SCRAPPY At Coals, in Port Chester, the simple décor is in contrast to
the wonderful food. Local beers are available.
Photo by Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times
By ALICE GABRIEL
Published: November 16, 2012
The citizens of Port Chester had had enough of wind and weather and were just looking to have a little fun on a Friday night. Though it was November, children in princess and skeleton costumes roamed the sidewalks, enjoying a belated Halloween. And more than a few adults made a beeline for Coals, a scrappy new pizzeria that had thrown open its doors — and its beer taps — after several days in the dark.
Port Chester is the second location for this endearing, somewhat disheveled coal-fired pizza joint, where the excellent pizzas and foaming craft beer exceed all expectations. (The original Coals is in the Bronx.) After taking in the thrift-store décor, we could hardly believe that we were locking forks over a dish of crispy, addictive deep-fried (yes, deep-fried) brussels sprouts, shot through with mustard, strewed with walnuts, sweetened with raisins — and served with style on a quaint leaf-shaped plate. Washed down with deep, dark Barnacle brown ale from the Barrier Brewing Company, these were brussels sprouts to be reckoned with. (On our two recent visits, the Coals staff earnestly promoted beers from Barrier, whose plant in Oceanside, on Long Island, was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.)
“We get busy between 6:30 and 9:30, so if you get here at 6, you’ll be golden,” said a young man who answered the phone when I tried to make a reservation (Coals reserves tables only for groups of six or more). On a Friday night, his trick worked like a dream, but on a subsequent Saturday, we grabbed the very last table at
The décor has a decidedly crazy streak: on the walls are a stuffed buck head, a quite nice paint-by-the-numbers Elvis portrait and an old-timey canvas of a sailing ship on a roiling sea. We loved the paper presidential place mats, with Barack Obama featured under a banner of stars and stripes. Save for a pair of curtains at the front door to ward off cold air, there is not a stitch of upholstery in the place, which makes for a great deal of noise during peak hours.
The Coals trademark is a hand-stretched thin-crusted pizza grilled over a coal fire and served on a pretty plastic oval plate that mimics the colorful, filigreed patterns of Italian pottery. Pizzas have cute names like Must Have and Pure Bliss. The Pure Bliss was a beauty, with its little pools of fresh ricotta and garlicky pesto.
We also liked the Rustic, made with creamy fontinella, fresh mozzarella, Grana Padano, inky roasted mushrooms, truffle oil and garlic; with its blackened edges and tender sponge, it had great balance and complexity, something I never thought I would say about a pizza.
A daily pizza special was a witty combo of asiago, Grana Padano, spicy bresoala, jammy tomatoes, lemon oil and lots of garlic. Two other pizzas stood out for their forward flavors: the Smokey Joe, made with smoked mozzarella, sweet coppa and red onion, and the Dean Martin, topped with big rounds of pepperoni, sharp pecorino and lots of parsley.
The soup of the day, served in chic, wide-rimmed plates, was a strong suit: we liked both the cumin-scented lentil and white-bean chili, and the root-vegetable purée, dappled with scallions and redolent of celery. Salads were built with top-notch greens; the Caesar was a standout, its slender croutons perched on curls of romaine like little surfboards.
We’re glad we stuck around for dessert: the warm chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream bordered on perfection, and a Nutella-and-mascarpone pizza, folded in two and showered with powdered sugar, was rich, gooey bliss.
Coals recommends a style of beer for each menu item — even desserts — and next time I go I might take greater advantage of that, just for fun, as if Coals weren’t fun enough already.
35 North Main Street
THE SPACE Narrow storefront, with low-ceilinged bar and high-ceilinged dining area. Minimal décor, with grunge aesthetic: pressed tin ceiling, bare wood tables, motley assortment of artwork. Noisy, especially near the front door when there are people at the bar and waiting to be seated. Coals is a few blocks from the Capitol Theatre; diners showing their tickets to the theater get $1 off their beers. Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD Young and hungry, but not undiscriminating. Service is friendly, well-informed and efficient under the best of circumstances, but the staff struggles to keep up the pace when the restaurant is crowded.
THE BAR 10 craft beers on tap ($5 to $7) and another dozen in cans and bottles. We liked the Allagash Belgian white ale, from Maine; the Trôegs Dream Weaver wheat ale, from Pennsylvania; and the Barrier Barnacle brown ale, from New York. A flight of four-ounce samples of any four beers on tap is $8. There is a perfunctory wine list.
THE BILL Appetizers and salads, $4 (for mixed olives) to $10 (for spicy grilled wings). Grilled pizzas, $11 to $15. Desserts, $7. Visa, MasterCard and American Express accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Mixed olives, greens with honey-balsamic dressing, arugula with pears and walnuts, Caesar salad, mozzarella with red peppers and arugula, lentil and white bean chili (special), root vegetable soup (special), deep fried brussels sprouts with walnuts and raisins (special), grilled pizzas (Rustic, Dean Martin, Pure Bliss), warm chocolate cake, Nutella-and-mascarpone pizza.
IF YOU GO Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 9 p.m. Street parking is tight; try metered lots on King Street and Willett Avenue, behind North Main Street. Reservations for groups of six or more.