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800° Wood Fired Pizza and Pub
***
Out of a possible five
$

Short wait, great taste overcome setup flaws

The routine is one you prepare yourself for when you go to your favorite pizzeria – order fast and hope the wait isn’t too long as you sit and suffer through the intoxicating aromas wafting from the kitchen.

You can graze at the salad bar to quell the hunger, and maybe get some breadsticks, but nothing will satisfy the need until the pizza hits the table. One of the newest players in the Fort Wayne pizza scene, 800° Wood Fired Pizza in Northbrook II Shopping Center at Lima and Dupont roads, is trying to change that.

A mouth-watering menu with gourmet ingredients tantalizes the taste buds, but the waiting part is slashed a bit by the super-hot, hardwood-burning, refractory pizza oven that is the centerpiece of this eatery. The oven’s temperature ranges from 800 degrees to 1,100 degrees, and the 12-inch pies – the only size available – are in and out in minutes.

The wait was never an issue for me – the appetizers, salads and pizzas all arrived promptly and the timing of each course was perfect – but the overall setup of the restaurant was a bit bothersome. The atmosphere was clean, modern and very attractive, but the fast food-esque ordering policy was troublesome.

Customers wait for a table to open up and then are asked to order at a register counter before being seated. A number is placed on the table so the servers know what to bring where. Drinks are self-serve from a fountain. This policy makes the experience less relaxing and forces the diners to make decisions they may not want to make right away; how much food and what kind of food to order from a diverse menu, whether to order dessert and how much to tip before that tip has been earned by the servers.

Patrons in the bar area are waited on by servers and they are allowed to run a tab. It can be requested in the regular dining room, I was told, but it is frowned upon.

I did not frown upon any of the pizzas.

The Funghi was my favorite with a succulent mix of fire-roasted shitake, oyster and cremini mushrooms adorning a classic Margherita pizza of tomato sauce, fresh basil, sauce, olive oil and a touch of fleur de sel. The mozzarella cheese was so creamy and delicious on this pie, and it melded perfectly with the meaty, earthy flavor of the mushrooms.

The hand-made crust was also fantastic with its crispy exterior and soft, somewhat chewy interior. It varied in thickness as most hand-tossed pies do, and its level of doneness also contrasted from light brown and just crisp in some areas to black, charred and crunchy in others.

The spicy signature 800° pizza was from the opposite side of the flavor spectrum but just as enjoyable. House-made, red pepper-spiked hot sausage joined roasted orange and red peppers and chili oil on this pizza, which was dotted with creamy ricotta, in addition to mozzarella.

The spices really slapped my taste buds from the first bite, but once I got used to the heat I really enjoyed it. The chili oil and oil coming off the cooked sausage permeated the bottom crust, and it had less cheese, which really let the spices do their thing.

The Salsiccia pizza also had a tasty house-made sausage – this one mild Italian – and fresh garlic, and its best asset was a touch of rosemary that was rather pronounced and calmed the salty, zesty flavor of the sausage.

The Pollo Barbecue pizza was really hurt by its fresh cilantro garnish. The rich free-range, dark-meat chicken and spicy barbecue sauce clashed with the pungent herb, which covered every part of the pizza. It also completely killed any hope I had for tasting the scant amount of goat cheese, which was the main ingredient that caught my eye when I ordered it.

Scraping as much of the cilantro off of a slice – getting it all was impossible – improved it greatly and I would advise asking for it on the side.

The dessert pizzas also had flaws. The chocolate arrived cold instead of warm, melting and gooey like one would hope. The crust was chewy and leathery instead of crisp and doughy like it was on the hot pies, and the chocolate-hazelnut filling was nothing special.

The cinnamon-anise apple pizza was not really a pizza at all and more like bread sticks with apples thrown on top. The apples were wonderfully poached and still a bit firm and the spicy anise and cinnamon were magical, especially when soaked in some of the melted vanilla ice cream. The flavor kept me interested and I really would have liked to have seen how good it could have been if the apples were actually baked into the warm crust instead of thrown on top of it.

The salads were a mixed bag. The Mista, with baby greens, toasted pine nuts, tomato, carrot and cucumber, was vibrant and fresh with some radicchio and arugula included in the greens. Its rice wine vinaigrette added a wonderful zip and the sprinkling of black pepper around the edge of the platter was a nice touch. The pine nuts were the real find in this salad with a hearty, toasty flavor that highlighted every bite.

The Forno salad of roasted vegetables, frisee and manchego cheese was unappetizing to the eye with its pale frisee and muddy looking roasted red onions, mushrooms and orange peppers. It also was not pleasant to the palate as the maple sherry vinaigrette was not sweet enough to alter the bitterness of the frisee.

The garlic bread was a must-have appetizer with its roasted garlic, shaved Parmesan and fresh parsley. The bread was thicker and more bread-like than the pizza crust. It was dripping with olive oil and I found myself dredging the plate with the softest pieces to sop up every tasty morsel of cheese and garlic.

Restaurant: 800° Wood Fired Pizza and Pub

Address: 10020 Lima Road Suite F

Phone: 490-0111

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

Cuisine: Italian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol served: Full bar

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Garlic bread ($4.25), Mista salad ($6.50), Forno salad ($7.50), Salsiccia ($10.75), Funghi ($10.25), 800° ($11.50), pollo barbecue ($10.50), dessert pizza ($6.50)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3 star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (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. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the Web site, and you can hear Ryan every Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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