Ever since VPN-certified Cane Rosso made nation-wide debut on Food Network’s Diners Drive-ins And Dives, many Neapolitan-style pizza joints have opened around the Metroplex. For the uninitiated, “VPN” stands for “Vera Pizza Napoletana”, meaning “Real Neapolitan Pizza”. It’s a certification for restaurants who follow the strict pizza-making standards set by an organization with the same name from Italy, in order to preserve the quality of the century-old craft.
This was exciting! I had been searching for a taste of “Real Neapolitan Pizza” for a long time. Before discovering Cane Rosso, I made some desperate attempts at cooking coal-fired pizza in my own home oven, which produced some tasty meals but not exactly the true experience. With Cane Rosso locations all very far from home, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a coal-fired pizza joint was only 15 minutes away, hidden quietly under the DART rail in Shops at Eastside.
- Price Range: $15 – $25 per person
- Parking: On-premises, 1 hour limit
- Official Website #1
- Official Website #2
Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen has an interesting take on combining the rustic Neapolitan style with the giant, pay-per-slice New York City feel. A humongous 28-inch pizza delivery box hangs above the kitchen, show-casing the restaurant’s 28” Giant Party Pizza offer. Russo’s not only serves a large variety of pizzas but also pasta and Secondo’s (chicken and seafood), so I was pretty excited to check it out.
As soon as we sat down, the waiter served us flat breads and a bowl of garlic pesto olive oil. The flat bread was soft, warm and fresh, and I had to make a note for myself not to over-indulge on the mouth-watering goodness before the main show starts.
While browsing through the Appetizers menu, among the standard items like Caprese salad, meatballs, Calamari, Bruschetta etc., we noticed something new: Coal-Fired Wings. These wings are supposedly baked in the high heat of the pizza oven. Sounds interesting doesn’t it? So we decided to give it a try.
Jumbo wings baked in our coal-fired oven and tossed in our Russo’s signature wing sauce
We were pleased with the size of the wings. These were not the tiny ones from small rotisserie chickens, which many restaurants “recycle” as a menu item to save money. The first bite had a noticeable hard crunch, which was clearly a sign of cooking in high temperature. It was very different from the soft-crispy texture of fried wings. The sauce tasted like the standard Frank’s Red Hot, but with a different type of heat: it gave a slight numbing tingle to my tongue, which resembled the effect of Szechuan pepper corn, but not over the top.
For Primo, we ordered the Mafaldine Carbonara. I actually didn’t expect the pasta to be the real Carbonara because it requires a large quantity of raw eggs, which isn’t a good idea to be served in the States due to potential Salmonella infection. The menu description also indicated that it was made with a Romano cream sauce, so at least it set my expectation right.
Thinly sliced prosciutto di parma, mafaldine pasta, crisp red onions and garlic in a Romano cream sauce.
The pasta wasn’t exactly Mafaldine either, but it didn’t really impact the integrity of the dish, since the twirled tubes did a good job holding on to the sauce. The creaminess of the sauce was spot-on, rich enough without being too heavy or greasy. The prosciutto pieces were not “thinly sliced” as described on the menu, but rather diced and didn’t taste like prosciutto. I suspect it was Canadian bacon instead. Overall the pasta dish was tasty and satisfying, though it would be much more elevated if diced scrap prosciutto was used.
New York Village Pizza
Crumbled Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, beef, mushrooms, black olives, roasted peppers and Wisconsin mozzarell a, with Russo’s pizza sauce.
Prosciutto and Egg Pizza
Prosciutto di Parma, carameliz ed onions, farm-fresh eggs, Wisconsin mozzarell a, with Russo’s pizza sauce, sprinkled with fresh basil.
We ordered two pizzas – the New York Village, which was essentially their version of Supreme, and Prosciutto and Egg. I always paid close attention to the quality of the crust (especially the edges) whenever I tried a restaurant that claimed to serve Neapolitan pizza. Russo’s crust did not have the chewiness of VPN-certified pizzas, but it was light, airy, and most interestingly the “outer shell” of the crust was crispy, a quality I had never tasted before. I was impressed how they achieved this without overloading the crust with oil. Unfortunately the crust was clearly not cooked under the 900-1000 Fahrenheit heat, although the pictures on their website seems to suggest that it was. The pattern and color of the charring spots on the pizzas I got indicated that they were cooked at only around 600-700 Fahrenheit.
On the New York Village pizza, the juices from the toppings caused the center area of the crust to be very soggy. Perhaps it was the result of not letting the pie rest for long enough before slicing. However, the Prosciutto and Egg didn’t have this problem. Overall, the pizzas were delicious and well-seasoned, not overly salty.
This concludes our experience with the food at Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen. Let’s go over some house-keeping topics:
The staff at the restaurant were friendly and attentive. Our food arrived relatively quickly, though the restaurant was only half-full at the time (it was a Saturday evening). Restrooms were decorated, clean and free of odor. Price was a bit on the pricey side, compared to other similar pizza restaurants such as Urban Crust. The $6 sides were in very small portions. My overall recommendation regarding this restaurant: the tasty pizzas and pastas definitely worth a try, but watch out for the prices. Also, if you are looking for a VPN-certified experience, you won’t find it here.