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Grimaldi’s coal fired pizza coming Houston

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria is due to open a location in First Colony Mall, which should be the first coal fired pizza oven to the Houston area, by my count. Grimaldi’s has long been one of the top pizza spots in Brooklyn and might be just interesting enough to make me drive down to Sugarland for the first time since the Burning Pear self destructed so spectacularly several years ago. I am an admitted Tornado Burger addict, but that’s not quite Sugarland.


Grimaldi’s has long carried the torch for the coal fired oven movement, making them a favorite target by pizza purists. Only the interstate BBQ wars seem to fan the flames hotter than pizza cooking techniques. On one end, the authenticity-nazi Vera Pizza Napoletana association goes to the extreme of dictating the exact cooking rules and ingridients, certifying only those willing to conform to the traditional definition with German precision. On the other are the irreverent immigrant types that dare to challenge the pizza establishment by tweaking the heat source and introducing illegal toppings.


While the traditional Neapolitan pizza is made in a wood fired oven, New York immigrants that opened some of the earliest pizzerias in the US claim that coal ovens produce a better pie. Coal generates a more intense heat that chars and flavors the crust, while wood fired ovens seem to give more of a balance between the crisp edge and chewy crust. Results can be surprisingly different when the technique is changed in even the slightest way.


In recent years, just to make things interesting, Mario Batali became hell bent on making the pizza at Otto on a griddle, setting off the ultimate heat source flame war in NYC once again. Most of this drama has completely bypassed Houston, where pizza doesn’t quite occupy our Texan psyche as much as smoked mead. Otto may have inspired Marco Wiles to open Dolce Vita, but he uses a wood burning oven and makes a better pizza than Mario Batali, so there isn’t much controversy there. Maybe the opening of Grimaldi’s will set a stage for a good old fashioned food fight in Texas.


Grimaldi’s web site lists a couple of remote outposts, which seem to be operated by franchisees, rather than the original owners. No word on who owns the Houston location or why they are here in the first place. I question the logic of locating a pizza restaurant that holds ingredients and cooking technique in First Colony Mall. Tom Delay may have left town and a few good restaurants are reportedly doing well in Sugarland, but it’s still a suburban wasteland populated by robots that value “value” more than the nuances introduced by a coal fired oven. Still, a similar location recently opened in Dallas and seems to still be open, so it should be worth a try.


February 13, 2008   17 Comments