Initially I was planning on squeezing the four pizzerias I visited while aboard the Chicago Pizza Tour into one review, but my experience at Coalfire ensured this place deserves its own write-up.
Just before we rolled up to our third stop of the day amidst the billowing snow in the "Dough Force One," our guide Jon Porter passed around this year's Chicago Magazine which featured critic Jeff Ruby's top 25 pizzerias in the city. Guess who's pizza graced the cover?
BOOM, Coalfire! As Jon explained it, J. Spillane was a bartender at The Matchbox who always had a gripe with what Chicagoans passed as pizza. He'd go on and on about what pies were like back east outside of Boston in his native Worcester, MA (pronounced /wuh-stuh/ for those unfamiliar). Finally someone challenged him to make something better, so J. took to his home oven and his grandmother's recipe.
Being the perfectionist that he is, Spillane tossed out his family's dough recipe in search of something even better. After many pies and tribulations (see what I did there?), he brought a pizza by the bar and silenced the patrons to such an extent he decided to open his own pizzeria just down the road with a fellow Massachusite? Massachussetter? I give up, I'm going with Masshole.
After J. picked his oven of choice, the place practically named itself. Do I even have to tell you what kind of fuel they use in their oven?
That's 800 degrees for ya. Just like its coal-burning forefathers like John's and Patsy's, it only takes a mere 2 minutes to fire a pie in that monster. The result?
What a beautiful pie, ammiright?
Upon my first glance at the crust, I was immediately reminded of Totonno's dark-tinted cornicione.
Just when I was beginning to believe the Windy City was made up of nothing but deep dish pizzerias, J. swoops in to save the day. The crust was chewy, the sauce tangy, and silky mozzarella not a touch over-burned, all finished off with a firm, crispy undercrust.
Along with our margherita, we also got to taste Coalfire's white pie consisting of ricotta, mozzarella, Romano, black pepper, oregano, garlic-infused olive oil, and of course garnished with fresh basil.
Pretty decent slice, but my initial reaction was that it could use a bit of a salty kick. Maybe a little more Romano or even some sea salt? Regardless, this pie's delicate balance yields a creamy, fluffy product that is not to be messed with.
Here's the Coalfire crew-
L-R: Dave Bonomi, Bill Carroll, and J. Spillane. Not only was it refreshing to come across some east coast transplants that know how to throw a good pie, Coalfire's margherita was one of the best pizzas I had while in Chicago and for that matter, anywhere in quite some time.
Keep the home fire burnin', guys.