WHO’S IN CHARGE Yes, Virginia, there is a “Jack” of Jack’s Coal Fired Pizza in Burlington, but he lives only in spirit. The man firing up the ovens is executive chef Sean McDonald, a veteran of the food industry. He got his start as a teenage pizza delivery boy in Connecticut and he’s loved food ever since.
At Jack’s, he has overseen the installation of the wood-fired and coal-fired ovens, and he can wax poetic over the differences in taste and texture each produces. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts, McDonald has worked for restaurants around the country as well as in New England, including 10 years with Charlie Sarkis’s former Back Bay Restaurant Group.
Jack’s is a brand-new venture by Rebel Restaurants, an affiliate of the Cronin Group, which took over the former Papa Razzi space in Burlington for Jack’s and the Temazcal Tequila Cantina. “Jack” was the name of the father and grandfather of Cronin owner Jon Cronin. Jack was an ironworker in Ireland who immigrated to the United States, and told tales of cooking his lunch in his metal lunchbox by putting it in a coal-fired furnace. Hence the inspiration for the restaurant’s name.
THE LOCALE Emblazoned in bright lights above the well-stocked bar (40 craft and local beers and a range of craft cocktails) is the command: Eat Pizza. You might think that says it all, particularly as the sign draws attention from the plethora of big-screen TVs that ring the main dining room.
There’s a cracking fireplace and the crimson-red leather upholstered chairs are designed for comfort as well as vintage appeal. Jack’s can seat 80, and 56 more on a three-season patio.
ON THE MENU There are items other than pizza, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of comparing coal-fired and wood-fired pies if your group – or your stomach — is large enough. According to McDonald, each oven requires dough that differs slightly in ingredients; the larger coal fire oven reaches a temperature of 1,000 degrees while the wood fire hits between 800 to 900 degrees.
Coal-fire pizzas are larger — 16 inches — compared to the 12-inch wood-fired pies. A standout for our group was the coal-fired Picante pizza ($19), with its slightly charred crust and generous amounts of tomato, mozzarella, pepperoni, and the particularly delectable sausage. What made this pie memorable was its adroit use of spicy banana peppers, which sizzled on the tongue.
The wood-fired Margherita ($14), with its basics of tomato, mozzarella, and basil, was light and crisp, like biting a flavorful flower petal. Very satisfying was the wood-fired Popeye ($15), with feta, fresh spinach, roasted garlic, and olives.
“We want the pizza slices to stand up straight,” McDonald said. Indeed, the crispy slice barely drooped even with the cheesy toppings when we did a test with the Popeye.
Other options include: the white clam, ($20), with béchamel sauce; the Pulpetta ($19) with ricotta cheese and meatballs; the steak and cheese, ($20); and the West Coast, ($16), with fig jam and prosciutto.
You may also mix and match ingredients or choose between wood and coal fired, making the customers “the chef from the dining chair,” McDonald said.
There are also a host of appetizers, and you can wash the meal down with sweet Coal-Fired Peach Lemonade ($11), which features charred lemons and Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
Jack’s Coal Fired Pizza, 2 Wall St., Burlington. 617-272-2600, www.jackscfp.com.