve found the pizza does not travel particularly well. Besides, with such terrific food served in a fun, hip, lively atmosphere coupled with one of the best beer lists you’ll see in these parts, why would you ever want to go home?

 

Ratings:

Food: A-

Décor/Atmosphere: A-

Service: B+

Beer: A

85 High Ridge Road
Stamford, CT 06905
(203) 977-7700
www.coalhousepizza.com

Hours:

Sunday-Wednesday 11am to 10pm

Thursday-Saturday 11am to 11pm

Delivery available - $25 minimum for Stamford, $50 minimum for Greenwich, Cos Cob, Darien, New Canaan, Pound Ridge)

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