Restaurant Review | By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Who would have thought that some of the best pizza making in the country occurs in the state of Connecticut? We’re talking New Haven to be exact, where mozzarella counts as an extra topping that the locals call “mootz” and littleneck clams routinely blanket the famous “white pies.” As for those sporadic black spots bubbling from the edges of their thin crusts, they pack an essential char flavor, captured during high-heat baking.
At URBN Coal Fired Pizza in North Park, the New Haven-style pizzas will leave you with amnesia over the ubiquitous versions from New York and Chicago. Served in irregular shapes on baking pans, their crusts are both crispy and chewy. The red sauce is a sweet, San Marzano-type hailing from a tomato grower in Northern California. Extra-virgin olive oil and dustings of fresh Parmesan cheese complete their classic construction until you start requesting things like mozzarella, ricotta, meats and organics to build them up.
URBN was launched a couple years ago by Connecticut native Jon Mangini as the second venture to BASIC Urban Kitchen in Downtown. He sunk about $1 million into each warehouse property, turning them into airy, stylish haunts replete with interior brick walls, old fire risers and giant ceiling fans. At URBN, he recently installed a middle row of super-comfy booths capable of sending you into a deep relaxed state.
A full bar slings arty cocktails as well as copious craft beers served in growlers or by the glass. It’s a serious booze list that also features European ales and coveted Italian wines.
Visiting with a friend, who is coincidentally from the Constitution State, we readied our appetites with “caprezanella” salad, which was similar to caprese but exceedingly livelier in composition. The summery mound of heirloom tomatoes harbored little balls of wet mozzarella, red onions, chopped cucumber and leafy basil. We ordered it with chicken breast that was cut into medallions, though plainer tasting than the oven-fired wings that followed.
The meaty appendages were superior to Buffalo-style wings, tasting more like rotisserie chicken with crackly, super-tasty skins. The sauce is actually an invisible marinade of olive oil, lemon, garlic, rosemary and Parmesan. The kicker, however, comes in the form of a powder made in-house from roasted Thai chilies and ghost peppers. We fortunately ordered the wings mild, allowing us to apply the heat according to our liking.
“This spice is no joke,” my companion said while reaching for his Goose Island Matilda Belgian ale after applying only a modicum of the substance onto a wing. I was less fearful, adding perhaps a few granules extra before reveling in the burn.
Moving onto the pizzas, we ordered a new breakfast pie mantled with a layer of mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs, opting for fennel sausage instead of bacon. Kudos to the author of this invention, and thumbs up to our waitress, who wisely recommended that we splash it with a little Cholula sauce.
Passing up the somewhat garlicky clam pizza, which we wolfed down easily in a previous visit, the meatball-ricotta pie with vivid red sauce sent us into an ecstatic daze. The pizza rivaled anything I’ve encountered back East or in Italy, tasting similar to great lasagna. The surface is dotted sparingly with creamy globs of ricotta and homemade chunks of savory meatballs, all of it complimented by a scattering of sautéed red onions. When I reheated the leftovers a day later, it grew more terrific.
Toppings come in many choices, although do not be misled by the “small” pizzas, as they span the entire length of their standard-size cookie sheets. Order a large, and you end up with an industrial size monster that dominates your table.
“This place has some of the best bar food I’ve ever eaten,” my companion said as we each lugged doggie boxes that seemingly weighed a few pounds each.
Before exiting, we were told that Mangini just broke ground in a third venture that will be called Gang Kitchen, due to open several months down the road in an old “industry showroom” in the Downtown area. For that, he will be reportedly trying his hands at contemporary Asian cuisine.
URBN Coal Fired Pizza
3085 University Ave. (North Park)
Prices: Appetizers and salads, $4 to $15; pizzas, $9 to $29