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Posted on Sun. Feb. 17, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Tasteful digs elevate perfect pizza, brews

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800 Degrees Three Fires

****

Out of a possible five

$$

It may have been the best broccoli I have ever had.

Fire roasted in one of 800 Degrees Three Fires’ wood-burning pizza ovens, this vegetable – one disliked by so many – was paired with a Romesco sauce, grated Pecorino Romano cheese and bread crumbs. The stalks were charred and smoky and the roasted red pepper sauce was spicy with a hint of sweetness from aged sherry, chef/owner Matt Rogers said. It was a perfectly rounded offering from the restaurant’s weekly Chef Menu.

Yes, more than pizzas are being made at this 800 Degrees.

Aside from the broccoli, I had a tasty grilled shrimp with squash, corn, edamame and eggplant and, late in the summer, the hearth was being used to roast sweet corn, which was coated in olive oil and Parmesan and seasoned with black pepper. Rogers said the Chef Menu changes with the seasons and specials vary depending on what he can get his hands on.

During two of my visits, roasted pork entrées were on special, but, alas, I was unable to try them both times because they were in limited quantity and were gone. Rogers hopes to establish set nights for such offerings in the near future and hopes to be able to offer more of them.

The best meat dish I had was a menu staple from the starters section. The meatballs at 800 Degrees Three Fires arrived bubbling from the oven in a little crock covered with olive oil, Parmesan and, oddly enough, crushed almonds. They had the perfect balance of sweet sauce, pungent garlic and basil.

The texture was also perfect – i.e. not too much filler – and they had the right Parmesan-to-bread crumb ratio to give them perfect flavor that would get approval from any Italian grandmother.

The only thing missing was a meatball sandwich or, better yet, a meatball-topped pizza on the menu.

There was nothing else to criticize when it came to the pizzas at this newest 800 Degrees.

If the broccoli wasn’t enough, the Verdure pie made me love a vegetarian pizza, which is something I have never done before. Unless you call a good ol’ cheese or Margherita pie a vegetarian pizza. The Verdure had a creamy white sauce and was topped with roasted red peppers, red onions, zucchini, mushrooms, fennel, tomato, basil and goat cheese and a little chive oil.

The flavor exploded from the fennel and peppers as they caramelized in the wood fire, and the mushrooms added earthy balance. It was like fresh bruschetta in pizza form, which got me thinking, so I asked for a little balsamic to drizzle on it. It made the pizza even better and I plan on having it the same way again soon.

Getting the balsamic wasn’t difficult, but getting Parmesan for my dishes was. There was no Parm – dried or fresh – on the table and none offered with any of the dishes I ordered.

I finally asked for some and my server returned with a grater wanting to know what to add it to and how much. The fresh cheese was fine, but I really wanted a dish of it so I could add it to my liking. So I had to specifically ask for that and the server seemed miffed by the request.

He brought the bowl but did not include a serving spoon or tongs, which was the case with most everything I was served. In spite of specifically telling him my party was splitting a salad we ordered, he did not provide side plates or serving utensils. The broccoli also did not have a serving utensil and both of my pizzas arrived sans spatulas.

I also had to ask twice for larger plates because the plates stacked on the table when I arrived were saucer-sized. They were too small to hold one slice of pizza without it dangling over the edge.

The Rocket pizza was a winner regardless of what kind of plate you put it on. It had classic red sauce, prosciutto, Fontina cheese, garlic and was topped with fresh arugula after being pulled from the oven. The prosciutto was wonderful with that kind of funky cured flavor you expect from good charcuterie, and it was perfectly complemented by the creamy Fontina and the peppery greens.

To wash down your pizza, 800 Degrees Three Fires boasts one of the city’s best beer menus with many unique draft and non-draft offerings. And if you need a sweet ending after all of the wood-fired goodies, try the olive oil cake – a unique, orange-infused pastry paired with fresh berries and real whipped cream. It was dense and moist with a strong citrus aroma and I could actually taste a little of that olive oil.

The restaurant also serves gelato. I suggest the cappuccino chip, which was awesome and blew away the rather mundane pistachio.

The only thing I could not recommend from 800 Degrees Three Fires was the Pasta Carbonara. Rogers said this dish is popular, but it was a mess. The pasta included pancetta, Pecorino Romano, garlic, “yard egg” and Italian parsley, but it barely resembled a carbonara. The pasta I received was bland without a hint of cheese, garlic or really any flavor, and it was too thin and oily. The pancetta was fine, but had no chance in this sauce.

The thing that separates 800 Degrees Three Fires most from its predecessor at Dupont and Lima roads – aside from the other two fires – is its tableside service. This is more than a pizza place, so you expect to be waited on properly instead of having to go to a counter to order or to get your own drinks from a fountain.

The atmosphere is perfect – snazzy, hip and relaxing with a modern-industrial style featuring exposed ductwork, unfinished concrete floors with paint splatters and all, butcher block tables and an attractive earth-tone paint scheme on its high-backed booths.

So with a great setting, great pizza, great beers and some of the greatest broccoli ever, let’s just say I am fired up about returning.

Restaurant: 800 Degrees Three Fires

Address: 5215 Illinois Road, Suite 101

Phone: 416-0005

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Pizza

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Meatballs ($9.50), fire-roasted broccoli ($6.50), Verdure pizza ($12.50), Rocket pizza ($12), olive oil cake ($4.50), gelato ($5.25)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).


Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.


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