Frankstown Wood-Fired Pizza perfects the art of the traditional Italian margherita pie | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Frankstown Wood-Fired Pizza perfects the art of the traditional Italian margherita pie 

Eclectic decorations, inviting smells, and quick service make this Penn Hills spot a winner

click to enlarge Margherita pizza - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
  • CP photo: Jared Wickerham
  • Margherita pizza
On a national scale, Pittsburgh is known for pierogis, pickles, and Primantis. Its pizza scene, not so much. The city can’t contend with the traditional frontrunners such as New York, Chicago, and Detroit. To level with these pizza pros, Pittsburghers had to get creative. Pizzerias took bits and pieces of tradition and invented new, Pittsburgh-unique pies.

Mineo's and Aiello’s adapted the New York-style pie to produce two distinct, feud-fueling styles. Beto's takes a Detroit-style crust for a spin and tops it with un-melted cheese. For pizza-Burg purists, this is a disgrace, but loyalists of Beto's swear by that cold mozzarella.

Frankstown Wood-Fired Pizza takes on a different pizza giant: Italy.

Frankstown Wood-Fired Pizza is located in Penn Hills, atop a hill in a barren parking lot. The building is worn and tiny, not much bigger than a shed. A few tables are scattered outside the front door. I was welcomed by a trash can overflowing with firewood.

Inside, the open kitchen consumes the restaurant. A deli case filled with lasagna, olives, and baked ziti, and crowned with a pyramid of Italian bread, forms a barrier to the massive oven. The restaurant is warmed by the flames, their heat sending aromatic waves of baking bread through the air.

Immediately, I was greeted by a cook. I asked for a recommendation and was advised to choose the margherita, a classic Italian pizza with tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella. I trusted his opinion and ordered the simple pie, sat down in front of the counter, and watched my pizza come to life.

It started with a piece of pre-portioned dough. The cook began to stretch it out, lightly pinching it with the tips of his fingers, leaving a raised edge around the outside. Then he began to toss it. A few throws and it tripled in size.

The base of a margherita is tomato sauce. The folks at Frankstown elevate theirs with whole pieces of tomato. My pizza was finished off with fresh mozzarella, basil straight from the sprig, and sprinkled with salt and oregano. It was nudged into the oven and left in the fire’s hands.

Every movement of the pizza process was well-choreographed, the three cooks weaving in and around each other with ease. Like clockwork, one of the cooks would tend the fire, brushing away ashes and keeping it tame.
click to enlarge Margherita pizza - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
  • CP photo: Jared Wickerham
  • Margherita pizza
My pizza was done after about five minutes. Though Frankstown has a few tables outside, I chose to take my pizza on the road, afraid the skies would rain on my pizza parade. My car filled with the scent of lightly toasted cheese and basil. The scent seduced me, I couldn’t resist taking a bite. Or two.

Often, the drawback of wood-fired pizza is the crust. It’s too crunchy or too thin. Frankstown has developed a dough that stays spongey in the heat, walking the line between thick and thin. The crust bubbles up at the edges and you’re left with flavor from the oregano and salt. It reminded me of my childhood love for Pizza Hut breadsticks, but with a significant upgrade. Obviously.

Frankstown uses a unique tomato sauce for the margherita. It’s thick and blends right in with the melted mozzarella. The pieces of tomato added a sweetness to counteract the light char from the oven. Each bite made my taste buds crave more.

All ingredients were simple and fresh. It’s the way a margherita should be made. The pizza was just big enough for a few leftover slices, my next day’s breakfast (who am I kidding, it didn't live to see the sunrise).


FAVORITE FEATURES

No. 1: Eclectic Decorations
Frankstown’s walls are sparse, but looking around the restaurant, small decorations catch your eye. A few wine bottles sit on top of the oven, a ceramic Italian chef watches over the fire, and a sign reading “wine and dine” looks out over the counter.

No. 2: Quick & Easy
With the oven blazing hot, the pizza cooks almost instantly. Even without calling ahead, I was out with a hot pizza in 15 minutes.

No. 3: Smell Test
The pizza smelled like a campfire. I grew up camping with my family and still love the “essence of campfire.” When I opened the box, I was transported to the weekends I spent making s’mores over a fire. It was heavenly.

Follow staff writer Maggie Weaver on Twitter @magweav
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