Margherita pizza made with fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
Earth Wood & Fire, a new restaurant in the Bare Hills section of Baltimore County, is testament to the wisdom of keeping things simple.
The menu offers a handful of salads, a selection of small plates and a daily special or two. But the partnership at this new restaurant is serious about getting the basics down pat first. The square focus is on hamburgers and coal-fired pizzas. Earth Wood & Fire isn't trying to provide culinary adventures but to be a consistent and reliable everyday dining place.
It's working. On our visit, Earth Wood & Fire was packed with diners, in the loud dining room and at the adjacent bar and outside on the patio. Incoming patrons were waiting in the bar, sampling a good selection of craft beers.
But the emphasis on pizza, and to a lesser extent burgers, is clear. It's also obvious whom Earth Wood & Fire is designed for. It's the tons of families living within a few miles of this new commercial center, which sits right across Falls Road from Princeton Sports
The main dining room, stark and bright, is not any place you'll want to spend a lot of time. It's very loud, and the table arrangement is dull. But the message is clear. Order, eat and go. That might not make for fine dining, but families seem fine with it.
Think of this as a contemporary version of old family pizza joint. The ceilings are higher and the colors are brighter, but Earth Wood & Fire is a Pappy's Pizza for the 21st century. The dough is artisanal, the toppings include things like Serrano ham, roasted garlic and feta cheese. But the big change is in the baking. At its best, coal-firing produces slightly charred thin crust that provides the ideal foundation for sauces and toppings.
Earth Wood & Fire offers pizza in 10-inch and 14-inch sizes. The basics are a sauce made from Italian plum tomatoes, mozzarella and provolone, fresh basil and olive oil. Vegetable toppings are $2 each, meat and cheese toppings are $3. Things can add up quickly, so if you're a topping lover, consider the specialty pies, priced $12-$14 for 10-inch and $15-$17 for 14-inch pizza.
Your choices include the Scampi, a white pizza topped with gulf shrimp and garlic chips; the Meatball, with Earth Wood & Fire's homemade meatballs and ricotta cheese; and the Pugliese, a savory pile-up of pulled chicken, caramelized onions, blue cheese and mozzarella, herbed with fresh oregano. The Pugliese was a good choice, a nice balance of sweet and salty. It would have been even better if the chicken had some of that lovely caramelization that makes the crust so satisfying. Another pizza, one we built ourselves with crisp bacon and roasted garlic was a showcase for the house's fresh tomato sauce and quality cheeses.
Are Earth Wood & Fire's pizzas going to contend with area favorites? They will if they can stay consistent. Good ingredients are the right place to start, and the oven at Earth Wood & Fire is blazing with promise.
The burgers range from the basic $10 Black Angus burger to the ornate — a Great Hills Burger with balsamic caramelized onions, cremini mushrooms and Great Hills Blue Cheese; the Frog and the Redneck, with brie, fried green tomatoes and southern ham; and the Monterey, with avocado, crispy Serrano ham and Monterey Jack.
Burgers can be served on a brioche or on ciabatta, with a choice of sweet potato, crispy or steakhouse fries. The toppings on the Monterey were good, and a little more seasoning would have made an already good burger something special.
There are other options. Small plates give the kitchen a chance to show off and diners a break from the pizza-and-burgers routine. The current lineup includes things like grilled asparagus with shiitake "bacon" and caramelized shallots and a grilled Anaheim pepper stuffed with chicken sausage. Try the roasted sea scallops, which are coal-fired, flavored only with their own juices, a splash of lemon, and a squirt of olive oil, or Nana's meatballs, topped with shaved Parmesan and arugula. Both are smartly considered, satisfying dishes that offer a glimpse into the kind of cuisine Earth Wind & Fire might eventually expand to.
If the weather holds out, try the patio. The aluminum furniture isn't luxurious, but diners seem willing to linger and even have dessert. A brick-oven blueberry cobbler, topped with vanilla ice cream, was something I'd order every time I came.
If I lived nearby, I'd come often.
Earth Wood & Fire
Rating: TWO STARS
Where: 1407 Clarkview Road, Bare Hills
Contact: 410-825-3473, earthwoodfire.com
Open: Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner
Prices: Appetizers, $8-12; entrees, $10-$18
Food: Coal-fired pizzas and burgers, with small plates and soups
Service: Youthful, casual and energetic
Best dishes: Roasted tomato and garlic soup, roasted sea scallops, meatball pizza
Children: Designed for family dining
Parking: Lighted parking lot on premises
Noise level: Will be uncomfortable for some
Patio: Uncovered seating with heating lamps
[Key: Superlative: 5 STARS; Excellent: 4 STARS; Very Good: 3 STARS; Good: 2 STARS; Promising: 1 STAR.]