I don’t usually have much reason to visit the town of Franklin New Hampshire, but my wife recently had a business engagement in that strange and sometimes scary little hamlet. In a liquor soaked back corner of my cerebellum I dug out a memory of a mention of wood fired pizza in an unlikely Franklin location. A little research on the intrawebs and sure enough, Wildfire Tavern at 1 Hill Rd. has a Forno Bravo Modena 120 fired up.
I could talk at great length about the atmosphere (a little cold), the service (very friendly and attentive), but as long as I’m not completely physically uncomfortable, the quality of the food and booze are all that really matter to me. And the pizza is good. Graded on the curve I’m willing to give it, the pie I had at Wildfire Tavern was really good.
The beer selection is big but boring, so I started out with a Sam lager. The margherita is my benchmark pie, but I’ve had so many that I’m starting to find them a little ho-hum. I made an effort to spruce up the simple combination of fresh mozzarella, crushed tomatoes and fresh basil just a touch by adding sausage to the large pie we ordered.
What we received was a pizza that defied familiar pizza style rules. The oven isn’t hot enough to produce the blistered crust associated with Neapolitan style pizza. But gazing around the dining room, I suspected that no one there was looking for Denominazione di origine controllata certified pizza. It’s also not a run of the mill New England mom and pop deck oven pizza and it’s certainly, thankfully, nothing like the gummy, leaden, dull, pan cooked Greek pizzeria offerings that seem to dominate this part of the country.
Our pizza arrived with a pleasingly browned, cornmeal dusted crust. The dough was well enough fermented to provide some flavor and it was nicely crisped on the bottom but plenty tender in the strata of the crust that didn’t touch the oven floor. Toppings are a little heavy handed for my taste, but again, I’m guessing there’d be big complaints from the folks who equate value with quantity if they tried to balance the components more perfectly. The sauce is tangy and good, and the cheese was a high quality mix of fresh and low moisture mozzarellas. The menu claims that they’re using mozzarella di bufala but what arrived on our pizza didn’t seem as watery as the buffalo milk mozzarellas I’ve experienced at traditional Neapolitan pizzerias. To be fair, given a head to head blind tasting, I’m not sure that I could tell mozzarella di bufala from fior di latte, though.
So, what it seems I’ve stumbled across is an elevated version of American mom and pop pizza. If you took the average college town pizzeria, replaced the deck oven with a wood burning unit, gave the attention and time to make a decent dough, used only high quality sauce and topping components, and cooked it with great care, you’d have the pizza being served at Widfire Tavern. It’s not my perfect, platonic ideal pizza, but I sure wish it was in my neighborhood.