I consider myself a pizza aficionado. From the floppy fold-over slice to the thick Sicilian bubbling with cheese, from the traditional Neapolitan and the fried-egg-topped artisanal, I’ve eaten it all, often with my kids in tow, and a beer (or wine) at the ready. And though there are many places in Westchester that do pizza right, there’s only one that grills pies to a wafer-thin crust making ordering a second (or a third) almost a mandate.
At Coals of Port Chester, every dish has been thoughtfully prepared. The dough, for example, is made with white flour, whole wheat flour and cornmeal, and placed over a gas grill, giving it a distinct taste that’s full of texture and char. The toppings — a crisp mix of well-paired, super-fresh ingredients — pay tribute to the art (and joy!) of true pizza-making.
The one-page menu is simple — one burger and 10 pizzas, available in one size (no slices), with playful names like the “Smokey Joe,” “Dean Martin,” “Marlon,” “Must Have,” and “Pure Bliss.” There are a few salads (mixed greens, Caesar, arugula), and select appetizers like spicy grilled wings and crispy deep fried Brussels sprouts.
But pizza is the main attraction, and worth driving out of your way for. Each pie is hand-stretched, then served, in all its oblong-shaped glory, on a colorful platter similar to one your Nonna would have stocked in her kitchen (should you have been lucky enough to have such an old-school cook in your family).
Each time I’ve been here I’ve ordered the margherita, which comes with fresh mozzarella, tomato, pecorino and basil; it’s a classic that needs to be sampled at least once. My ever-adventurous husband, on the other hand, tries something new each time. Once, it was the “Dean Martin,” topped with fontinella, mozzarella, tomato, pepperoni, and pecorino; another time he went for the “Smokey Joe,” a smorgasbord of fontinella, smoked mozzarella, tomato, pecorino, sweet coppa and red onion. On our most recent visit, we both agreed the “Rustic,” which boasts fontinella, fresh mozzarella, roasted mushrooms, truffle oil, grana padano and garlic, had to be on our must-order list.
Every time the pizza is spot-on: crispy on the bottom (almost like a flatbread, but with more flavor), full of zest and character on top, and so light, you don’t feel guilty when you look across the table at each other and agree on ordering another. We always order one pie for each person — believe me, you’ll want the leftovers — but sharing one for two people is also do-able. The pizzas arrive cut up into one- or two-bite squares, so it’s easy to dig in and sample. Each visit, I’ve been tempted, but have still never tried the vegan: hummus, red onion, spicy olive oil, and arugula. It looks as gorgeous as every other pie the kitchen produces.
While you can count on the food being stellar, the one thing you can’t always count on is the service. I’ll be honest: it can be uneven. Sometimes everything comes spilling out to your table at the same time. Sometimes the order might be staggered. Sometimes you get your server’s attention the first time around. Sometimes it takes a few head turns and arm waves. This depends a lot on when you go. Families with young children tend to take up the early slots, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and couples and groups of friends fill in the later parts of the evening. This is also a busy spot for those either going to or coming from the Capitol Theatre (show your theater ticket and get $1 off your beer). Reservations are only taken for six or more so waiting is to be expected, especially at prime times on busy weekend nights.
Luckily, the well-stocked bar, full of craft beers like Rushing Duck Naysayer Pale Ale, Firestone Walker Wookey Jack, Wachusett Blueberry Ale, Lake Placid Hefeweizen, and Narragansett Lager, is enough to keep thirsty patrons occupied. In fact, beer pairings are so integral to the experience, suggestions are offered on the menu alongside each dish (including dessert). And chocolate fans, it’s worth leaving room for these sweet endings. My 18-year-old daughter is still talking about the Nutella pizza (and wishes I could ship to her at college), and my husband loved the retro combination of the Coals fluffernutter, a gooey mixture of Nutella and mascarpone cheese. It’s one of those “only in America” dishes that even the most sweet-toothed patron will want to divvy up with the table.
Certainly it’s the food that gets your attention, but part of Coals’ charm also lies with its low-key kitschy vibe. Bare-wood tables, a pressed tin ceiling and a minimalist bar fade into the background to make way for a hodgepodge décor that includes paper placemats with photos and birthdates of all the presidents (a great way to pass the time with kids), a paint-by-numbers Elvis portrait, a stuffed buck-head, and a retro looking sign that proclaims, “Beer will change the world.” The design might be a tad unconventional, but who cares when the food’s so delicious and the prices so reasonable? And indeed, as I grab my cardboard box filled with our leftovers, I leave happy, knowing part of tomorrow’s dinner is already taken care of. That is, if it lasts till tomorrow.
By Jeanne Muchnick
If you go …Coals, 35 N. Main St., Port Chester, 914-305-3220; coalspizza.com. Hours: 5- 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday; noon to 3 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Dinner for two (excluding tax, tip, alcohol): $45 Good to know: Free live jazz is offered on select nights; check the website for details. Great for: Cheap Eats, Solo Dining, Take Out, Craft Beer, Kid Friendly, Going Out on Mondays.