Coal-Fired Pizza Showdown (Coal Vines vs. Grimaldi’s)

19 Mar

The DFW area is fortunate enough to be home to 3 out of the 25 coal oven pizzerias outside of Manhattan according to  These include the two Coal Vines locations (Dallas and Southlake) and the recently opened Grimaldi’s in the West Village.  Why is this important?  To pizza purists, the combination of the high temperature of a coal oven and the unique charcoal flavor it imparts on the pizza is a necessity to create true New York style pizza with its crispy crust and doughy interior.  So who in Dallas makes it better?

The local chain (is it a chain since it has two locations?) Coal Vines was founded by a former NYC police officer, Joseph Palladino.  The coal oven is actually a hybrid oven that gets its heat from three different sources.  The Dallas location, with its dramatic floor to ceiling wine shelf on the backwall, was buzzing during this weekday lunch.  The somewhat dim indoor dining area feels like an intimate upscale pizzeria/wine bar while the patio provides a brighter, sunnier space.  My dining companion and I split a large white special ($17).


Ok let’s talk crust.  The pizza’s thin crust was slightly overcooked on this occasion, leaving large charred areas around the edge of the pizza.  Additionally, it seemed that either the heat in the oven was uneven or the pizza crust wasn’t of uniform thickness, as one side of the crust had bubbled up while the other side remained flat.  The crust on the “bubbled up” side was too overcooked to be able to pull off the “fold your pizza slice in half” trick, cracking down the middle with my attempt. 

Tomatoes on the pizza were fresh and juicy.  However, there was far too much ricotta compared to the other cheeses on the pizza, leaving an unpleasantly sweet and almost powdery mouthfeel.  The pizza felt like it actually needed more grease, something that I, a frequent dabber of pizza grease with my napkins, never thought I would say. 

A few weeks later, I visited the recently opened Grimaldi’s for a Saturday lunch.  The chain’s history dates back to an East Harlem pizzeria in 1931.  Rumor has it that Grimaldi’s actually imports tap water from NYC to get the pizza dough to the “right” consistency.  Grimaldi’s, with its red checkerboard tablecloths, has a decidedly more casual and less scene-y feel than Coal Vines.  Abundant windows light up the dining space, which has an open view of the rather majestic brick coal oven.  For the sake of comparison to Coal Vines, I wanted to try a simple white pie.  However, on this occasion, my two dining companions were hungry boys and they demanded meat.  So we ordered something a bit untraditional, a large white with meatballs and sundried tomatoes ($23, large white pizza without extra toppings is $17, comparable to Coal Vines prices).  I was hesitant about adding meatballs to a white pizza, but the waitress insisted that Grimaldi’s meatballs are a must for any pizza.


The crust on this pizza was dead on.  Slightly charred (evenly around the pizza), crispy bottom, doughy middle.  No problem folding the slice in half this time. 

I was afraid that the white pizza would be too dry to hold up to the sundried tomato and meatball toppings (something I’d normally order on a red pizza).  But I was wrong, the oozy hot cheese gave the pizza the moisture it needed.  I suspect that Grimaldi’s well seasoned meatball slices would’ve even better on a red sauce pizza, and I can’t wait to come back to investigate that hunch.

The winner?  Hands down Grimaldi’s.  Chalk it up to the imported tap water at Grimaldi’s or accidental slight overcooking at Coal Vines, but the crust at Grimaldi’s, as compared on these two visits, was just much better.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate Coal Vines.  I thought the pizza was fine when judged against the general quality of pizza in Dallas, but paled in comparison to Grimaldi’s.

Rating: 3 / 5
Coal Vines
2404 Cedar Springs Rd
Dallas, TX 75201

Rating: 4 / 5
Grimaldi’s Coal Brick Oven Pizzeria
3636 McKinney Ave
Dallas, TX 75201

10 Responses to “Coal-Fired Pizza Showdown (Coal Vines vs. Grimaldi’s)”

  1. FatCap 03/19/2008 at 11:51 pm #

    Sounds as if the crust at Coal Vines might not have been properly “spun” in the oven, exposing only one side of the pie to the heat source. This is more likely to happen when harried cooks, in a rush to satisfy a busy dining room, try to cook too many pies at once. They lose track of the pies, which only need to cook a scant few minutes, and a full oven floor inhibits access and leaves little room for manipulation.

  2. MS 03/21/2008 at 9:43 am #

    Great review. I’ve been wondering about Coal Vines as apparently they are opening a location in Bishop Arts District (Replacing Cosmo Rouge).

  3. JEM 03/24/2008 at 1:58 pm #

    Coal Vines pizza was a huge disappointment to me. I might give it another try, but most peolple I’ve talked to have been unimpressed by the pizza. I’m still looking forward to trying Grimaldi’s.
    I do like Fireside Pies and have been there a few times for their pizza – excellent crust, good sauces, and delicious, high quality toppings.

  4. luniz 03/24/2008 at 3:17 pm #

    We ate at Fireside last week and weren’t at all impressed by the crust. Toppings were good but the bottom center wasn’t done nearly enough. I’d like to try Grimaldi’s someday but pizza isn’t a big priority to me.

  5. donnaaries 04/14/2008 at 7:06 am #

    Went back to Grimaldi’s this past weekend and I have discovered a new favorite topping, the spiced crumbled Italian sausage. We had it on our red pizza with olives, a tasty combination. Also tried was a white pie with basil, tomatoes, and oven roasted sweet peppers. Loved the oven roasted sweet peppers but I wanted a few more leaves of basil on the pizza. The crust on all the pizzas we tried was perfectly crisp and thin throughout.

  6. MissterPickles 05/07/2008 at 2:30 pm #

    Grimaldi’s is great! The sauce is perfect and the crust is absolutely wonderful. Can’t wait for the location at Watters Creek to open up.

  7. SimpleXpectations 09/30/2008 at 9:46 pm #

    In today’s world of a crashing economy, we all work hard for our money and want value for our spend. Too bad Coal Vines Southlake does not have servers who work hard for their money or care about the value of customers. At a guest check average of $60 for two, we expected, at least, one table follow-up, a thank you, condiments, refills, or even a “I’m gonna ignore you because I can . . .”

    What a very disappointing experience (on a slow night even). While the food could have saved the experience, the absolute disregard for basic customer service and lack of mgmt. awareness was so extreme that for the first time in years, I did not tip the waiter. I predict that this Southlake newbie will “bite the dust” within a year as customers will not return to spend their hard earned money at an establishment that treats their customers so carelessly. Poor value for your hard-earned money! Go to the neighboring Central Market and buy a gourmet pizza and wine for half the cost and definitely a lot less frustration.


  8. Pizza Lover 11/05/2008 at 11:27 am #

    After reading this review, I tried both places. I chose to try the regular pizza with no toppings at both places so I could do a fair comparison on cooking techniques and quality of products. After eating at both places, my thoughts were opposite to Donna Cooks review. I thought Grimaldi’s pizza was dry and tough. After the first slice, I didn’t enjoy it as much. Coal Vine’s pizza was crispy on the bottom and soft on the top like Coal-Fired Oven Pizza is supposed to be. Coal Vine’s seemed to use fresher ingredients as well. I would give Coal Vines 4-stars and Grimaldi’s 3-stars.

  9. donnaaries 11/05/2008 at 12:17 pm #

    Thanks Pizza Lover for your thoughtful comments. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Coal Vines, looks like a return is in order.

    • Gab S. 02/17/2013 at 5:56 pm #

      Eno’s Pizza in Bishop Arts district, is by far, the best pizza Dallas has to offer, the salads are fabulous.

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