Friday, June 11, 2010
Hose 22, Charlotte
Hose 22 Firehouse Grill opened about a year ago in Charlotte, inside a handsome brick building erected in 1916 to serve as a firehouse. I love going to restaurants in converted spaces like this. Old firehouses, railroad stations, factories - they have a charm and an appeal that can't be duplicated by a shiny new structure, no matter how well appointed and built.
The catch is that sometimes, a place that leans too heavily on its physical space - whether it's the building itself, the view, or simply its location - may not have the food to match. So on seeing that Hose 22 served pizzas, I was eager to visit, but guardedly optimistic.
There are five pizzas on the menu: an alfredo-based white, a Florentine (spinach), Buffalo chicken, barbeque, and a Margherita. As I usually do, I opted for the Margherita, which was described as topped with fresh basil, oven roasted tomatoes, and mozzarella, and finished with a balsamic drizzle.
My pie was served to me on a pizza screen, though the underside bore no screen marks. The crust was very thin, and the slices were floppy at the tips, but crunchy and firm along the outer edges. The underside was baked to a mostly dark brown color, but in several areas, there were folds in the dough, creating lighter-hued crevices on the bottom.
Topside, an even layer of melted, browned mozzarella covered the surface.The oven roasted tomatoes were out of the ordinary, with some of the flavor intensity of sun dried tomatoes, but without the prune-like chewiness that you sometimes get with the sun dried variety. The wilted basil was perhaps the least prominent of the toppings.
What was probably most unusual about this pizza was the use of balsamic vinegar. Like the tomatoes, it seemed to be somewhat concentrated, suggesting that it may have been reduced prior to going on the pizza. It tended to collect into small pools among the cheese and tomatoes, and while its flavor was unmistakable, it was judiciously applied. A little balsamic can go a long way, and this stayed in the background, providing an added dimension of flavor without overwhelming everything else.
Hose 22's menu is on the eclectic side, and ranges from upscale pub grub to ribs, steaks, and lobster tail (the more substantial entrees are available only on the dinner menu). Physically, it's an attractive space, with a small bar facing the patio in front, and booths and tables in the back. Particularly in warm weather, when the big firehouse doors are open, the high ceilings give it an open, airy feel. The walls are decorated with local firefighters' gear, but the effect is not overdone. There's also a downstairs pub, but I didn't check that out. The service was good, attentive without being intrusive.
This was a very unusual take on a Margherita. It had the tomatoes, the cheese and the basil, but the crust was not quite like any I've had before, and the overall flavor was a wild mix of tomatoes, crust, balsamic vinegar, basil, and mozzarella, with a whiff of smokiness to the whole thing. It certainly didn't fit the profile of a classic Margherita, but it was pretty easy to put away this 12" pie singlehandedly. I'll give it a B+.
Hose 22 Firehouse Grill, 56 Stutson St. 621-2200
Tue. - Sat. 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.