After months in the making, Fireside Pies finally opened its Fort Worth branch in the West 7th complex, in a prime, highly visible location. But even if it were hidden away in an obscure corner, this upscale pizzeria would draw a mob; its pies have a dedicated following.
Since opening its first branch on Henderson Avenue in Dallas in 2004, Fireside Pies has changed how we think about pizza. It takes a seriously gourmand approach to toppings, using the kinds of fresh, chunky ingredients you'd expect to find in a salad, and its crust has enough flavor and personality that it's good enough to eat on its own.
Fort Worth is the fifth branch (the other Tarrant one is in Grapevine), but it's different from the rest. The decor feels more modern, and the menu is bigger. The list of pizzas is longer. There are new appetizers and desserts. And house-made pastas, including ravioli and lasagna, are good enough to give the pizzas a run for their money.
Noodles 'N Meat ($14) had egg noodles with a bolognese sauce whose trio of meats -- pork shoulder, veal shoulder and house-cured pancetta -- were a nice twist on the usual beef. But this pasta was so fantastic, it needed no meat. The noodles were great flowing ribbons, wide in some places and narrow in others. Thin and delicate, they had an irresistible texture: pliable, but soft and tender. You can get these noodles with butter only ($10), and that seems like the way to go.
Probably the biggest news is that the restaurant has altered its trademark pizza crust. The recipe hasn't changed, but there's less dough, which makes a pie that's light and crisp. Though perhaps a mild heartbreak for aficionados who treasured the pleasingly doughy chew of an old-school Fireside pie, it's likely to please the majority who whined that Fireside's crust got too soggy too quickly. Such is progress. On the bright side, the new-style pizzas have less cheese, and that's a good thing, as it makes them less heavy.
Among the new toppings, lamb sausage pizza ($13) was a wonderful surprise, with thin discs of house-made lamb sausage, bell pepper and spicy-hot jalapeño. The outside rim had big air pockets, resulting in patches of browned, cracker-crunchy crust.
A daily special ($15) called the Thirteenth Pie was luxe, combining house-made pancetta with shaved truffle and, in the center of the pie, a sunny-side-up cooked egg. Putting egg on a pizza is a rising foodie trend, and this pie showed why: The egg gave the pie a luscious richness. Next time, we'll ask them to hold the pancetta; its fatty strips were too rubbery.
Among the new starters was fried veggies ($10), a fine trio of green beans, cauliflower and artichoke hearts dipped in batter and fried until crunchy. The vegetables' texture was delectable: cooked until just done so they were still a little firm and flavorful. They came with two dips, spicy marinara and a creamy lemon-infused aioli.
One thing that hasn't changed is the bustling atmosphere. Open for dinner only, the restaurant won't take reservations for small parties, and there's no dining on the patio, guaranteeing an hour-plus wait during key dining times. For many, that's part of the fun, to order a Pimm's No. 1 Punch ($9) or Red Passion Sangria ($9) and settle in for a session of people-watching in a room that's very noisy but not deafening, or to jockey for a seat at the ample bar, where you can watch the battalion of chefs loading up pie after pie.