“I took a wrong turn and I just kept going” (NJPT-’16) Urban Fire

Alternate Titles:
If you’re going to do it – do it right – 100% of the time.
or
Show me your A-Game or shut your doors.

This post is part of my New Jersey Pizza Tour-2016 (NJPT-’16)
The NJPT-’16 is documented in the style of a “choose your own adventure”.

Click here to jump to the beginning of the journey.
Click here to jump back to Trenton Pie @ Papas
Click here to jump to Star Tavern
Click here to jump to Pizzatown USA.

A few hours before I arrived in Madison, NJ, I was in Trenton, NJ seeking a Trenton Tomato Pie.
I researched my way to a list of some great Trenton pies.
But at the first few stops I was met with closed doors.
At the time it frustrated me. Why weren’t they open? I was there; they should be open.
Ultimately fate brought me to the Trenton pizza I needed, but at the time it bothered me that these other shops were closed.

When I arrived in Madison, NJ – Urban Fire’s doors were OPEN.
Great; right?

Well, not really..

After reflecting on my experience in Trenton, and in light of my time in Urban Fire,
I actually commend those presumably great Trenton shops on being closed.
I like to believe they were closed because they knew, at that time of day, on that day of the week, had they opened they wouldn’t have been their best.

I also believe Urban Fire should have been CLOSED when I arrived.
I want to believe that what I got, was not their best. and that’s a problem.

There are allot of folks out there who love this place.
People whose pizza-opinion I respect, all rave about this place.
I know the owner has “mad pizza skills”, and enviable pizza experiences.
I love the owner’s “pizza story”. (part-1, part-2, part-3)
I did my research, I had high expectations.
This place is (supposed to be) great.

But I’m sorry to say guys..
I am not a fan of Urban Fire.

Yes, everybody, and every place has bad days.

But, I’ll say it again….
If you’re going to do it, do it right, 100% of the time.
Show me your A-Game or shut your doors.
I’d rather you disappoint me with a closed sign than you disappoint me with a bad experience.

Here’s what happened.

Urban Fire:

Ironically?, URBAN Fire is located in the absolute definition of “the suburbs” –
Madison, NJ

Madison seems to be a wonderful little NJ town, I could almost feel the history as I strolled down their quaint Main Street on a beautiful sunny day.
A fairly affluent community, I wonder if Madison is kept alive by their beautiful little
Train Station, and the ease of commute into NYC.
urban-fire-train-station
Although it’s a very quaint little town, Urban Fire is hidden in a strip mall at the end of
Main Street, sharing a building with a Chipotle.
Kinda like you would expect from a Blaze Pizza.
Not the best street presence but, whatever….
I walk in, it’s “decorated” almost EXACTLY like Blaze Pizza.
Walk up to the line; ordering is EXACTLY like Blaze Pizza. Assembly-line set-up.
The idea is that you could watch your pizza be assembled.
If you’ve never been to Blaze, it’s like going to Chipotle, or Moe’s, or Subway.
You follow your order down the line, giving instructions over the glass “sneeze-guard”.

Deja Vu?
Deja Vu?

But no one was waiting for me at the start of the line, so I walk past all of that to the register.
“Young dude” at the register takes my order, gives me my paper cup and a bent metal thingy with my number (exactly like the ones they use at Blaze).
I grab my fountain drink from the “zillion-and-one-flavors coke machine”, sit down and wait for my pie.

It’s worth pointing out a few things.
I actually like Blaze Pizza, I think their business model is strong,
I think their environment is successful, I’ve only had wonderful service,
and I appreciate their pizza.
But Blaze is a chain and I go there expecting a certain experience.

Urban Fire is not a chain, I was expecting something else.
AND.. If Urban Fire aspires to be like Blaze, they’re not even there.

I think part of the wood fire experience (as trendy as it is) is watching the creation of your pizza.
Having me sit and wait for my pie was a disappointment.
If the experience of watching the pie”s creation isn’t important to Urban Fire they could just stick that oven in the back room.

Since we’re speaking of the oven..
Urban Fire has a Stefano Ferrara wood fired oven!
This is the “Lamborghini” of Italian pizza ovens.
There are a few Italian ovens currently being shipped to the US; Stefano Ferarra ovens are some of the best imports out there..
I expect as the “wood-fire” trend expands we’ll see even more of these beauties.

The BEAST
The BEAST

Typically these ovens are beautifully clad in custom mosaic tile to match the restaurant’s theme.
As beautiful as they are, they deserve to be at the center of the space.
For some reason Urban Fire chose to clad their SF in flat black steel.
Perhaps it was an aesthetic choice. Or perhaps it was all they could afford.
But, no matter how it’s clad, this is an amazing tool.

So, maybe I wasn’t entirely impressed with the physical shop.
Location, building materials, “decor”, graphics, delivery system, and business model were all less than I expected.
Maybe you don’t think this should be important.
Isn’t it about the PIZZA?
Well, not entirely.
For me, and others like me, it’s also about the experience.
The pizza is certainly way more important than the atmosphere, but..
Sometimes great pizza can make up for a poor environment and conversely,
a really great experience can soften the affects of a less than stellar pie.
For example, My Pizzatown USA visit, later that same day was a perfect example of a great experience, paired with a pie that was just OK – still equals – happy customer.

I know…Blah, Blah, Blah…
HOW WAS THE DAMN PIZZA?

Considering the pie was made by a very unenthusiastic high school student, it was a pretty darned good pie.

The Pie
The Pie

Urban Fire pizza is what i call the “Neo-Neapolitan” style.
This type of pie is well suited for the high temps (900 degrees) of the wood fire.
Typically these pies have a tasty, light, airy crust with a crispy shell.
Toppings are usually very simple, fresh ingredients.
These pies are baked extremely quickly, ideally (I think) toppings should be fresh and bright tasting.

Since i was looking for a great Neapolitan style pie, I ordered a margherita.
I had my pie within minutes, it looked pretty good.
Nice size for one, or maybe lunch for two people.
4 slices to a pie, probably 12″-14″.

I was a little disappointed with the tomato and cheese.
The tomatoes weren’t as bright as I expect, and the mozz wasn’t that great either.

Fortunately, the crust was pretty darn good…
I real good example of this type of pie.
Light and airy, with at times, a cracker-like quality.
Every now and then you get one of these wonderful bubbles of crackery goodness.
The crust had great texture, AND great taste.

Urban Fire - "Ups-n-Downs"
Urban Fire –
“Ups-n-Downs”

You should be aware that the “table-life” on these pies is equal to about as long as it takes to cook them.
They will get cold very quickly and change dramatically.
DO NOT try and take this pie home.

The first 2 slices were acceptable, still warm, crispy, chewy..
Slice #3 was still OK but starting to cool.
Slice #4 hit the trash can.
About 10 minutes after I received my pie it had started to cool and morph.
The cheese gets hard, losing the milky quality, leaving rubbery, flavorless chunks.
The tomatoes and wet cheese have soaked into the dough by now (and gotten cold) so the dough has lost most of its lovely crispy goodness.
This is probably a good pie for two people. You would each get two good slices.
If you needed more I suggest getting back in line and ordering a second pie – AFTER you eat the first.
I would like to think I could ask the “pizza maker” (no Pizzaiolo here today) to stagger the baking of two pies but I don’t think the staff here could have accommodated that request.

Which kinda brings me to why I’ll never go back to Urban Fire.
I found the staff, and their service to be horrible.
Perhaps this was partly a result of my high expectations.
I was expecting to encounter people who shared my love and interest in pizza.
But OK, maybe I had incorrect assumptions and expectations.
I truly wanted to like this place, I really went out of my way to get there.
So after about 10 minutes I realized I needed to “lower-the-bar” or at least alter my expectations.
Back to the Blaze analogy.
Shouldn’t I get service at least as good as one of our local Blaze shops?
Our local Blaze shops are also run by high-schoolers.
Somehow, I always leave there thinking I was appreciated, and cared for, AND got a decent pie.

Except for the few minutes it took to place my order and throw my pie together, the staff seemed to be hiding in the back room.
I wanted to talk about pizza, at a place that was supposed to care, that was part of why I went out of my way.
After I threw away that last slice, I went back to the line to get a better look at that oven.
I do love these things.
So here I was, standing in the line by myself, clearly interested in the oven, actually,
it probably looked like i wanted to order more pizza.
No one came to help me.
I know they saw me through the window from the back room.
I was very close to walking behind the counter and throwing my own pie when (previously mentioned) “DUDE” walked out.
In a kinda rude way, he asked me what I wanted..

I told him I was intrigued by the oven; what could he tell me about it?
BTW, I’ve started this same conversation with MANY people,
I’ve never had it turn like it did.

Pizza people are some of the friendliest,
most helpful people I know.
Pizza people LOVE to talk about their ovens.
ESPECIALLY if it’s a Stefano Ferrara.

But this kid knew nothing, even worse, he didn’t care.
But what really bugs me is that; he didn’t care, that I cared.
He had no interest in dealing with a (still) happy customer.
I was actually trying to get HIM excited about the oven.
I asked about the owner, the shop, the pizza itself.
Nothing…..
He just didn’t care.

I asked about the shroud, I was curious why they didn’t go with the typical mosaic tile.
Before I could stop him, he proceeded to walk over and place his hand on the shroud, presumably to show me the thermal properties (who knows).
He burned his hand pretty badly.

I left Urban Fire feeling like I had been burned too.

If you like Neapolitan style pizza you’ll probably like your first two slices here.
If I lived in Madison I might eat lunch here a few times.

I admit…It was a pretty good pie – for less than 10 bucks!

But Urban Fire isn’t worthy of a pizza-road-trip.

Perhaps if I went when the owner was there my experience would have been different.
Maybe the pizza would have been different too.
Maybe I was expecting too much.
Maybe Urban Fire is just a trendy local pizza joint.
Maybe they’re not part of the larger pizza culture, not worth noting outside of Madison, NJ.
Maybe decent service doesn’t mater when you’re buying a sub-ten-dollar pie.

Maybe my problem is that I actually think decent customer service, and common decency is important everywhere, anytime, regardless of price.

If Urban Fire does want to be considered beyond the fine people of Madison, I offer my previous advice.

If you’re going to do it – do it right – 100% of the time.
If you’re not going to nail it, don’t f**king open your doors

Sorry Urban Fire but it needed to be said.

My apologies to “J-in-A”, The GREAT “P-G”, and all you other UF fans.
Hopefully I didn’t make any pizza-enemies with this post.

Herein endeth my rant (for now).

Go eat some pizza.
-OCtG

p.s.
As I drove out of Madison I went past someplace called “Chianti Brick Oven Trattoria”.
No time to stop but their website has this photo…

Maybe I picked the wrong pizzeria
Maybe I picked the wrong pizzeria in Madison

Reminder:
This post is part of my New Jersey Pizza Tour-2016 (NJPT-’16)
The NJPT-’16 is documented in the style of a “choose your own adventure”.

Click here to jump to the beginning of the journey.
Click here to jump back to Trenton Pie @ Papas
Click here to jump to Star Tavern
Click here to jump to Pizzatown USA.

If you haven’t yet, also check out my OCtG Maanifesto.

1 Comment

  1. Jon in Albany
    December 23, 2016

    No need to apologize to me. I’ve never been but had only heard good things.

    Reply

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