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Aug 22, 2010 05:28 PM

$7 Coal-fired Pizza Lunch Special at URBN in Vista

Last Sunday I said good-by to my hosts in San Marcos early afternoon and decided to take the slow way back to the airport for my evening flight. I enjoyed driving the rural roads from San Marcos past nurseries and small growers toward Vista. Winding my way through the streets of Vista, I was stopped for the light near the Sonic Drive-In ready to turn toward Carlsbad and the coast when I noticed the colorful murals to my right a couple blocks away. Taking a small detour to check it out, I drove by a charming of collection of storefronts in an older downtown district. But an even more interesting find from a chowhound’s standpoint was the decidedly modern façade for Urbn coal-fired pizza. Coal-fired ovens are dying out in the East Coast and no new installations are permitted in Northern California. Even though I was still full from a dim sum repast that morning, I had to stop and order something.

Inside I found a cool and dark interior with bar seating and tables, one other customer, three folks behind the counter, and this brick oven and a bag of Pennsylvania coal on the floor.

I took a seat at the counter and asked if I could buy a slice. No slices here. But I was offered a new menu addition, the lunch special of a mini pie with one topping and a drink at $7 before 4pm. Chatting with the staff, I learned that the oven temperature runs between 700 to 800 degrees. They steered me away from the clam white pie I had planned to order and said the mash potatoes and bacon topping was the favorite here. Really?!?

So mash potatoes and bacon it was. The mini pie was more substantial than what I’d call “mini”, maybe 9" wide. It was at least the equivalent of two street "slices".

Served on an aluminum baking tray, my pie was too lightly colored and I asked for it baked a little darker. It did return darker, but I would have preferred a mix of blonde and scorched on the high spots.

And, a shot of coal-fired pie’s upskirt showing pebbly underside and singe marks.

The first bite into the paper-thin crust was everything that I love about East Coast style pizzas. Crispy, then a gentle elastic chewiness offers some resistance, followed by the full force of charry and yeasty flavors melding with the cheese and the toppings. The sliced garlic and sprinkling of oregano highlighted the potatoe-y flavors blended with the richness of the bacon strips. The addition of chili flakes made it even better.

I’m now a believer: mash potatoes and bacon can make a delicious pizza. But you do sacrifice the crust. The weight and moisture of the toppings soon weighed down the slice. While not soggy, the crust turned more rubbery with time. I would probably get something simpler on a return visit.

The staff were great. They were really interested in my take on the pie and suggested that I try the larger location in San Diego next trip. I wanted to take the rest of my pizza home and they packed it in a small salad box and a plastic bag so the oil wouldn’t bleed through in my carry-on.

Searching turned up scattered mentions of urbn but few details. What else do chowhounds recommend here?

Urbn Pizza
203 Main St, Vista, CA 92084

urbn pizza
3085 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104

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  1. Now THAT'S something I never expected to see in San Diego -- coal-fired pizza! When I get to NYC, that's what I seek out. Are they doing coal at the University Ave location too? I don't get up to Vista much.

    4 Replies
    1. re: bizzwriter

      My wife and I make coal-fired pizza at home. I attached a photo of last night's creation since it came out so well (roasted garlic, leeks, heirloom tomatoes, clams, mozza, butter, parmesan, arugula).

      Bragging aside, I too am looking forward to Urbn opening. We go to basic once a month, or so, but i would be glad to have one less reason to go downtown.

        1. re: notjustastomach

          Looks great, nice work of art, how can you deal with pizza shops after creating that? I mean, I make my own and it's hard, at least in SD, to get something even close to edible. I've had coal fired za elsewhere and will have to give Urbn a try.

        2. re: bizzwriter

          When I found little info about it here, i figured folks didn't know about the coal-fired oven, so i put it in the title. According to the website, the second branch will have coal too.

          FWIW, I noticed that SD 'hounds don't use the restaurant linking function in posts as often as in SF. I put the website link for each location in their Restaurant pages. You can check back on the University Ave website for news of the opening.

        3. I had no idea theres a coal oven pizzera in the region. We have stellar brick-oven pizza at Bruno, but the flavor of a coal-over crust is quite distinct. Worth the trek to Vista if it really is as good as advertised!
          Thanks for this report

          2 Replies
          1. re: ipsit

            Is the North Park one open yet? As of last week it was still a fairly empty building. But been up in Sequioa National Park all week so perhaps it opened while I was away...

            1. re: ipsit

              It bowled me over too, since new installations of coal ovens are not allowed in San Francisco. So you understand why I had to stop.

              Neapolitan pizza at Bruno had been suggested to me, but since there are so many wood-burning pie places now in SF, I passed on it. But a coal-fired oven is a whole 'nuther breed. I hope you'll try it and report back. I feel like I didn't really give it a good test with those heavy toppings.

            2. It is not a real coal oven, its made by Woodstone and has a little basket on the side of the oven where a couple pieces of coal are put, its a gas oven and cooks at 550 degrees, coal ovens are illegal in California as well as New York and Conneticuit. The ones that do exsist are grandfathered in since they are now illegal in those states. It is so funny to hear them say its a coal oven, it is nothing like Sally's, Pepe's, Tontos. Do you really think California would allow a coal oven with its strict enviormental laws. It is fals advertising at its best, ask them to show you the oven and at the temperature (there is an electronic thermometer on the oven).

              3 Replies
              1. re: Sapporo

                Wait- are you suggesting this man (Stanley Holloway as Alfred Doolittle) is not shoveling coal into the belly of the beast?

                1. re: Sapporo

                  Oh really? Which model oven does URBN use? Here are a few choices:


                  1. re: Sapporo

                    Anthracite coal ovens are not banned in New York or Connecticut there is a guy that builds them for restaurants all over the east coast. Anthracite coal is very clean burning burns way hotter and cleaner than wood. Bituminous coal can even be burned in Cali I see it at feed stores. They just have a problem with people burning wood fires. Google it you can even see how popular coal is still for home heating back east. I lived there for many years and saw coal pizza places all over new and old. Best pizza I ever had.

                  2. Melanie I know of a guy still building and installing real coal fired pizza ovens all over the east coast, coal is legal to burn if its Anthracite coal which burns very clean and hot so hot the flames are blue. Anthracite coal burns without smoke its the highest rank of coal and is mined from eastern Pennsylvania. Coal has even made a comeback as a home heating fuel back east due to high heating oil prices the sell new boilers and stoves. So coal is far from out.

                    There is nothing that compares to a real coal fired pizza I know the ones here on the west coast are pretty much fakes too bad the cant build a real one here Anthracite burns way hotter and cleaner than wood. Urbn pizza is as close a Cali can get to a coal fired pizza.


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Northeastern

                      What about the Grimaldi's in Las Vegas? Do you know if they use a real coal fired pizza oven like the original in New York?

                      1. re: Encinitan

                        According to their website, ALL Grimaldi's locations (there are 3 in the Vegas area, plus 1 outside of Reno, and a bunch in Arizona, Florida, and Texas) use real coal-fired pizza ovens (burning Eastern Pennsylvania anthracite), PLUS a custom system in each restaurant that pumps "New York water."


                    2. It is illegal to open new coal oven pizzas places. The only ones open are grandfathered in. If not they are using charcoal that we use in backyard barbecues. I live in Brooklyn and am in the restaurant business. I frequent the top places here and we discuss this every time.