Author Topic: The State of Dallas Pizza  (Read 4608 times)

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Offline pftaylor

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The State of Dallas Pizza
« on: March 09, 2008, 09:19:56 AM »
This past week I was in Dallas just in time for the big storm, a few business meetings, and of course pizza hunting sandwiched in-between. I won't bore you with details of my meetings or how an entire city came to a standstill due to a few flurries, but I will elaborate on my experiences at two high end pizzerias.

The two pizzerias were the original Coal Vines located in downtown Dallas and the newest Campania located in South Lake. Why did I choose those two? Well, I’ve been recommending Coal Vines ever since I ate there a year or two ago and the latest reports weren’t good. So it was time to investigate. The reason for Campania was simple – I felt it had the most to offer in terms of artisanal potential. That said, I was sorely disappointed with their original location and its non wood-fired ovens which hummed along at a cool 600 degrees. But the new location was supposed to have not one but two wood-fired ovens; Italians to teach the crew how to make real Neapolitan pizza, Caputo Pizzeria flour, and well, you get the point. All the rumblings were there for a glorious pizza experience. I’m like a moth to a flame for pizzerias which claim to go above and beyond the norm. I'm also like Attila the Hun when the truth doesn't match.

Before I dive into my review, there is a certain member of this forum I reached out to with an invitation to join me at Coal Vines. I’ll simply refer to this individual as the “Mike Tyson” of pizza – the baddest man on the planet when it comes to pizza.

When I first walked into Coal Vines a year or two ago I was struck by the pizzeria-wine bar concept. Nothing new there but the twist was the two coal fired ovens cranking out stupendous pies with high quality toppings. Compared to the pizzeria-wine bars of California like Mozza, this place was without peer. Come to find out the owner was from the Bronx and wanted to recreate a high-end version of his childhood pizza. With that as a baseline, Mr. Tyson and I entered Coal Vines with high expectations.

Due to weather concerns, Mr. Tyson and I decided to try and hit Coal Vines well before the dinner hour, so the first thing we did upon entering the cozy restaurant was walk directly to the oven area and ask them to throw an extra shovel of coal on the fire. The thinking was the coal fired oven might not be up to optimum operating temperature. Big mistake on our part as we soon found out. No the mistake wasn’t asking for extra coal, but rather in assuming things were still the same.

Being involved with business development most of my adult life, I have come to the following conclusion about sales; professional selling is the second oldest profession, often confused with the first. How does this relate to Coal Vines? Well, when I see evidence of a professional selling effort I can easily spot it. In this case, the Wood Stone Corporation must have the best sales team in the business because they sold a gas fired “Fire Deck” oven to Coal Vines. Now I’m not going to slam my sales brethren for ripping out coal fired ovens and installing a gas fired oven. But I do find it a little like selling ice to an Eskimo. Think about it for a minute. If you were the Sales Executive on the pursuit, you managed to sell a Coal Fired Pizzeria a gas fired oven. Brilliant. I want to hire the sales guy because that is good.

I will point out precisely how this is the single biggest mistake Joe Palladino could have made as the owner of Coal Vines. Joe must not be who he said he was as it relates to coal fired pizza. He has sold out in the spirit of commercialism. The other side of the coin is I suppose if I were a restaurateur like Joe, I might be induced to make the oven tending easier on the oven staff. Who knows, maybe it’s the other way around and Joe approached Wood Stone because we all know a coal fired oven is a problem child when it comes to baking pizza. I’m not finger pointing, but I am hugely disappointed in the direction Coal Vines is now headed as a result of moving to gas. A fair question to ask now is what else may have changed?

Here is the stark truth of the impact of switching from a coal fired oven to the new technology called Fire Deck. The pizza stunk. It was about as bad as chain pizza. To make matters worse, the ingredients and toppings were obviously cheapened at the same time. Mr. Tyson and I ordered a large Margherita with Bufala cheese and what came was yellowish whole milk mutz. The crust was brown with no speckles of charred goodness and it was tasteless to boot. Frankly, I cannot think of a single dimension which rated as good compared to my last visit. Sad to say but Joe is taking the money and running. Maybe the vicissitudes of running a business profitably dictate cutting ingredient cost and labor cost (by making the oven easier to operate with less skilled labor).

The Fire Deck Wood Stone is an interesting general purpose oven. Too bad it is not made specifically for pizza. It is huge inside with a high ceiling and gas burners on either side of the cooking area sporting individual temperature controls. It also has a third burner underneath the cooking surface which is designed to precisely control the baking environment. I’m certain it is easier to operate than the coal fired ovens it replaced and that is probably its biggest appeal for an owner who has ambitions of expanding a hot concept like a pizzeria wine bar. Our Margherita took somewhere around five minutes to bake which seemed somewhat faster than what the digital temperature readout of 600 degrees would indicate. Both Mr. Tyson and I were projecting bake times longer than five minutes for a 600 degree oven.

Upon closer inspection, another disappointment came into play. The “fire deck” seemed to be substantially hotter than the rest of the oven and the oven operator had to use a pan underneath our pizza to keep it from burning. Yeah I know this is a minor point but when one adds up all the intentional steps taken by ownership to cheapen the one thing which put them on the map, I feel compelled to point them out. In the spirit of defending their oven choice, the oven operator did say that they still use a small clump of coal, placed directly in front of the gas burner. On the night we visited, there was no coal in sight because the operator claimed the coal was wet due to the inclement weather. Point is, even if they had a clump of coal in there, it wouldn’t have been the real thing. Technically I suppose Joe can claim he still has coal fired ovens but in practice, he is now like the majority of pizzeria owners whose main focus is the bottom line rather than making the best pizza they can. What a shame. Time will tell if the pizza munching citizens of Dallas continue flocking to his breakthrough restaurant concept now that the very core of his offering is diminished. For me the answer is clearly no. Our ticket was over $60 (before tip) for a couple of glasses of wine for each of us and a lousy Margherita. The only way a concept can hold long term is if there is true value. In the case of Coal Vines, I couldn’t find any. In my next post I will put Campania to the test.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2008, 11:41:10 AM by pftaylor »
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Offline pftaylor

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The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2008, 10:33:46 AM »
Campania
I visited Campania’s newest location in South Lake and came away favorably impressed. The staff was helpful and attentive and the pizza was just shy of great.

As I entered Campania I was warmly greeted and was struck by the contrast to Coal Vines. Coal Vines’ interior is heavily skewed to selling wine and an almost "oh by the way" occasional pizza. Campania has two wood-fired ovens on display and makes no bones about it. Pizza is the star of the show.

I made my way back to the ovens and asked for the owner, Jay. Unfortunately he was not there but Stefano the manager on duty that night was. Stefano was a delightful fellow who hails from Bologna, Italy. Knowing that Bologna is quite far from Naples I was hesitant to press him on his Naples pizza knowledge but he was surprisingly well informed and we immediately respected each other’s pizza knowledge.

I won’t go into too many details about Campania’s dough management process other than to say it involves refrigeration, Caputo Pizzeria flour, and a non fork or diving arm mixer which may not be the optimal way to work with Caputo. But nonetheless, I couldn’t find any serious defects in the Neapolitan style dough. It didn’t have 100% authentic Neapolitan traits but then again, neither did say UPN when I visited it either. The difference was Campania’s Margherita tasted good and was squarely in the style of Neapolitan pizza. Which makes sense since I understood the Italians who helped train Campania’s staff weren’t from Naples. So the pizza is more Italian than Neapolitan. Another unique dimension of Campania's pizzas are the sizes; 14 and 18 inch. Nothing Neapolitan there hence my designation as Neapolitan style.

My Margherita sported a Caputo based crust with a fresh tomato sauce which contained a sprinkling of cheese. It was topped with whole basil leaves and fresh mozzarella. Scrumptous was the word that came to my mind. I couldn't tell if there was any olive oil on top and if there was it was very light.

The wood-fired ovens weren’t Neapolitan low dome models but they were operated at high temperatures. I noticed one fellow with a laser gun testing the ovens to make sure they were at the right temperature. When I see something like that I know ownership cares. I couldn’t tell the manufacturer of the ovens but they had a unique feature of having a grated floor on one side for easy removal of ash.

Stefano was clearly enjoying his role at Campania and after a while he shared with me his other true love for Italian food - pasta. He apparently had a great influence on the menu because he mentioned his Grandmother’s recipe for lasagna being on the menu. When I heard that I just had to try it. Talk about delicious. It was the best I’ve ever eaten. I could go on and on about his Grandmother’s lasagna because it was clearly authentic and superbly prepared.
If you get a chance to go Campania in South Lake, I urge you to try the lasagna. It might be better than the pizza and the pizza was pretty darn good.

The evening was capped with an espresso and a desert which I’m going to try to make at home. It was comprised of a baked 14” pizza skin topped with a generous smear of Nutella with dollops of fresh cream. The warm crust covered in melted Nutella was to die for.

Public Service Announcement: Calorie Warning. You can’t eat one slice of Nutella desert pizza. There, I’ve done my civic duty. You've been properly warned.

All in all I would have to say Campania in South Lake serves the best pizza I have had the pleasure of eating in the Dallas area. The dining experience was superb. The staff was caring and genuine. Cheers to ownership for putting together a great concept where pizza is revered and treated as an artisanal menu item instead of being relegated as a fast food. While there are clearly things they could do to make their Neapolitan style pizza even more authentic, I was completely satisfied and will go back on my next visit.

I also understand there may be other pizzerias which aspire to the same levels of artisan goodness in Dallas. Mr. Tyson and I met a few interesting fellows during our time at Coal Vines and we learned about restaurant 1924. We were going to have lunch there on Friday but alas it was closed. So for now, Campania South Lake is as good as it gets in Dallas.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2008, 11:43:20 AM by pftaylor »
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Offline Peteg

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2008, 10:48:05 AM »
PFT,
That's really too bad about Coal Vine's.  I went there back in October based on your recommendation and was favorably impressed.  I was there at about 6:00 on a Friday night and it was crazy busy.  The pizza at that time was worth the wait.  I guess I'll have to try Campania the next time in TX.  Pete G.

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2008, 11:39:28 AM »
pft,

Do you know if only the Caputo 00 Pizzeria flour was used for the 14" and 18" pizzas? And were you able to see how they formed the dough into skins? I can't recall anyone making 18" sizes with only Caputo Pizzeria flour.

Peter

Offline pftaylor

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The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2008, 11:50:35 AM »
Pete-zza,
I am happy to confirm Campania uses Caputo Pizzeria 00 flour for all it's pizza. The dough balls for the 18" size were pretty big judging by their two-across placement in the Cambro containers I managed to see. Unfortunately, I did not witness how they were stretched. Since the staff were trained by Italians, I would have to venture a guess and say they used a traditional Italian stretching technique.

They also use the Caputo dough for other menu items as well. As an example, they offer a Caprese Panini sandwich where the bread is actually a folded over pizza crust. Very versatile.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2008, 11:56:31 AM by pftaylor »
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Offline pftaylor

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2008, 12:22:34 PM »
I found Campania's website: www.campaniapizza.com

Here are pictures of the fabulous Nutella desert pizza and the Panini. I couldn't find a photograph on their web site which actually looked like the pizza I ate. It appears the pizza on their site may have been baked in the electric oven at their original location.
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Offline pftaylor

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The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2008, 06:42:34 AM »
Word is getting around.

Click on the link to see a video interview with the owner of Campania touring the restaurant:
http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2008/mar/14/campania-pizza-opens-second-branch-southlake-wood-/

Pete-zza,
The video shows, among other things, Campania's ovens and the dough stretching technique employed.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2008, 06:45:35 AM by pftaylor »
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Offline November

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2008, 09:31:36 AM »
Word is getting around.

And that word is "speedo."

Offline David

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2008, 10:02:01 AM »
Was that imported from Idaly also?
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Offline jjerrier2450

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2008, 02:19:50 PM »
Hi Everyone...

I am the "Jay" of Campania Pizza in Southlake.  I had registered for this forum a while ago and lost my login info...thanks for the nice words on our Southlake location.  It is VERY different from our original Dallas location.  I was not involved with that one at all - but we can't have wood-burning ovens at that location because of the residences located above.

Our Southlake location is definitely Neapolitan-style...to appease suburbia you have to have large pizzas apparently.  Our dough is the Neapolitan recipe I learned while training with the VPN guys at Antica in California (Caputo, Water, Sea Salt, Yeast).  The ovens are imported from Italy...no Woodstone!  They are fired only with oak.  They are a bit strange in that they have an off-set firebox (kind of like a smoker) that you feed wood into.  They also have a motor which rotates the deck.  When I am making pizzas, i never rotate the ovens - but the other guys always do.  I am always fighting with the other pizzamakers because they run the ovens too low and use the rotators - but they do work the crush shifts and are knocking out 250 pies on a weekend night. :)

Things are going pretty well and we have been received well with the new location...I think we still have a long way to go.  Consistency is tough with so many variables - but I can promise you that you will never see a gas flame or infrared filament in our ovens.  In fact, our ovens came with a gas assist - but I had the lines stubbed and closed to avoid temptation!!

When we were under construction, I ate at Coal Vines across the street almost every day.  The staff there is very friendly, and the pizza was not bad...more NYC than Naples though.  If you are in Dallas again, anyone, please come see me in Southlake.  My other favorite pizzas in Dallas:  Olivella's  and Cavalli Pizza .  We have the evil chain version of Grimaldi's now and I was very unimpressed with their effort.  Also a place called Pulcinella that I ate at only once - they had just opened and ovens weren't hot enough but San Marzanos and Bufala so I will give it another shot.

I got a new Mac so I have made a few YouTube videos with iMovie. Search Campania Pizza on YouTube and you will find it as I can't post links now.

We have some big news coming in a couple of days so stay tuned.

Now that I found my login info, I will try and stay active on this forum...

Jay


Offline jjerrier2450

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2008, 10:20:05 PM »
An article about us in The Southlake Times:

Enjoy the typos and grammatical errors  :)


***************************************************************************************
True Neapolitan pizza is hard thing to find in Dallas, much less in Southlake, but now with Campania’s 6,000 square foot Southlake location the perfect Italian pie can be found in the backyard.

Campania’s has award winning pizza. In 2006 they were named one of the top ten new restaurants by D Magazine. In 2007 the got the best pizza award by D Magazine and most recently they received an award for Independent Pizzeria of the year for 2008 from Pizza Today Magazine.

“We are happy to be here and we are happy to be getting the recognition we are getting,” Jerrier said. “I want to see more independent restaurants succeed in Dallas.”

Southlake is the second location for Campania. The first location opened in West Village in October 2005 and only had seating for about 12 people. The restaurant in Southlake, which open in February, boast two floors, a roof top deck, and 2 bars, so seating is no longer a problem.

“We make pizza they have been making Naples for hundreds and hundreds of years,” said Jay Jerrier, owner of Campania’s Pizza. “Neopolitan pizza is the original type of pizza.”

The pizza is so authentic that the owner was trained in Naples and and oven and most of the restaurant has been imported from Italy. “Both our ovens are imported from Italy,” Jay said. “We had to take off the front of the restaurant to get them in.”

The ovens aren’t the only thing from Italy. The dough used for the crust is made from double zero flour from Italy and the tomatoes used for the sauce are also imported.

Jerrier said he is able to get these ingredients because he has a good relation with Italian producers.

Pizza started out as a hobby for Jerrier.

“I only like to cook the things I like to eat,” Jerrier said. “I have a wood burning oven in my back yard and for a long time made a lot of really bad pizza.”

Once Jerrier realized his true passion was pizza he set about taking all the steps to make the best Neapolitan pizza ever. Those step including going through a program at Vera Pizza Napoletana in California.

“It’s an organization set up by the Italian pizza makers,” Jerrier said. “They created a governing body to certify the official pizzas in the states.”

According to Jerrier there are only about 20 restaurants in the states that have this seal. Jerrier feels that this is the best way to make good pizza.

He also has a general manager and wine manager that are both from Italy.

“I want to raise the bar for pizza making in Dallas,” Jerrier said.

He credits his success in Southlake to a supportive community and the great luck he has had with staff, but as with any restaurant there is always challenges.

“We have a long way to go before we can consistancy produce the pizza the way I want it,” Jerrier said.

He doesn’t seem to be afraid of the commitment or hard work and wants Dallas to be known for its pizza.

Jerrier hope to open another location when the time is right.

“I only want to add another location if I can make it the right way,” Jerrier said. “I don’t want to cut any corners and I never want to have a gas oven.”

Until that time comes he has taken on a side project. He wants to open a cheese factory in Mexico. He wants to produce a high quality mozzarella and is taken on the task of importing water buffalo from Italy to Mexico to help with this project. He currently operates a small cheese factory in Mexico, but hope to build a bigger one in Guadalajara and produce specialty cheese for boutiques and pizzerias.

Until then Jerrier intends to keep making his two current restaurants the best they can be. The Southlake location is open late and has free delivery to anywhere in Southlake. They also have the ability to cater and host private parties. They have a family friendly environment. Kids eat free on Monday night’s and live music can be found on the rooftop on the weekends.

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #11 on: September 02, 2008, 10:13:19 AM »
An article on Campania Pizza & More recently appeared at Pizza Today at http://pizzatoday.com/features_articles.shtml?article=OTQwNnN1cGVyOTQwM3NlY3JldDk0MTA=.

Peter

Offline nite2332

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #12 on: October 22, 2008, 12:10:30 PM »
I like the nutella pizza at Campania, but the looks of it leave something to be desired.  I ordered from them last night and was greeted by an incompetent girl who couldn't understand English.  Here's the deal, I'm a minority, but for the love of God, don't put someone on the phone that can't take a freakin' order.  Pizza was still good, but they forgot my salad.  To further this topic, because I live in Dallas and want to know what other people think, I think Marco's on Preston and Royal has great pizza, Prego's, the original on Greenville has good pizza.  I like the Patsy's we have, it's not as good as Brooklyn, but it's still pretty good.  Campisi's sucks!  I used to love it when I was a kid, but the ingredients have gone down hill.  iFratelli is a better version of the Campisi's pizza.  Sal's on Wycliff is pretty good, but the sausage tastes like breakfast sausage.  My wife likes Pastazio's, but I have the same problem with the sausage as I do with Sal's.  Scalini's in Lake Wood is good and they have good pasta too.  Olivella's across from SMU is good but they don't deliver and the seating is terrible.  Two places I've never gone to but have heard good things about is Greenville Avenue Pizza Co. and Coal Vines.  I tried to get in one night but I wasn't going to deal with the wait or parking.  The one thing about Dallas is this, we may not have the best pizza but we've got variety.  We have NY style (Patsy's, Sal's), Chicago Deep Dish (Uno, BJ's), Dallas style( Campisi's, Prego's iFratelli, Marco's) and California.  And you'll never have a Dallas style pizza outside of Dallas. 

Offline jjerrier2450

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Re: The State of Dallas Pizza
« Reply #13 on: November 22, 2008, 09:53:36 AM »
So here is my slightly biased take on Dallas pizza...

I agree with the comments above about the service at the Dallas Campania...we just hired a new manager who is making wholesale changes to the front of the house - so we are watching it closely.  The thing I don't like about our Dallas location is that we have to use deck ovens because of the residences above.  They just can't get hot enough to get the most out of the quality ingredients.  You really have to like nutella to like that dessert pizza...and I don't think any pizza in Dallas can survive delivery. 

I try to go to pretty much every pizzeria I can - but avoid the chains.  I've heard good things about Scalini's so will have to check them out.  I won't comment on the ones I don't like as it is not appropriate given my situation - but here are the ones in Dallas that I think are really good:

Cavalli Pizza in Irving...a VPN certified independent that is run by Paul and Clara Cavalli...great people seriously committed to making great pizza.  I stopped in yesterday after I left my own pizzeria to get a bufala margherita!

Coal Vines in Southlake....I ate here almost every day while we were building our restaurant.  It is NY style which is not my preference - but the sausage and cherry pepper pizza is very good.  The people in Southlake are very nice too.

Olivellas in Dallas...near SMU in Highland Park.  Tiny spot and I've never had a problem with the service.  Started by a guy named Charlie Green who brought Salvatore Olivella in from NYC to build the oven and get the pizza right.  They have a great margherita.

Campania in Southlake...this is my place, and when I am making pies I think we are among the best in Dallas (what pizzamaker isn't cocky?)?  wood-burning ovens and we now have a good source for fior di latte - which we now use on all of our pizzas.  no more shredded cheese.  Earlier this week we earned our certification by Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana...now I just have to hammer everyone on consistency.  If you live in Dallas, grab the December issue of D Magazine...we are in there along with Cavalli, Olivella's and a place called Brix in FW.



 

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