We’ve spent another few weekends in Riverside, which means we found another new (very literally) restaurant to try. Pele’s Wood Fire opened its doors just before the new year, though they were known to the public previously as a catering company and Riverside Arts Market vendor. I was invited to a media dinner around that time, and proceeded to visit twice more on my own to see if they were really cookin’ with grease–or super, super hot ovens, as it were. I was also intrigued by the curiously low ratings on public review forums. I wanted to see if my media food was a fluke (possible), or if other diners’ expectations were just wildly off. Repeated negative-sounding declarations of “This is foodie pizza” (what does that even mean?) had me leaning toward the latter.
Pele’s pizzaiolo makes certified Neapolitan pizzas, which is kind of a big deal when you consider that the certification requires special flour, bufala mozzarella, San Gennaro tomatoes from Italy, and wood fired pizzas cooked in a 1400 degree oven–which means they’re done in only 90 seconds.
My first visit for the media dinner was a fantastic 7-course feast; I practically waddled out afterward. And of course, the battery on my camera died after the second course You can, however, see some great photos and reviews on some other local blogs. We started with some wood oven-baked bread, and you could really taste the smokiness in it. The two dishes I did get shots of were the seafood platter and Limoncello wings (also fired in the ovens):
The chilled seafood platter was excellent and came with local huge shrimp and some plump, briny oysters (I wish I’d had a whole plate of those!). I’ve never been a big fan of lemon-pepper wings, which is the closest thing I can compare these to, but these were great. They are marinated in limoncello so you can taste the tangy liqueur all the way to the bone.
The courses I didn’t get photos of are as follows:
3rd: Chicken Caesar Salad, Arugula & Brie salad – The Caesar had a slight twist–the anchovies were left out of the dressing & distributed throughout the salad so you could adjust the saltiness to your taste. Yum! The arugula & brie salad was something special: Sweetgrass Dairy brie, red pepper, roasted onion vinaigrette, truffle honey, and pistachios. Truffle honey?! Word.
4th: Margherita Pizza, Mushroom Formaggi Pizza – I felt the margherita could have used a little more cheese and a slightly thicker sauce. The crust on both was great–both crisp and chewy with a few spots of char, but I prefer my crust a little thicker (Atlantans, think Varasano’s and not Antico). The mushroom pizza was just…wow. Great flavors in great proportions. I ordered it again on my next visit (see photo below).
5th: Black Pepper Spaghetti Carbonara – Getting full yet? Pele’s housemade pasta was generouslymixed with smoked pork belly, Parmesan, tomato, and an egg yolk cream. The black pepper was actually in the pasta–very cool! I could see the sauce potentially getting gummy as the bowl cools, but we ate it so quickly it didn’t happen.
6th: Coal-fired Manhattan Ribeye – By this time, even though I had been meting out my bites, I could barely manage more than a slice or two of my ribeye. Those who could still eat enjoyed theirs.
7th: Tiramisu, Zeppole, White Chocolate Cheesecake – Dessert! Always more room in the tummy for sweets My hands-down favorite was the white chocolate cheesecake. It was super thick and rich and just plain delicious. I can’t recommend it enough. The tiramisu was a tiramisu; it stayed true to the classic. The zeppole (Italian doughnut holes) were HUGE, and came with an interesting variety of dipping sauces–hazelnut-chocolate, orange sea salt caramel (favorite!), and lemon custard.
Phew! As previously stated, following this huge meal I rolled out the door and immediately went to sleep upon returning home
My next two visits were for dinner and lunch; during the former we tried pizzas (pepperoni and mushroom formaggi), and at the latter Mario had the previously pictured limoncello wings while I tried a half-order of the roast prime rib sandwich & Tuscan tomato soup:
My sandwich had its highs and lows. The bread was good and I LOVE peppadews (the contents of that cute glass jar) and the spicy/sweet crunch they gave the sandwich. However, I thought that it was a little too saucy and that they skimped on the meat (or it was all piled in one place, which is still a no-no). Mario happens to try to convince me to let him grill chicken wings at least once a week, so the limoncello wings were a hit with him.
Overall, I like Pele’s Wood Fire. They have both an impressive selection of local beers on tap and an impressive espresso machine for their morning coffee and pastry service (or after-dinner coffee). The pizza prices are really no higher than, say, local chain Al’s or Mellow Mushroom, and Pele’s is far better. The space can get loud at night, and I think they need to find some balance in the communal bar/high-top table area–diners don’t necessarily want loud bar patrons at their backs. Pele’s is a great unique addition to Jacksonville.