I don’t normally do restaurant reviews, but I thought I’d do a quick one for the Coal Fire Pizza in Ellicott City, since it just opened and I was among the first crowd of folks who ate there. (For other reactions see the post at Howchow.) Basically it’s a nice upscale casual place with good pizza and other tasty offerings. It’s a tad expensive if you order a lot (over $70 for three people in our case, without any alcoholic drinks included), but I’d definitely go back.
I’ll start from the beginning: Coal Fire Pizza is in the small retail center that’s part of the Shipley’s Grant development off Route 108 south of Route 100 and west of Snowden River Parkway. The center is quite nice (and previously praised by Wordbones); it’s marred only by being adjacent to the high-voltage power lines that divide the Shipley’s Grant site in half. Coal Fire Pizza itself has a restaurant area and a separate bar (each with its own door, though the areas connect); the decor is nicely done in tones of brown, but a bit bare and corporate for my taste. (It could use some artwork on the walls.)
Though the restaurant was almost full the wait staff were helpful and seemed to be doing pretty well for a restaurant open only two days. We ordered two pizzas (12-inch Margherita and 12-inch with pepperoni, mushroom, and banana peppers), two salads (The Coal Fire and the grilled Caesar), and the Chesapeake mac and cheese:
The Coal Fire salad was romaine lettuce and grape tomatoes with (very thick) bacon and pecans, served with a sweet honey mustard vinaigrette dressing. A very nice salad, with enough bacon to satisfy anyone; I would definitely order this again. However the dressing is laid on a bit thick; I recommend getting it on the side. The salad has artisan bread served on the side instead of croutons; it’s good bread, and a nice touch.
The grilled Caesar is a twist on the normal Caesar salad, made with a single stalk of romaine lettuce that’s grilled a bit. This was less successful to my mind, because it somewhat lacked the crispiness I like in a Caesar salad. However my dining companion loved it, and likened it to a classic wilted salad. (I’ll note though that wilted salads are traditionally made by pouring hot dressing over the salad; in Coal Fire Pizza’s grilled Caesar the salad dressing is cold.) This salad also came with artisan bread on the side.
The Chesapeake Mac & Cheese is a traditional macaroni and cheese with crab meat added, baked a bit with a crumb topping. It’s a great dish for kids who like both macaroni and cheese and crabcakes, and a wonderful guilty pleasure for adults.
The Margherita pizza was a classic pizza recipe (cheese, basil, tomato sauce), done well. The crust was thin but help up well, and nicely browned at the edges (to blackness in a couple of spots).
The other pizza was notable for its sauce. Coal Fire Pizza offers a choice of three sauces, classic (traditional marinara sauce, what’s on the Margherita), spicy, and signature (a mix of the two). For this pizza we ordered the spicy sauce. It was quite spicy, not overly so but perhaps more spicy than most people want on a pizza; in future I’d probably order the signature sauce instead.
As best I can tell Coal Fire Pizza doesn’t serve any desserts; at least none are on the menu, and we weren’t offered any. However you can just walk across the parking lot to a Cold Stone Creamery outlet—a quite popular one, judging by the line stretched outside the door. There’s also a Starbucks if you want coffee, and The Wine Seller (a spinoff from Decanter Fine Wines in the Hickory Ridge Village Center) if you want to do your drinking at home.
All in all we were quite happy with our visit to Coal Fire Pizza, and definitely plan to eat there again. It’s a great place to get good pizza in Howard County, and if you share pizzas with others and go easy on the appetizers it would be a relatively cheap meal. (Though there are definitely appetizers I’d like to try, including the thin-cut fries, onion rings, and baked chicken wings with Vidalia onions.)
One final note: In a sign of both the times and the locale, the Coal Fire Pizza menu goes to great lengths to reassure us that it uses only anthracite, the cleanest type of coal … virtually free of smoke and particulate emissions, extracted almost exclusively from previous disturbed sites, not virgin territory, where the surrounding ecosystem is rescued and revived via a special Federal program. So don’t worry, Howard Countians: it’s not just good pizza, it’s green pizza!