Coal Fired Pizza comes to Perry Hall
I just saw this place this afternoon while driving by. I went in, and while they do not have the oven fired up yet, the young guy who seemed to be in charge says that it should be fired up and in use for cooking by next Friday. And yes, he said that the permit process to get a coal fired oven was very difficult, but that they thought it was worth it.
It's mostly take-out, but there are a couple small tables and a counter for eat in.
I think I may need to drive up there in a week or two, once they're up and running and have gotten the opening kinks worked out. Anybody who is willing to get a coal fired oven approved has got to be fairly serious about pizza. Whether they are also talented, time will tell.
The Phat Pug Coal Fired Pizzeria
8814A Bel Air Road
Perry Hall, MD 21236
410 256 5700
Went with a friend last night, and the pizza was quite good, with a nice smoky flavor from the wood/coal fire. They were using oak logs to "quick start" the coal fire to bring it up to temperature.
Unfortunately, just as we arrived, a power transformer nearby blew out, so things were a bit hectic.
We ordered my usual "test pie", sausage and onion, and I was duly impressed. After my friend and I shared that 16" pie, I also had an 8" Italian Cheesesteak. The cheesesteak was delicious, but so over stuffed that it would be nearly impossible to eat as a sandwich. I really dislike eating what's supposed to be a sandwich with knife and fork, but there really isn't an option. On the plus side, it's a huge portion for the money - almost in "Captain Harvey's" territory, but with better taste, based on this one data point.
The only downside is that it was a mostly young staff, and I think there was only one guy there who had a good understanding of how to properly man the oven. The whole trick with a coal or wood fired oven is that the masonry of the oven comes up to temperature and holds a high heat with thermal mass. The fire is built on one side or at the back, and the pizza is cooked both by the heat stored in the floor and walls of the oven, and by the flow of hot gasses that flows up from the fire, along the ceiling of the oven and then out through the door and up the chimney (the chimney opening is just outside and above the door). A good coal or wood fired oven man learns how to move and turn pizzas in his particular oven to get exactly the results desired. I think it may take a while for the crew at this place to build up the expertise to get the maximum out of their oven, but given the quality of pie they put out last night, after only being up and running for a week or two, one can only imagine how good it might get if they can train and keep somebody with the knack for really working at the oven.
I strongly urge Baltimore area pizza fans to give this place a try and report back. Pizza being a "personal taste" thing, not all of you will like this place, but In my opinion, they have the potential to zoom into the top tier of Baltimore area pizza. I also think that demanding and discerning customers providing feedback can help them reach their full potential.
The only downside to the evening was that my follow-up order for the cheesesteak and a few other details were promptly forgotten by the person who took the information. It might have been the confusion and distraction of the power outage (half the circuits in the store were out for about ten or fifteen minutes), but there were enough instances of things being forgotten within seconds of me saying them that either the person was not paying attention *at all* to what I was saying in the first place (it never registered to begin with, and thus could not be recalled), or there's some serious short term memory "issues". The problem was too consistent and obvious to appear to be just an isolated "oops" moment. I'm being vague here to not embarrass the individual, but I'm hoping that if the manager reads this, he will recognize what I'm talking about and take remedial action.
To summarize - go, try, report - this one may be a "keeper"!
I went again a couple nights ago. I ordered a white pizza (I think they call it a "Pugarita" for reasons unknown) with sausage.
The good news - the pizza was excellent.
The bad news - Once again, the order got screwed up. The person who took the order neglected to mention the "and sausage" to the person who made the pizza. When I asked "Where's the sausage?", his reply was "What sausage? Nobody told me about sausage on that order!"
As in my first time visiting the place, they were all apologetic once the mistake became known (this time, they comped me a dessert), but I gotta say that I'd be a bit nervous phoning in a delivery order given that they are now 0 for 2 on order accuracy when I'm standing right there. They've got a good product, but they *must* get a person (the same order-taker as last time screwed up this order) or a better process in place to eliminate these order bungling errors.
I really want to like this place, but if they keep messing up my order every time I go, there are limits to my patience and my willingness to overlook the ordering mix-ups for the sake of a good pizza.
Hey, Pug! If you are reading this, get the ordering process FIXED!!!!
re: Hal Laurent
Yep, it's real coal - anthracite. The guy who appeared to be in charge seemed very pleasantly surprised when I noted the "ANTHRACITE" in big letters on the bags of coal and expressed my approval of the use of anthracite (AKA
"hard coal") vs. the softer bituminous coal that burns both cooler and dirtier. I don't think he expected a customer to know those little details.
As for the smell, it's pretty much like a BBQ grill, but without the identifiable wood aroma. The best way I can describe it is a more generic "smoke" smell, though not at all an unpleasant one. There is a subtle smoke flavor imparted to the food, but not as pronounced as with a wood fire or charcoal. I think the main benefit of the coal oven is the heat, with the smoky flavor being more of a "bonus'" than the main thrust.
And yes, one can run a commercial pizza oven at similar high temperatures (700-800 degrees and up), but the coal oven gives one more control over the gradations of heat based on proximity to the fire. A good paddle man will start the pie in one location to quickly crisp the crust, then shift it to another location to continue the cooking, and spinning the pie so it cooks evenly all around.
If you go to a one of the New Haven or Brooklyn places with the old (and *much* bigger) coal ovens, there is one guy or team making the pies, one boxing or plating the pies that come out, and one guy whose only task is to put the pies in the oven and shift them around. THAT is the guy who is the key to the whole operation - if he's good, the pie will be sublime. If he doesn't know what he's doing, the pie may literally be toast.
One other note. A good charcoal or wood BBQ is often choked back to both reduce the temperature for "low and slow" cooking, and to generate the nice smoky flavor. Coal pizza ovens are just the opposite - the aim is high temps, clean burn, and very fast cooking.
In older days, somebody with a wood or coal oven might go through several cooking stages as the fire went down, starting with pizzas at very high temperatures, then going through breads, roasts and finally stews or smoked meats as the fires burned down to embers.
Of course a commercial baker or pizza place will run the oven continuously, or else rely on the thermal mass of the masonry to hold the heat from closing time one day to the next morning, even though the fire burns down to embers or is extiguished entirely.
From what I've read, Patsy Grimaldi wanted to open a new place somewhere in NYC, but the city wouldn't issue any new permits for a coal fired oven, and that's true in most jurisdictions. That's why I about ran off the road a couple weeks ago when I saw the sign for Phat Pug that mentioned "coal fired".
I got carryout there tonight. We had the Parmesan and Prosciutto poppers and a large Three Cheese Pizza.
Both were very good. I'd never had coal-fired pizza before. The crust was excellent. I'm just afraid their location isn't the best and that they might not make it. I hope they're doing well business wise.
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