A Hamburger Today
Somerville, Massachusetts: Flatbread Company
45 Day St., Somerville, MA 01938 (map); 617-776-0552; flatbreadcompany.com
Pizza style: Thin Crust
Oven type: Wood
Notes: Full bar, bowling (lanes $6/hour for up to four people).
Price: 12" pies $8.25-10.25; 18", $13.75-$18.75.
Flatbread Company in Davis Square, Somerville is the most recent outlet of the mini-chain to open in the Boston area (others are located in Bedford, Amesbury, and Martha's Vineyard). This one comes with a twist, though, as it is located in Sacco's Bowl Haven, one of the few remaining old-school candlepin—that's the hard kind with the small balls and narrow cylindrical pins unknown outside eastern New England and Quebec—bowling alleys in the area, and the lanes are still open for business. What could be better than pizza, beer, and bowling? Nothing, of course, so a few weeks ago, I got the team together and we dropped in to Flatbread Company to play a couple of frames and sample some of their pies.
The pizzas at Flatbread Company are cooked in two wood-fired ovens of somewhat unconventional design: two soapstone baking surfaces sit at opposite ends of a squat, elongated oven, with the fire burning in a sunken hollow directly in front of the wide arch. The "earthen" oven walls are made of cob—a mixture of clay, sand, and soil—with stones forming the base and arch.
Given the style of ovens used at Flatbread, the most disappointing aspect of the pies we had was their relative lack of char. Neither the edge crust nor the nether regions of the pizzas had much more than a hint of blackening here and there. The crust had decent spring and the cheese was well-browned, suggesting that the sunken firepit setup makes for more gentle heat than that of single-deck style wood fired ovens, where the pizzas commingle much more intimately with the fire itself. Perhaps Flatbread Company's typical customer doesn't want char on their pies, but to me a pale crust is nothing more than a tragic waste of a perfectly good log.
That said, the crust on these pies was otherwise pretty tasty. (The menu claims that the dough is made from "organically grown wheat that is milled into white flour and the wheat germ restored", a fancy way of saying that they add a bit of wheat germ to their white flour.) The underside was crisp-chewy in the right proportions, and the interior had plenty of tenderness. The flavor of the crust wasn't particularly assertive, but the wheat germ lent it a hint of sweetness.
The cheese & tomato pie we had was topped with a pleasantly saline blend of Parmesan and mozzarella, garlic oil, and dried basil and oregano. The sauce was, despite its somewhat sinister-sounding name ("wood-fired cauldron tomato sauce"), tart and flavorful, but honestly, it was hard to discern the "cauldron" flavor from the bolder notes of the garlic oil and herbs. Other than the asymmetrical manner that Flatbread likes to cut their pies—which leaves too many cornicione-heavy end slices—this New Yorkish thin-crust pie made for a solid offering.
The spinach and roasted red pepper pizza was nice, aside from the fact that the greens had been applied raw to the top of the pie—rather than either under a protective blanket of cheeses or at least precooked to moisten the tender leaves —resulting in significant amounts of unnecessary shriveling.
The menu at Flatbread Company takes pains to point out that many of the ingredients they use on their pies are locally sourced, organic, natural, homemade, or all of the above. For the most part, this means their pizzas are a cut above what you'd find at other joints. The one place this insistence on wholesome, unprocessed components bowled up an outright gutter ball was with the "nitrate-free" pepperoni we had on the other half the spinach pie. Nitrates are bad for you—maybe—but they are known also as nature's candy for good reason: aside from preventing the growth of botulism and other nasty microorganisms in food, they are responsible for giving cured meats a firm texture and a bright pink color. The "pepperoni" at Flatbread, sans nitrates, was a disconcertingly drab, brown-hued paste with the texture of potted meat. Flavor-wise, it bore a passing resemblance to pepperoni, but, frankly, it was hard to get past that texture. (Meat-lovers need not despair entirely, though: the maple-sweetened crumbled sausage we had on a previous visit was tasty and texturally accurate.)
And what of the beer and bowling at Flatbread Company? The list of beers—micro- and macrobrews both—is extensive, and lane rental is a bargain at 6 bucks an hour (for up to four people, shoes included) making Flatbread Company an easy spare even if the pizzas are something of a 7-10 split.