Coals ranks high among the city’s pizzerias

Hold on a minute! Didn’t we just write about pizza last month, with a report on Frascelli’s in Crestwood?

Well, yeah.

And not that long ago, around Christmas, didn’t we review Di Orio’s, a new pizzeria in St. Matthews?

That, too.

I told you that pizza was getting to be the next really big thing.

If the rate of pizzeria openings in the East End continues at current rates, there could be a pizza joint for every family in town by 2031.

That prediction won’t likely come true, but even if it did, I’m prepared to guess that Coals Artisan Pizza will remain near the top of the heap. Its combination of skilled chefs, a coal-fired pizza oven that rages at 1,000F and a classy venue gets it all right.

Coals stylishly fills a sizable space on the promenade section of the Vogue center – as best I can make out, its exposed brick north wall may be the place where the old Vogue’s movie screen used to be. Both a lunch spot and an evening destination for the booming St. Matthews club zone, it boasts the atmosphere of a classy-yet-casual dining room; no mere pizzeria this, you’ll find no checked tablecloths, plastic ivy or wicker-wrapped Chianti bottles here.

Coals, as far as I know, is currently the only place in Louisville using a traditional coal oven, which burns hotter than wood-burning ovens or gas- or electric-fired ovens common in most local pizzerias. (For pizza historians, wood ovens are typical of Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza; coal ovens came about via pizza-making immigrants in New York City.)

Coals’ coal oven – visible through a large window that exposes Chef Mike Hungerford’s kitchen to the dining room – burns 500 to 600 degrees hotter than gas or electric ovens, and the difference shows in a crust that gains sweet, caramelized brown spots that in capable hands stop just short of charring. It takes only moments to finish a pizza in this controlled inferno.

It’s not just the fire that makes that crust special, though: Additional credit goes to management’s and the kitchen’s dedicated efforts to perfect the ideal combination of hard-wheat flours, wet-dough and cold-rise techniques that would do credit to an artisan bread-maker. Indeed, the sandwich breads, even the croutons in the excellent Caesar salad are made in-house. Toppings are organic where possible; meats are naturally grown on local farms, with beef and bacon from Stan and Lelia Gentle’s DreamCatcher Farm in Spencer County.

Pizzas are $12 to $14 for a pie for dinner, $7 or $7.50 for a smaller model at midday, when you can get them in reduced-price combos with soup, salad or a sandwich. Pizza combinations sport the names of local neighborhoods – home folks will enjoy knowing that the St. Matthews pie is a classic Margherita pizza with tomato, cheese and basil. I’ve been impressed with every pizza I’ve tried here, most recently the meatless Bardstown ($8 in a lunch combo with soup) an aromatic mix of sauteed wild mushrooms, onion and garlic dotted with pools of melted white cheeses.

If you’ve got room for dessert, I’m impressed, but I can certainly recommend the creamy, delicately flavored tiramisu ($5.50).

Taking advantage of lunch combos holds costs down – our most recent midday meal came to $20.14, plus a $5 tip; on one memorable occasion, I loaded up with take-out pizzas, salad and tiramisu to share with a group of eight and still got away for not much over $40.

Coals Artisan Pizza
The Vogue Center
3724 Frankfort Ave.