CHECKING OUT RUSSOíS COAL-FIRED PIZZERIA, SERIOUS NEW PIZZA PLACE IN RICHARDSON
May 28, 2009
Dallas doesn't yet get credit from outsiders for its buzzy pizza scene, but we who live here know that that past few years have been happy times for fans of good, even great pizza. First Fireside Pies, then Campania, Coal Vines, Olivella's, Cavalli, Grimaldi's, and Rocco's in Fort Worth.
Add to that list Russo's Coal-Fired Pizzeria, an exciting new spot that just opened in Richardson, at the new Eastside "urban village" development right off US 75 and Campbell Road.
Russo's has one of the choicer locations in the development, visible from the freeway as well as from the DART Red Line, which trundles by every 20 minutes. Urban!
Russo's is a Houston-based pizza chain that launched in 1992; in 2008, the company created a Coal-Fired division, of which this Richardson branch is a part. Coal-fired is a selling point because it cooks the pizza very quickly and add lots of character and flavor to the crust.
Russo's uses a Wood Stone Fire Deck oven, which does incorporate coal, though it doesn't rely on it exclusively as a heat source. The oven has no door, said to be a plus for customers who like to watch the progress of the chefs. Note that oven is surrounded by gorgeous tiny irridescent tiles.
Russo's has the same "fast-casual" format as Pei Wei: You place your order at the counter and you get a number suspended on a clip. When your food's ready, it's brought to your table. With the place being so new, the logistics of this process haven't been resolved. One customer left and never received her dessert, which still sat on the counter. Another customer didn't take his number and a server wandered through the restaurant, trying to guess who ordered two salads.
The menu's large: salads and half a dozen appetizers such as spinach-artichoke dip and calamari; flatbreads with toppings; panini sandwiches; pastas; and pizzas, both regular and a thin-crust square version. Toppings run from the "normal" sausage and pepperoni to unexpected items such as feta cheese and fig.
Pizzas come in two sizes: a large, estimated to feed 3-4, and priced from $18.95 to $20.95; and a smaller size, estimated to feed 1-2, and costing $13.95 to $15.95. So it's not cheap.
But perhaps because they are still new and don't have a routine in place, they didn't deliver orders in their entirety simultaneously. However, they did deliver the food when it was hot; and most dishes, whether pizza or pasta, seem designed for sharing. Atmosphere was extremely casual.
Pizzas were excellent, both because of the personality of the crust, and also because of the quality and diversity of the toppings. They do the rare but appreciated topping of a sunny-side egg (called here "edgy" and "on trend"); the only other pizzeria in town that offers pizza with egg is Cavalli.
The egg gets cracked right onto the pizza, cooking along with the crust until it's just set; it's rich and unique. Russo's had a lot of egg, probably 3 to 4 on the small pizza, along with fanned-out slices of prosciutto that were chewy but not "rubbery". The combination was like a clever spin on bacon and eggs. Tomato sauce was ladled on discreetly; theirs has a cheery brightness with a pronounced hit of oregano.
Chicken pesto pizza had chunks of white-meat chicken, fresh spinach leaves, pesto sauce, mozzarella and feta cheese; both pizzas were slightly heavy on the oil.
But the story here was the crust: crackly and dark on the edges, chewy in the transitional area, and extra thin -- too thin? -- in the center. The rims had areas that were nearly burned, which added not just good crunch but also a toasted-popcorn flavor with a yeasty undertone. It gave the pizza an extra component, making the crust a more complex experience than just a slab on which toppings were conveyed.
The same dough is used on their calzones, which looked absurdly huge with their edges falling off the plate. There's one with Canadian bacon and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, and another with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and so on, but you can also just create your own. You get a ramekin of marinara for dipping.
Lobster ravioli was a revelation because it had palpable chunks of lobster inside the pasta pockets. You don't usually expect anything more than a puree of ricotta with a random lobster shred, and so to cut one in half and find an actual piece of claw meat seemed ultra-indulgent. The pasta came with an extremely rich mascarpone cream sauce. A little of this dish went a long way.
Desserts, said one of the employees, are Russo's recipes, made to their specifications, but by someone else. The case was appealing with its slices of Italian cream cake, white and dark chocolate cake, and oversized chocolate chip cookies.
New York cheesecake was tall-and-high with an impeccable fineness. But the cake wasn't as dense as it looked. Cheesecake is such a subjective thing. But the graham cracker crust was notably good, with a good salt-and-sugar grit running through to give the bland cheesecake some pizazz.
Sinatra-esque jazz played in the background, a motif perhaps borrowed from Grimaldi's. The walls were lined with patches of brick including archways that held B&W photos of New York landmarks such as the Chrysler Building. Tables and chairs were functional-grade but there was a pretty red chandelier hanging in one corner of the dining room.
There's lots of good things to say about Russo's. It won the best pizza nod from the Houston Press, it's already drawing customers, and it's bringing high-end pizza to the east side of 75. Bravo.