All Fired Up
Smoky flavors dominate North Baltimore outlet’s upscale pizza and burgers
Published: September 26, 2012
Artisanal wood-fired pizza has become a popular cuisine in the past decade and it’s a more than welcome trend. Gone are the days when pizza at a restaurant meant canned red sauce, bag mozzarella, and pepperoni, served on a frozen prebaked crust. These were the bad old times when pizza in a respectable restaurant was relegated to the children’s menu and pizzas from any of the local pizza parlors were indistinguishable from one another. The generation that grew up in that dark period in pizza history eventually began to demand a more rustic product with a wider range of sophisticated topping choices. Earth, Wood and Fire (1407 Clarkview Road,  825-3473, earthwoodfire.com), in the Bare Hills area of Baltimore, is trying to cater to that customer.
Located just north of Mount Washington (and with a name that could also suit an all-clarinet Earth, Wind and Fire cover band), Earth, Wood and Fire is trying to create upscale pizza and burgers with the help of two distinct coal ovens. A hardwood charcoal-burning Josper oven for the burgers and small plates and an anthracitic coal-burning ceramic oven for the pizzas impart the smoky flavor that is ubiquitous throughout the food.
The menu is intentionally small. Executive chef Mark Hofmann, formerly of Tark’s Grill and Henry’s Bistro, explained that the management wanted to open with a small menu so they can focus on quality control and build from there. Pizza and burgers take up most of the property on the menu, but salads, desserts, and small plates also have claims staked.
One of the small plates we ordered was the grilled Anaheim pepper stuffed with free-range chicken sausage ($8). Served on a sizzling mini cast-iron baking dish, the starter was true to its name, featuring slightly charred Anaheims stuffed with an overly spicy chicken sausage. The dish could have been helped by a sauce, because the peppers needed a foil for the palate-killing heat. The coal-fired Chicken wings ($9) were some of the best wings we’ve had in a long time. The meaty wings are marinated, dry-rubbed with potlatch seasoning (a Native American spice), seared in the pizza oven, and finished in the Josper oven to crisp up and pick up a few scorched edges. The extra effort makes the difference.
Wine is on tap at Earth, Wood and Fire, and a glass of the Joel Gott cabernet sauvignon ($8) proved that a serviceable wine can be had from a tap. New Belgium’s Shift ($7.75) was a good pale lager to pair with pizza, even though, like the wine, it seemed a bit overpriced.
Reaching temperatures of 1200 F at its hottest, and kept at 600 F on its floor, where the pizza is baked, the anthracite-burning oven creates a signature char that has forced the restaurant to place a disclaimer on the menu stating that the pizzas aren’t burnt, just caramelized from the intense heat. The Pugliese pizza ($14), topped with pulled chicken, caramelized onions, oregano, mozzarella, and bleu cheese, was a fine introduction to what the oven could produce. The singe on the crust complemented the sweetness of the onion and oregano. The chicken was firm yet moist and the bleu cheese added to, rather than overpowered the pie. Nothing on the meatball pizza ($14 for a medium), on the other hand, could be considered a complementary addition. Sliced meatballs and ricotta were added to the sauce, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil. A simple and delicious pizza was made bland by the unseasoned meatball and watery ricotta.
The Josper oven runs between 800 F and 900 F and our server told us we should order our burgers more rare than usual because they’ve been coming out overdone. Whether or not the staff hasn’t worked out the timing on the oven wasn’t explained to us, but the advice worked out. The medium-rare Monterey burger ($13) came out medium. Like the pizza crust, it is enhanced by the char and smoke it picks up from the oven. Avocado, tomato, Serrano ham, and Monterey Jack cheese joined the standard lettuce, onion, and pickle to form a thick stack of toppings on a bulky half-pound Angus burger and, when piled onto a ciabatta roll, made for a slightly unwieldy burger. We should have ordered it on the brioche roll.
Our dessert, the brick-oven blueberry cobbler ($7), was rich and tart and a good way to end a meal (if you have the room). The fresh whipped cream was pleasant but ice cream would have been better.
Earth, Wood and Fire has only been open for about three months, so they are still seasoning the ovens. It will be interesting to see where they are in another three to six months, since they are already headed in the right direction, even if the course is a little bumpy.
Open Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 A.M. to 10 P.M., Sunday Noon to 9 P.M., closed Monday.
> Email John Houser