Despite its fast-casual roots, Firecrust does traditional Neapolitan pizza right
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Americans don’t understand pizza.
There. I said it. And I’m glad I did.
It’s not that we can’t appreciate it. In fact, pizza is so idiosyncratic, in many ways it’s a pointless boondoggle to even write a review of one pizza joint over another. We like what we like, and we don’t have to explain ourselves.
But our debate is all wrong. We argue about the additions and benefits of deep dish over thin crust; we scoff at (or champion) dessert pizzas; we rail against people who hate black olives, and always insist on extra cheese. Thirty years ago, we convinced ourselves that putting pineapple on pizza made it Hawaiian. I’m not sure Hawaiians feel the same way. And I’m sure Italians don’t.
And Italians have virtual veto power over what’s called “pizza.” They invented it. They named it. And what they make in Napoli — or Tuscany or Rome, for that matter — is not exactly what we’re used to here in the states.
Still, stylistically, Firecrust — the Uptown in-and-out pizzeria located in Knox Village — gets it about as traditional as a Neapolitan pizza comes in the fast-casual sector of American dining.
This isn’t artisanal Italian cuisine, of course; but pizza counts as an entire food category on its own. We judge it by softer criteria. Getting in quick is part of the charm, but it shouldn’t boil your tongue; the cheese must be mild but creamy; the ingredients fresh. Get that right, and you’re on your way.
The question is, how closely does Firecrust come to achieving what it sets out to do: Recreate a traditional style for American taste buds? Ben fatto.
There are actually many regulations to creating the Neapolitan classic — the margherita pizza: it can’t be more than about a foot in diameter, and must be hand tossed (and never rolled mechanically, or even with a pin). It has to be thin in the middle, and cooked in a wood-fire oven. And that oven has to be hot — we’re talkin’ 900 F, here — and the cook time, despite what it says on that box of DiGiorno that’s in your freezer, is very, very short: 90 seconds (typically 45 seconds one side, turned, 45 on the other). Any variation and it stops being “real” Neapolitan pizza. Whatever that means.
They’ve got the method down pat at Firecrust, including traditional recipes for the basic margherita, the progenitor of the modern Italian pizza. Made up of the colors of the Italian flag (green basil, white mozzarella, red tomato), it provides the clean, simple freshness that genuine pizzas represent to most aficionados. The mozzarella is fior di latte (cow’s milk, not the more authentic bufala) served in spheroid dollops, not shredded like grass clippings across every corner of the dough. The cheese isn’t meant to obscure the colors of the sauce and herbs, but rather to complement and accentuate them.
Of course, the margherita isn’t the be-all and end-all of pizza (although, Chicagoans’ insistence notwithstanding, you shouldn’t expect something thick and doughy). From that base, however, you can add all of the accoutrement your North American palate has grown to enjoy. One of the pleasures of pizza is that, while there is a traditional style, it’s literally peasant food, originally served to poor people in the way tacos or Yorkshire pudding were, which have taken on their own sensibilities.
Firecrust offers plenty of variations. The Siciliana ($10.75) is loaded with pork (Italian sausage, ham, prosciutto); I enjoyed the saltiness from the fire-roasted pig meat, plus the brininess from the mozzarella. The stark white pizza ($5.75), made without red sauce, is a fine variation, as is the cheese-less marinara ($5.50). The staff is perpetually pleasant
Dessert creations, like the s’mores calzone (a doubled-over pizza oozing sugary goodness), would be unheard of outside American shores, I suspect. But who doesn’t like a little sweet pocket of crust and cream? Tradition is one thing, but creativity is the American way.
Firecrust, 4447 N. Central Expressway. Open daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m. FirecrustPizzeria.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 7, 2015.