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Coal Fire Pizza

  • j

I am a self proclaimed pizza guru and this place on Grand was amazing. Hands down the best pizza in chicago. Any one else who loves all pizza must go.

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  1. I liked it as well. I should have posted earlier.

    My only problem was the service, but I assume it will be hammered out. The pizza maker was actually very helpful, though. He told me all about how hot he runs the oven. That's pretty fun.

    1. I am thinking of going this weekend while i am in the area.

      Does Coal Fire serve beer & liquor, or is it BYOB?

      11 Replies
        1. re: jbw

          Good news,

          I am fairly new to the concept of BYOB,

          What can I bring in? wine, beer, a bottle of tequilla?

          Have you eaten there? How did you like it?

          I do not like Chicago style pizza, and have been wanting to try this east coast style pizza since they opened.

          1. re: swsidejim

            You can bring wine and beer -- I believe they have wine and beer glasses. I don't see any reason why you couldn't bring a bottle of tequilla (although that would be an interesting sight, and I'm not sure they will have shot glasses).

            The pizza is very good. I wouldn't call it east coast style, though. It is like Grimaldi's in New York if you have every been. Prior posts on LTH Forum have some good photos of the pizza.

            1. re: JJ.

              I checked the post at LTH, and those pics of the pizza & great crust got my mouth watering.

              I am going to San Soo Gap San for lunch, and then either to Coal Fire, or Honey 1 for dinner. I am leaning towards Coal Fire since I have never been there yet. I am looking forward to a Saturday of good chow.

              Thanks for clearing up the BYOB question, I have never been to place that offered that option, and I dont to do something that is unacceptable.

              1. re: swsidejim

                One of the owners (J) formerly tended bar at The Matchbox, just down the street, and if you cared to call beforehand I am sure that he would be more than happy to discuss possible drink pairings for his product.

                Irrespective of style, it would seem that most Americans like to pair beer with pizza, but I don't personally keel to the idea of consuming two yeast-fermented grain products at the same time. <smile> Wine and soda are my beverages of choice.


                1. re: Erik M

                  thanks for the heads up,

                  I am one of those folks who likes beer and pizza, but I also like a some tequilla when I am having a few drinks..

                  1. re: swsidejim

                    Hey swsidejim...
                    For what it's worth, Amelia's Mexican Grill is less than a minute down the street if you want a shot of tequila.

                    I've been to Coal Fire about 6 times (it's walking distance for me) and like it. Unlike the 45+ minute wait for a deep dish/stuffed/chicago style pizza, these come up pretty quickly.

                    Be aware that you go up to the counter to place your order and pay, then your order will be brought to your table.

                    Just down Odgen on Randolph you can pick up beer or wine at the Tasting Room.

                    Amelia's Restaurant
                    1235 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

                    Tasting Room
                    1415 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607

                    1. re: delk

                      Thanks for the heads up about Amelias, and the Tasting Room, I was wondering where a liquor store was that is close to Coal Fire.

                      Also thanks for the tips about the odering @ Coal Fire.

                      1. re: swsidejim

                        Depending on which way you go, there is also a rather large liquor store on Grand and Western called DiCarlo's. Obviously, if you want wine, the Tasting Room is the better choice. Plus, even better, both establishments have parking lots!

                        Curious to hear your take on the pizza though!

                        DiCarlo's Grand & Western
                        515 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60612

                        1. re: delk

                          We are going to get to Coal Fire right around 5 p.m. when they open, and I am looking forward to trying this new spot for us, as much as I am looking forward to our return trip to San Soo Gap San for lunch.

                          It should should be a nice Saturday centered around some good eats.

                    2. re: swsidejim

                      Having recently come back from Italy, it's clear that many Italians drink beer with their pizza, too.

        2. Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood serves up authentic Neopolitan style thin pizza fresh from a charcoal wood fired oven. The oven was shipped direct from Italy and the owner was trained in Naples. I hear it's great, the best apparently.

          2 Replies
          1. re: amoncada

            The pizza at Spacca is good to very good, but there's something one note about the pies as the variations we tasted were quite similar. IMO, everything else about the place sucks. A prosciutto and argula salad arrived with the ham element ice cold from the fridge and the greens woefully under-dressed. The wine list is primarily, low acid, over-extracted, "new school" Southern Italian reds and to add insult to injury, the wine was served way too warm (75-80 degrees F) and served in tumblers, which for some reason are believed to be more "authentic" than a proper glass. The dessert was absolutely forgetable. Spacca Napoli is a noisy, crowded space overun by the "Bug-a-boo Mafia" and their passel of screaming toddlers! Thanks, but no thanks...no pizza is worth putting up with this scene. BTW...the joint is no bargain; a cheap bottle, two pies, salad and one dessert with tax and tip was well over $100...which for sake of "authenticity" (a "concept" that is tossed around at Spacca like so much grated reggiano) is about twice what you'd pay in Naples.

            1. re: Vinny Barbaresco

              Having never been ot Naples, I can't comment on authentic Neapolitan Pizza, but I was not too impressed with Spacca. In my case, the prosciutto/arugala pizza toppings were fine - not cold, very flavorful, etc - but the crust was very tough. Not soggy at least, but it took some good sawing to hack through them. The taste was good, but I really prefer a thing, crispy pizza. The table was tight, but I didin't mind the crowd. No screamers from what I can remember.

              In fact, the only place I have had a really satisfying pizza in reent months is at Stop 50 Pizza in Michiana Indiana. Perfectly crispy wood fired pizza. Outstanding when it all comes together. Don't know if its worth a trip just to visit, but if you are ever in the area, its worth checking out.

              More here: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...

          2. Chicago Magazine, in its August issue, took a look at recently opened pizzerias with wood-burning/coalfired ovens comparing ten of them with a variety of criteria. Take a look here, particularly for the differences between, say, Coalfire and Spaccanapoli:


            3 Replies
            1. re: jbw

              I did a quick glance and it looks like Spacca Napoli wins. I can't imagine how expensive it was to transport Spacca's huge wood fired oven all the way from Italy.

              1. re: amoncada

                The oven wasn't "transported" from Italy. Instead, Jonathan hired a family of professional Napoli-style oven builders to come here and build it for him. Hell, he even had them ship all of the bricks and mortaring supplies too.

                At any rate, while the product at Spacca is exceptional, it cannot be fairly compared to that of Coalfire. Whereas Spaaca prepares traditional Neopolitan-style pizza in a hardwood-burning, hand-built, domed brick oven, Coalfire prepares a New Haven-style pizza in a LUMP COAL-burning, commercial American oven. It's apples to oranges, and they're both great.


                1. re: amoncada

                  It was brought in pieces and assembled here on site, but that was still a lot of weight to ship.

              2. I visited both Coal Fire and Crust this week and both my SO and I enjoyed Crust much better. Even though I liked the laid-back byo environs at Coal-Fire better, the food just wasn't as good. We started with a caprese appetizer that was close to inedible. The tomatoes were cold, straight out of the refrigerator, and consequently really bland and gross. The basil and mozzarella were no good either. But, it's not about the sides, it's about the pie.

                The pizza was way better than the appetizers: good toppings, crisp, but was too burnt for my taste. I liked the smoky flavor but the char encompassed a good portion on the top of the pizza that should have been cheese and toppings. Perhaps those that like a severe char will prefer this style. I was always the kid who patiently toasted his marshmallows to avoid the char, so maybe it's just my aversion to it.

                As for Crust, we had to send one of the pizzas back as it was overly charred, but upon return they fared much better. They call them "flatbreads" in order to serve fancier pizzas, which kind of annoyed me. It's pizza. The goat cheese and mushroom with a bechamel pretty spot on, and the pepperonata, with pepperoni and roasted peppers with a tomato-based sauce, was a nice contrast to the first one. Crust has an overly commercial feel akin to a Cheesecake factory, but the food was very solid. I will be back to Crust, not to Coal Fire. I am very interested in trying Spacca Nappoli next. To each his own I guess.

                1. I've lived in NY and recently visited Rome...I'm also of Chinese-descent so in light of my experiences and my ethnic background, I believe delicious, authentic cuisine cannot be so unless it comes with bad service. Coal Fire has the best thin crust pizza in Chicago (based on my experiences in Chicago so far but I haven't tried Spacca Napoli yet), and that's all that matters to me. Actually, the service at Coal Fire is perfectly fine...they're cordial and they got my order right. At least I didn't get a hand in my face as when I tried to ask a waitress a question at a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown. Their pizza is not NY-style so much as it is very similar in style and quality to the pizzas I had in Rome - delicioso!! I'm not a big fan of Chicago-style pizza with 4 inches of cheese and meat. I wish the proprietors of Coal Fire all the luck with their new restaurant. I certainly will frequent it as much as I can, considering it is a 10-minute commute by car for me.

                  1. We went to Coal Fire this past Saturday for a second visit and had a nother great time, and some more of the best pizza's I have ever eaten. This visit we shared a sausage pizza, and their 3 cheese pizza. Bothe were excellent, and the light char on the edge of the crust, and the underside of the crust made them even better.

                    I got in a conversation with Jay(one of the owners, and pizza guru) and talked for about 10 minutes at our table, before he invited us behind the counter to check out the coal burning pizza oven, It is all coal, he said he may use some wood to start the fire, but he has a bucket of coal right next to the oven, and added some pieces while we were there. The oven temp was @ 880 degrees, and thpizzas take just minutes to make. Jay was a great ambassador of his restaurant, and truely seemed humbled by the fact that we drove over 70 miles each way to try his pizza again. He kept asking us if we really liked it...

                    For my money, and tastebuds Coalfire is the best pizza in Chicago, and the BYOB is an added bonus.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: swsidejim

                      Have any of you tried Caponies on Harlem Avenue and Roscoe? They were doing wood burning over pizza far before any of these places. I was so excited to try Coalfire because it's a bit closer to my house than Caponies but I wasn't impressed. The staff was very nice and the atmosphere was okay but the pizza had too much char. When we left all I could taste is the char. We didn't bring wine or beer with us the first time on purpose so we could really savor the pizza.

                      We went to Spacca Napoli awhile back and I was less impressed with that place. I could care a less where the bricks are from or who built it. The biggest problem I had was that it didn't feel like a pizza place, it didn't smell like one, look like one or feel like one. It seemed sort of cafeteria-like. Our waiter was great except when describing the specials. He used words that were unappetizing. There wasn't enough to the sauce or the sausage for my taste. Granted, I am like the person above that hasn't been to Italy but just because the traditional sauce in Italy was bland doesn't mean Chicago can't improve on that.

                      Any other suggestions for great thin crust pizza?

                      1. re: swsidejim

                        swsidejim: 70 Miles!! You sir, are a TRUE CHOWHOUND!!

                        It's ALWAYS worth the extra drive or walk to score great food, my journeys to the city from Gurnee sound allot like yours.

                        We should rendezvous at the Coalfire, I've always wanted to go there, whens your next trip? Email is on my profile.

                        1. re: abf005


                          thanks, we were actually drove up to Grayslake for a house warming this past Saturday(108 miles each way) before the ice storm, and stopped at Bob Chinns afterward for a good lunch of stone crab claws, scallops, steak, and fish.

                          I will let you know the next time we are headed into the city for Coalfire, Sol De Mexico, or another spot we are wanting to go to, or return to on the LTH GNR list.

                          1. re: swsidejim

                            Sounds great, I'm in!

                            Fueled by so many generic posts on the pizza topic over the years, I felt compelled to write a minor disertation on what Chicago pizza really is.

                            Anyone who simply states that all of our pizza’s are “very similar” or “excellent choices” doesn’t help *anyone* in deciding which is in fact is the best, or most Chow-worthy establishment to go visit. Reason it out; if they were all so "similar" then they would all be part of one single chain wouldn’t they?! For that kind of simplistic information one could easily read the yellow pages or a tourist handbook that will provide you with travel tips, directions and maybe even a diet guide as well. But since we are all Chowhounds boldly eating away at new frontiers, who needs that tourist crap, since distance is no impediment to eating well, as such here are a few facts:

                            There are basically 5 types of pizzas specific to Chicago; 3 are versions of deep dish and two are versions of thin they are called:

                            Deep dish or what people generally to as “Chicago style”
                            How it’s made: the crust: this pizza has a thin ¼” - ½” bottom dough and a medium thickness ½” side wall that stands about 2” high. The toppings are considered to be “upside down” by NY standards since the cheese is at the bottom followed generally by the packed sausage layer and then the loose ingredients (pepperoni, veggies etc.) and another layer of cheese and lastly, toped with the sauce. It is this unique assembly that gives the pizza its thickness and density and not the pan crust as is so commonly misinterpreted by many non-Chicago area establishments and people.
                            Places famous for serving this style include: Uno’s/Duo, Gino’s East, Lou Malnati's, Pizano’s and Ricobene’s

                            Stuffed or stuffed Pan – also loosely called “stuffed Chicago style”
                            How it is made: This pizza originated on the north side with Nancy’s in the late 70’s and was really the next evolutionary step of the deep dish. Take you standard deep dish and add a layer of thin dough on top of it, then add another layer of cheese & sauce and you have a stuffed pizza. After all, more is… more better! Right?
                            Places famous for serving this style include: Nancy’s, Giordano’s, Bacino’s & Edwardo’s

                            Pan pizza or Pizza in the pan
                            How it’s made: Ok here’s where things get a little confusing, its got more dough at the bottom (about ¾” thick), a lot more and the construction is more like that of our thin crust style with a sauce base, the loose ingredients (pepperoni, veggies etc.) a top layer of cheese. The reason its confusing is Gulliver’s claims to be “pizza in the pan” and has the thick pan style crust but follows the deep dish construction with their sauce being on top. Places famous for serving this style include: Connie’s, Ricobene’s & Gulliver’s

                            Thin crust
                            How it’s made: Chicago’s number one selling style of pizza! Yep, that’s right, more Chicagoans eat this style of pizza than any other. It’s a thin dough pizza with low perimeter with a small crust, traditional looking (kind of like a NY- but not nearly as tough on the bottom, chewy or oily). The assembly is more traditional; a sauce base, the loose ingredients (pepperoni, veggies etc.) a top layer of cheese.
                            Places famous for serving this style include: Barnaby's, Home Run Inn, Rosati’s Pizza, Barry’s Spot

                            Cracker crust (thin)
                            This style is really popular in several other parts of the Midwest, so I’m hesitant to call it a “Chicago style”, the other areas most known for it in St. Louis, Wisconsin & Ohio, but since there are so many places in Chicago that do this style it’s worth mentioning.
                            How it is made: The assembly is more traditional; a sauce base, the loose ingredients (pepperoni, veggies etc.) a top layer of cheese, but the key difference is the dough and how impossibly thin some places make it, so its even thinner than a tortilla! Thus, the name cracker-crust.
                            Places famous for serving this style include: Aurelio’s, Candlelight, Wells Brothers (Racine, WI), Father & Son

                            Chicagoan’s also enjoy other style pizzas such as brick oven, wood or coal fired bakery styles, Neapolitan, New York style, and unfortunately plenty of the chain crap too, like Pizza hut & Domino’s etc., which are more like bad versions of New York style anyway! That’s why were called the “pizza capital of the world” by many, not because of the one style but because of our love of them all. To most of us, pizza is a food group.

                            Interesting related links:

                            Go that extra distance for what’s great or even just “slightly better”, its always well worth the effort, in fact, according to the Chowhound FAQ it’s what makes you a “Chowhound” vs. a “foodie”! ( http://www.chow.com/faq#chowhound ).

                            1. re: abf005

                              Aurelio's (at least the Homewood "mother ship") is not an example of cracker crust, by either your definition or mine, but from my recollection, Barnaby's is/was. Is it possible that you swapped your list of exemplars of "thin" and "cracker"?

                              1. re: Warthog

                                Like so many places in Chicago Aurelio's offers several thickness'; thin, thick, stuffed crust. I just looked at the Oakbrook sites pic's to refresh my memory (since it has been awhile for me) and it looked pretty thin... So if you say its thin and not cracked I'll go with your more recent assessment than my recollection.

                                As to Barnaby's though, I have to respectfully disagree, it's never been crackercrust thin, just very thin.

                                Cracker crust pizzas are more "crispy" seem be be held together from the top layer of cheese. They are almost translucent as a dough, and end up being about 1/8" thick when cooked.

                                By contrast, Barnaby's has always had a cornmeal bottom, pinched up crust sides, and is about 1/4" + in thickness. Thin, but not quite cracker thin.

                                1. re: abf005

                                  Well I've been on a diet for the past month. I will have to respectfully shake my fist in your direction for making me crave thin crust pizza so badly that I am ordering one tonight.

                                  Shall I order the traditional thin crust cheese from Calo's? Or the NYish style of Apart (anchoives are calling my name) or go a little crazy and order deep dish from Delisis?

                                  Such is life - these hard decisions!

                                  ETA: Just in general - don't read food boards when you are on a diet! Between this one and LTH, I've been taunting myself....

                              2. re: abf005

                                To differ - a good NY thin-crust pizza is not oily or tough on the bottom. It is well-toasted, dry on the bottom, and crinkles when you fold it with your fingertips (while cradling a slice in the palm of your hand, simultaneously pressing downward with the thumb in the center of the crust edge). Sigh.

                                1. re: ShortOrderHack


                                  I phrased it less accurately, than you. What I meant is that the top layer of ingredients (usually right under the cheese) is slightly oily, since often there is oil ladled on the dough with the sauce. A good NY is never wet on the bottom!!

                        2. Have you tried La Madia, on Grand? Quite excellent as well, wood-fired oven, Neapolitan crust.