If you grew up eating pizza in Louisville – or for that matter just about anywhere in the U.S. outside, possibly, the urban Northeast – you may be excused for believing that pizza is all about the toppings. Sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, bacon and pineapple and even anchovies, oh, my: Pile ’em high! And don’t forget to dollop on the sweet, sweet tomato sauce and a lake of molten, stringy cheese.
This is certainly the construction of the iconic Louisville pie, the Big Thick made famous by such old-line local temples of pizza as Impellizzeri’s, Clifton’s and Wick’s.
The crust – let’s be frank – is pretty much an afterthought for fanciers of this style of pie. It’s a substrate, an easily-ignored base that serves little purpose other than to hold the contents on, so forgettable that it’s commonplace to see the bready crust edges left discarded on the plate.
But trust me, it’s not like that in Italy, the home of pizza; or at better pizzerias in New York City, where immigrants just off the boat from Southern Italy introduced this great pleasure of fine living to America back in Ellis Island days.
No, pizza as Italians know it, and savvy Americans, too, is about the bread. Turn your thinking upside down and imagine a taste of crusty, chewy, firm Italian bread rolled out paper-thin, then topped with just enough quality ingredients, painted with just enough herbal, tangy tomato sauce, topped with creamy rounds of silken fior di latte Mozzarella, then popped into a searing oven flaming at nearly 1,000 degrees for just long enough to get the toppings sizzling and to blister – never burn – that artisanal bread with sweet flakes of tasty char.
That, my friends, is an Italian pizza as imagined through New York’s original pizzaioli, and it’s the kind of pizza that comes bubbling out of the coal-burning ovens at Coals Artisan Pizza in St. Matthews, going strong after two years in business.
We dropped in to mark the occasion and were thoroughly satisfied with a “St. Matthews” pizza, a classic “Margherita” with the Italian-flag color toppings of red sauce, white cheese and green fresh basil. Coals names all its pizzas after Louisville neighborhoods, which come in one size only and range in price from $12 to $15, the priciest pie being a meat-lovers special called, go figure, the Indian Hills.
An order of coal oven wings ($8.50) were very good, too, seven juicy and flavorful wings roasted, not fried, infused with garlic, rosemary and lemon flavors with piquillo peppers, topped with melted cheese. A cup of black bean chili ($3.75) boasted excellent flavor and tender beans, but it swam in a light broth. I’d prefer my chili chick, but that was a minor nit in a fine meal, which came to $28.36, plus a 20 percent tip.
Coals Artisan Pizza
3730 Frankfort Ave.