Flatbread Community Oven 

My trip to Flatbread Community Oven (FCO) began with a short drive to a place I had only heard of--Bown Crossing. I drove down Parkcenter Boulevard, fairly sure that I was headed in the right direction. Then the road got dark and I started to doubt myself. I made a quick call to my editor to double check--she told me to just keep driving and I'd see it.

She was right. At the end of Parkcenter was what seemed like a brand new development that had sprung up overnight (maybe I need to get out more). There were houses, stores and restaurants. I parked right in front of Flatbread and sauntered in. The place was warm, well-lit and clean. There were only five people hanging around and I realized the place would be closing soon. As I walked up to the counter to look at the gelato, I heard a booming voice say, "Hey, Ryan!" I looked over and saw two friends of mine, so I joined them at the table. One of the first things I really liked about Flatbread was the long table right in the middle of the room, functioning as a bar of sorts and inviting strangers to become friends.

My waiter, Alex, soon came over with water and a menu. With a little prodding, he explained the details of Neapolitan pizza; the bottom line is that it originated in Naples, Italy, and it is the stuff of worship. Neapolitan pizza is stone-fired at super high temperatures (around 800° F) and only incorporates certain ingredients. I later learned there is a group called the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the Association of True Neapolitan Pizza), which maintain the rules for the style.

Sitting at the table, I could feel the heat radiating from the oven in the middle of the open kitchen. A sign above it said "Community Oven," reinforcing my feelings that Flatbread really is a gathering place.

I checked the menu. It was packed with gourmet items. I was going to go for simple when one friend suggested I get the same pizza they'd ordered: a meaty mix of maple-fennel sausage, pepperoni, asparagus, mushrooms, FCO formaggio and mozzarella cheese. "Yeah, OK, I'll get what they're having," I asserted. "Can I also get a side salad?"

My salad was out in minutes. Usually I never finish my salad--I want to make sure there's room for pizza, but Flatbread's salad is terrific. It's a delicious combination of leafy greens, pepperoncinis, grated provolone and, at my request, a tangy Caesar dressing. I quickly devoured the satisfying salad wishing it had been bigger, but glad it wasn't when my pizza--a direct, focused, uncompromised creation--showed up. The thin crust lends a textural complexity to the pizza. It's crispy all the way across and charred in a few places--a perfect stage for the delectable ingredients. I savored a few pieces and boxed up the rest to finish at home over a movie. That was my only mistake. Taking a fully cooked pizza--loaded with toppings--home for later consumption comes with the risk of ending up with a soupy mess. Regardless, I ended up eating a few more slices when I got home and finished the rest for breakfast the next morning. Even though it had become a bit oily it was still very satisfying. I later learned that Flatbread makes pizza to go, but they only pre-fire it and you finish cooking it at home--I plan to try that soon.

I dig Flatbread. Everything about my experience exceeded my expectations, though, truth be told, I really didn't know what to expect. I like the concept, I like the food and the price was fair--you could easily spend much more for lesser quality pizza.

--Ryan Peck has never met a tomato he didn't like.

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