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Aug 30, 2008 11:23 AM

Joe Squared goes coal fired

For those of you Baltimore Pizza fans who enjoy Joe Squared, they are rumored to be ready to install a coal fired oven in the near future - the oven itself is sitting in the back of dining room already, awaiting final permit paperwork, installation and inspection. The high temperatures and quick cooking time this will allow, coupled with the Joe Squared sourdough crust and their tendency toward creative topping combinations might make for some interesting dining.

Of course, as always, pizza is very much a matter of personal preference, and there are some who just simply don't like the style of pizza Joe Squared puts out. But for those who do, you might want to check in and see what it's like when the new oven is in and they get a handle on using it properly.

Speaking of unusual combinations, last night's pizza on the "specials" had andouille sausage, roasted red peppers, fresh herbs, probably a couple other things I'm forgetting, and eggs. As in four eggs apparently just cracked open and plopped on the pizza just before it went in the oven. Sounds weird, but it was amazingly good. The bean soup on the specials menu was also incredible. Obviously, those who read this afre a day or two may missout on these specials, but you may still want to check in. There's always something creative on the specials, and the addition of the coal fired oven to the kitchen arsenal might take things in even more new directions.

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  1. I thought they had already installed it when they closed for a week. That was the plan -- did it not happen? The Baltimore Drinking Liberally is looking for a new home since the closing of Zodiac means we can no longer get food at Club Charles, so that is on our short list. I was looking forward to trying the coal-fired pizza.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JonParker

      From what I was told by the owner/chef, there's been delays in the permit and inspection process. The plan had been for it to be installed during the same week as the other renovations, but it didn't end up happening.

    2. I had the egg on the pizza thing in Paris back in the 1980s (although it was just one egg cracked open and plopped in the center of the pizza). It was indeed quite tasty. I've been told the French term for that is "au cheval", or "on horseback".

      1 Reply
      1. re: Hal Laurent

        As far as the "...with an egg on top" thing goes, I recall that during the Sarjevo Winter Olympics, there was a delay in some event and the commentators were filling dead air time to cover for the delay. The one fellow started talking about the local food and mentioned the slivovitz (sp? plum brandy - an ubiquitous sort of Balkan "white lightning") and the fact that every meal seemed to come with a fried egg plopped on top. The latter prompted the fellow's colleague to muse "What would happen if you just ordered a fried egg? Would you get two?" Both then started rambling, riffing on the general topic of "things that it would be particularly weird to get a fried egg on top of".

        That led to somebody I was watching with to speculate "If you don't mind living on fried eggs, you could just go in, ask for a glass of water, eat the fried egg that comes on top of the glass of water, and walk away without any bill to pay!"

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        1. The coal embers now glow!

          Here's a photo from Joe's hot fired oven. Sorry the previous post's photo wasn't viewable.

          I can almost smell the char - counting the days until I can make it up for pie

          4 Replies
          1. re: Lydia R

            I went on Friday, and while Joe and company still have some work to do on getting the subtleties of a coal oven down pat, the first try was very promising.

            The issue is that a coal or wood fired oven has a wider range of temperatures from side to side than a regular oven, because those cloer to the embers get direct radiant heat as well as conduction heat from the surface temperature of the oven floor and the convetction flows of the hot air within the oven. The oven man needs to be aware of how to shuffle and turn the pies so that they all get evenly cooked, and it's a very tricky skill. While the initial pie I had was good, it was still obvious that one side was more done than the other. In time, as they get the hang of the skills required, I anticipate that things will only get better.

            And just to reassure everybody, the variation in doneness on my pie was from "good" to "excellent" - nothing as severe as from "raw" to "charred beyond recognition". I only mention it here because although slight, it was still noticeable, and I wanted to make sure that anybody who goes in the first week or two has an understanding of what's going on. Coal or wood fire takes more care and attention on the part of the oven man that a regular gas pizza oven, but the results are well worth the extra effort.

            1. re: Warthog

              Drinking Liberally has moved to Joe Squared, so I got the chance to try their coal oven pizza this week. I thought it was ok, although to be honest I preferred the old style -- the crust was more crispy, and on a few pieces it tasted like -- well, coal.

              We shared three pizzas -- the Irish, with corned beef and potatoes, the flag, with 1/3 each pesto, garlic sauce and tomato sauce, and one that I don't recall. All were fine, although the crust didn't live up to what I think of when i think of Joe2 pizza. The service was typically glacial (I read that the coal oven cooks a pizza in 3 and a half minutes -- why did it take 40 to get ours?).

              Don't get me wrong, it was still good pizza, but I agree they need to work out the bugs on the new oven before i can really recommend it again.

              1. re: JonParker

                I agree. I visited Joe Squared Saturday night and went for the simple cheese pizza to test the waters. It was perfect on top and along the edges, but the bottom center of the pizza was white and soft. Prior to the change, the crust was definitely crispier with a wonderful bubbly crust. This time the pizza just flopped (literally). I'm not giving up though!

                1. re: JonParker

                  I agree with the desire for more crisp in the crust. In coal or wood fired ovens, there's a sweet spot between limp and overly charred, and one has to not be so afraid of the latter as to err to much toward the former. In my most recent visit, the kitchen had gotten the uniformity down, but they still need to leave it in a little longer to get the crispness right. In my experience, a little char on the crust comes with the territory, and is the price of the optimal crispness on the crust when using a high-heat technique such as coal fired oven.

                  On the pacing, I can only theorize - the coal oven may be faster, but it may have less effectively usable floor area than a typical gas oven. And they may still be getting the process down, so there might have been a flubbed pie that required a re-do.

                  I think the learning curve is substantial enough that I'm willing to give them some time to get things fine tuned. I'd also suggest that if you want crispier crusts, you should mention that to your server. It's important that the kitchen get calm, constructive feedback about what is an isn't working, so they can fine tune their processes to produce the sort of pies we, the customers, want.