There’s been a quiet trend developing in the Indianapolis regional restaurant market and one that is poised for growth. In the highly competitive and saturated pizza arena, this trend, while fairly new, paradoxically dates back hundreds of years to Naples, Italy. The concept is classic – Neapolitan-style pizza, baked in a wood-fired or coal oven. Coal is the more ancient fuel source and the better one. It burns cleaner, hotter and more efficiently than wood-fired or natural gas-assisted pizza ovens.
My cursory research tells me Neal Brown’s Pizzology in Carmel first broke the Neapolitan-style pizza mold in this market in November 2009. Martha Hoover from Café Patachou came on board shortly thereafter with the near-north side’s Napolese, joined about the same time by Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza, both in April 2010. Coal Pizza Company recently opened downtown and ranks highly with me in terms of Neapolitan-style pizza choices in the Indianapolis area.
The only franchise in the group is Tony Sacco’s. And it is the only restaurant I’ve not dined in. Coal Pizza Company easily can become a franchise as its décor and menu can seamlessly translate to a broad appeal. The quality and variety of the food offers a refreshing lunch or dinner choice downtown, and they deliver! For this particular lunch I was flanked by two of my law partners, Jess Paul and Jeff Baldwin. Jenny did not join us as she was sauntering, ironically, near Naples . . . Florida. We gained immediate seating near the open-concept kitchen, in full view of the 900 degree coal-burning pizza oven.
Jeff ordered the baby arugula salad and breadsticks. Jess ordered the Tuscan pizza while I ordered the Buffalo chicken pizza. Jeff’s salad contained caramelized onion, goat cheese and poached pear. It was easily a meal-sized salad and well received by Jeff. The breadsticks were big and bulky and are served with your choice of dipping sauce.
The menu states the pizzas serve one or two people. The 12-inch pies offer plenty for two to share at lunch. Jess’ Tuscan choice was comprised of fennel sausage, roasted pepper and cracked red pepper. The flavors blend well together. My criticism of this pie is the sausage. The texture and size are perfect, but the flavor is a bit flat. My suggestion would be to add more fennel and perhaps a bit of black pepper and salt to the recipe. Overall, it is still a quality choice and one not to shy away from despite my personal preference.
Speaking of personal preference, my Buffalo chicken selection stole the show. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to pizza toppings, but having sampled this pizza on a prior occasion I had to order one of my own. The grilled chicken on this dish is spiced up with Buffalo sauce and drizzled with blue cheese and thin, julienne-style celery and carrots. It is one of those dishes that creates a craving a few days later, drawing you back in for more.
The coal-fired method of cooking the pizza creates a crust individual to every pizza. It is pretty amazing really. The oven is so hot most pizzas cook in about 90 seconds, although our lunch wasn’t any quicker than average. Much like a snowflake, each pizza is different. The end crust itself is hearty but not too bready. Toward the center of the pizza the crust can get a bit flimsy, so if you are on a first date or with an unfamiliar business associate, keep a knife and fork nearby.
If you want a different lunch option, consider this place as a choice. If you’d rather not have pizza for lunch, check it out for dinner. Want to surprise your staff? Have a few pizzas delivered and brighten the office attitude a bit. Coal Pizza Company, 36 E. Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204. 317-685-2625. www.coalpizzacompany.com.•
Fred Vaiana and Jennifer M. Lukemeyer practice at Voyles Zahn & Paul in Indianapolis, focusing in criminal defense. Vaiana is a 1992 graduate of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Lukemeyer earned her J.D. from Southern Methodist University in 1994 and is active in the Indianapolis Bar Association, Indianapolis Inn of Courts and the Teen Court Program. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the authors.