Pizza isn't something you'll see very often on this blog. Don't get me wrong. I eat plenty of it. But this is Orange County, not Chicago or New York. Pho, tacos, and ramen we got in spades -- just as good as those served in in Vietnam, Mexico and Japan, some might say. But pizza? So far, what I've found fits into the lowest common denominator. Most are harmless, serviceable at best, but for me, not worth writing about.
That is, until I saw a pizza topped with avocado. And I don't mean layered on top raw and after-the-fact a la California Pizza Kitchen. No, these were baked on the pie itself, along with the cheese and crust.
If you don't find this strange, consider this: The California Avocado Commission -- the marketing organization representing California's avocado growers -- has a recipe for California Avocado Pizza Pie that explicitly instructs the reader to leave out the avocado until the pizza is fully cooked.
When it replaced the quietly fading Hof's Hut nearly two years ago, I barely blinked. Yet another bland, over-priced chain, I thought. Compounding my prejudice was the fact that I've been burned by the likes of it before -- upstart fast-casuals peddling to the overworked with the promise of "home-made food", but serving nothing more than boring barbecue, limp pizza and breadsticks.
Plus, the flyers I got in the mail were too slick and corporate. How could I possibly like the place?
The answer was in front of me: The "Stonefire Favorite" ($13.99), where wedges of California's homegrown fruit were laid out and baked on top of a thin disc of dough along with pesto, mozzarella, feta, red onions, and a garnish of snipped basil -- a creation that out-Wolfgang-Pucks Wolfgang Puck.
The avocado, shriveled slightly from the heat, were intensified versions of its raw self. Still creamy, but now doubly soft, it's the difference between a just-braised pork belly and one sitting at room temperature. An herby-green pesto paste highlighted its deep, bass notes with the shrill, piercing octaves of garlic and basil.
And the skinny crust was just as I liked it, playing to my belief that a pizza crust can't be too thin. If the laws of physics allowed for sauce, mozzarella, and cheese to be baked on a papadum, I'd order it.
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But that wasn't all that pleasantly surprised me at Stonefire Grill. The tri tip and rib combo ($14.99) came with a salad that was refreshing despite using Fritos as croutons, and breadsticks that were nicely crusted with parmesan and garlic.
The meat, served on tin plate, I also liked. The tri tip was tender; the ribs lusciously porky. And both were slathered with a not-too-cloying barbecue glaze and possessed a personally coveted quality of burnt edges, where sauce and meat fuse into charred bits of flavor.
Good, reasonably priced ribs and pizza from a fast-casual -- in Orange County, no less. What next?
Stonefire Grill (949) 777-1177 3966 Barranca Pkwy # A Irvine, CA 92606