Monday, January 31, 2011

Cooking with Coal!

Pizza and pizza restaurants are probably my most frequent blogging topics. I can’t help it. Where ever we travel we are compelled to seek out the best in a given city or region. So the San Marcos/Austin area was no exception.

My research led us to a place in Bee Cave, TX, which was a forty-mile (or so) drive from our campground to an address our Lady in the Dashboard (GPS) didn’t recognize. But I knew it was just off Route 71 in the Hill Country Galleria. This is one of those new-fangled shopping centers that is not an enclosed mall and is intended to be reminiscent of a small town Main Street. That is, if you’re Main Street has an Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Coldwater Creek, Eddie Bauer, et al.

We were looking for Tony C’s Coal Fired Pizza—the only place in or near Austin baking pizza with coal. Why coal? According to Tony C’s web site: “Coal fired, hearthstone ovens are the only ovens that can deliver a true New York style pizza. When Italian immigrants first came to New York City in the late 19th century, they used coal as a heating source because of its availability and low cost. Coal burns twice as hot as wood and provides an even burn producing a charred crust and perfectly caramelized toppings.”

Tony C’s is owned by Tony Ciola, who is part of a local restaurant family and whose cousin Louie Ciola is the chef. They are joined by Cliff Abraham as General Manager. Cliff is from New York, home to Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s, and knows a thing or two about coal-fired pizzerias.

The interior combines the warm (exposed brick walls) with the sleek. Table tops are black; the bar top is marble; the pendulum lights are bright orange; and, perhaps most striking, the exhaust duct work is shiny metal.

The menu is not just pizza and offers appetizers, salads, subs, and pastas. But we wanted pizza, which came in three broad varieties. Specialty pizzas included: the Prosciutto and Goat’s Cheese roasted garlic, shaved prosciutto, arugula, fresh mozzarella, and goat’s cheese; the Primopesto with sun dried tomato pesto, fresh mozzarella, roasted chicken, artichoke hearts; and the Mulberry Meatball with homemade meatballs, coal-fired peppers, caramelized onions, pizza sauce, and fresh mozzarella.

From the list of New York Style Pies you can select; the Mama Mia with pepperoni, Italian sausage, and extra cheese; the Eggplant with parmesan crusted eggplant, pizza sauce, basil, and ricotta; the Donato with sausage, coal-fired peppers, black olives, fresh mozza-rella; and Pepperoni. And, under the heading “Neapolitan Style Pies” were the Bianco with cream, olive oil, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, and fresh basil; the Marinara with pizza sauce topped with cheese; and the Margarita with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella. Of course, the latter was our choice.

The advantage of coal over wood is the higher cooking temperature which produces a crisp, charred crust. Tony C’s crust was magni-ficently crisp all the way to the center of the pie. Every bite had crunch and the moisture from the toppings didn’t soak through. Olive oil had been brushed over the edges, which became deliciously crispy. But the char was missing. Why? From what I have read, the pizza eaters in that area complained about the almost burnt edges so the owners have cut back on the heat and/or cooking time to eliminate the char. That’s too bad, but it is understandable that they want to keep the customer happy.

Over the crust was a film of olive oil, a layer of sandwich-type tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. This latter was fortunately applied after the pie came out of the oven. This was very good (not great) pizza, but I have two minor complaints. First, I wish they had used sliced Roma tomatoes, which have a lower moisture content. The sandwich tomatoes became a bit watery and mushy from the high baking temperature. Second, there was something missing, and I think that was garlic. Should I return to Tony C’s I would order some roasted garlic (from the list of build your own fixings) to liven up the taste.

Just as you come through the doors, you see a refrigerated case with a selection of about eight flavors of gelato. What better way to finish the meal? None I can think of. So we shared a medium dish of the Butterfinger flavor (on the left) and the toasted almond. Of the two, I liked the toasted almond. I didn’t get much Butterfinger flavor (or crunch for that matter) from the other.

We have agreed that this is the third best pizza of the year (behind Settebello in Salt Lake City and Pomo in Scottsdale) and earns a 4.5 Addie rating.

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