Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria
15900 La Cantera Pkwy.
Coal-fired ovens were once the norm in New York and Brooklyn, where Grimaldi’s has packed ’em in at its location under the Brooklyn Bridge for generations. Both the coal-firing and the water are cited by Grimaldi’s as sources of thin-crust goodness. That’s New York City water, y’all, and the chain has installed special, local-water-modifying systems in each of its satellite stores (they’re in pizza-poor areas of Arizona, Nevada, and Texas) in order to get the chemical balance just right. The friend who organized this foray had recently been to the mother ship in Brooklyn. “Their crust is a little better there,” he observed. Maybe the local oven just needs some age on it.
In any case, we admire Grimaldi’s approach: three pizza bases (red, white, and pesto), and three sizes (personal, small, and large). A list of 20 toppings ranges from fresh basil and kalamata olives to meatballs, sausage, and anchovies. Calzones are the only other hot option. But we began, as you should, with salads. These are definitely not the throwaways with packaged dressing that often dutifully accompany pizza.
The small version of Grimaldi’s House Salad is a mountain of good-for-you greens with oven-roasted peppers, mushrooms, Sicilian green olives, and more, all for a modest $5. It will easily serve two enthusiastic eaters. The Mediterranean salad ($7) is equally mountainous, and though it sounded less lush, with its kalamatas, feta, and cucumber we preferred it. The vinaigrettes may have been identical, but the result was crisper and brighter on the latter. No claims of locally sourced product are made (to counter the New York-biased water), but everything was impeccably fresh and appealing. A caprese, a Caesar, and a simple antipasto platter are also available.
For three of us we ordered two small (16-inch) pizzas with differing toppings. (Two personals would have done the trick, but we love next-day pizza …) The small pesto pie starts at $15. We ordered it with oven-roasted red peppers and ricotta atop the mozzarella and basil base. Red, white, and green, it was visually patriotic, Italian-style. And the flavors were good, too, especially once we added salt. The only flaw was a slight sogginess in the center of the otherwise exemplary crust, which we attributed to the moist ricotta.
The small traditional red pizza starts at $13, and with kalamata olives and Italian sausage it was somehow the essence of simple pizzatude. True, the sausage was aggressively seasoned with fennel, but the “famous sauce” was indeed fine, and the kalamatas just briny enough. As for the anticipated eau d’anthracite imparted by the coal (it’s also imported — from Pennsylvania) … nope. Not a whiff.
Grimaldi’s offers cheesecakes, cannoli, and tiramisu, but for dessert, and still in the Italian vein, we headed for Paciugo Gelato & Caffè a few doors down in La Cantera’s newish section. As a hazelnut junkie, I was in heaven: they have three variations on the theme. Pistachio and salted caramel are almost as good.