Last week, we got to tell you about a brand new pizza joint, Fired Pie. Quick version: Some guys who worked together at California Pizza Kitchen and Oregano's got together to create their own quick-service pizza place. Since I'm the Guilty Pleasures guy, I had to make a beeline for it the moment our fearless leader Laura Hahnefeld uttered "new pizza place."
The nice folks at Fired promote themselves as "custom" pizza. It's about time someone freed us from the tyranny of non-custom pizzas, right? I say this in jest; after all, you can go to almost any pizza place in town and get a pizza with your choice of toppings. Once I went there, I understood what they mean: They're more versatile than a neighborhood slice joint, and a quicker, less-expensive alternative to specialty pizza places like their former employers at CPK, or no-substitutions-please Humble Pie.
To keep things speedy, dough is pressed into a thin crust instead of being hand-tossed. I'd prefer the latter, but the way they do it is much easier to keep consistent. You select your sauce (of six), cheeses (also six), and toppings (at least 10 meats, 14 veggies, and three fresh herbs). I feel like ordering would have been a little easier if they labeled the toppings like ice cream parlors do with their flavors; as it stands, you either have to identify the toppings by sight alone (which one's salami, which one's capicolla?), or pause to turn around and look at the list behind you on the wall. Once you've decided on your toppings, they slide it into a red-hot oven to cook for four minutes.
The pizzas are put together pretty darn well. The crust is somewhere in between the cracker-like Chicago thin crust you get from Oregano's, and a hand-tossed pizza. It holds up to a plethora of toppings, but still has a little give. Sauce is applied with an appropriately restrained hand. Since the pie is fresh out of the oven, the cheese gets the kind of stretch usually reserved for TV commercials.
The first time I went, I threw together a riff on a Hawaiian pizza, adding roasted peppers and jalapeños. I was a bit dismayed that they use canned jalapeños and pineapple instead of fresh-sliced (is there anyone in town that puts fresh pineapple on a pizza?), but it was still delicious to the point that I couldn't stop thinking about what I wanted to make next time. Sure enough, a few days later I found myself back there ordering a buffalo chicken pizza with all manner of accouterments. It was just as enjoyable as my first pie, downright satisfying in a way that few pizzas have been.
While my friend and I were sitting there munching, we found ourselves looking at the menu board dreaming up various combinations. I have a feeling that next time, I'm going to do some kind of pizza bianca. Maybe with bacon on it, just because I can.
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I am amused that the owners' history at Oregano's comes through in two ways. First, they brought frozen Bellinis along for the ride, right down to the shot of red wine Oregano's adds to theirs. Second, they serve pizza cookies, this time given the somewhat cringe-inducing name of Pookie. Naturally, it's just as good as it's ever been at Oregano's, half-baked on top and just starting to crisp on the bottom, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It wasn't broke, they didn't try to fix it, life is good.
While the pizza's pressed crust means they aren't quite in the same league as Humble Pie, they're a huge step up from the mega-chains. I think they've found themselves a sweet spot of a niche; more affordable than sit-down pizza, but better than grease-soaked cardboard pizza from a delivery guy. I certainly see them getting traction with harried white-collar folks on a 30-minute lunch break. My favorite slice joint down the street from my house is still going to see me on a very regular basis, but odds are good that when I want something more than a basic slice, I'm probably going to beat feet down to Fired.