Fireside Pizza, founded by Mike Marschman, started off as a roaming "Pizza Wagon" trailer he hauled to food truck events, Findlay Market and other area farmer's markets. In 2014, Marschman parlayed his success into a brick and mortar location at the old Walnut Hills Fire Co. #16 building on McMillan St., a gutted, 150-year-old firehouse. I remember enjoying a slice from the former wagon, which had a makeshift wood oven attached, way back in the early days, back when the 8451° building downtown was still a parking lot and food trucks would still periodically park there serving lunch.
We stopped by with a group of friends for a makeshift birthday party of sorts, after the man of the hour had chosen Fireside. The interior sports ghostly reminders of the firehouse's history and former glory. Exposed brick reveals an original series of murals --some are busts of former firefighters past, while others are lists of old firehouse locations displayed near a preserved fireman's pole, which disappeared into an opening in the ceiling above. A couple vintage video game machines complete the ambience.
Fireside's menu is blissfully abbreviated: if you don't like pizza, or one of their two salads, then you've come to the wrong place. There are no sandwiches, no other sides. Pizza, my friend. Just pizza. Several local and domestic beers flow from taps and bottled alternatives are available, as well as a full bar. Chicago-style root beer and Coke products round out the fountain drinks.
There are six specialty, wood-fired pizzas available, including a regularly changing seasonal pizza. During our visit, it was the "Meatballer," topped with garlic-Parmesan cream sauce, basil, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, Roma tomatoes, red onion and near golf ball-sized meatballs. Diners can also customize their own pizza using the available meat, cheese, veggie and sauce options. Pizza sizes come as either a 9-inch or a 14-inch.
My girlfriend choose the 9-inch Greek ($9), a sauceless pizza with olive oil, provolone/mozzarella mix, spinach, red onions Kalamata olives and feta cheese. She added artichoke hearts. I selected the Meatballer ($9), while the rest of our group selected variations of the Redlegger (red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, red onion and roasted peppers) and the classic margherita.
Once our orders were placed at the counter, there wasn't much of a wait before the first pies began to roll out. Mine arrived first, and was a glorious pizza to behold, at least when viewed from the top. The crusts at Fireside are blessedly thin and crisp, and my toppings were nicely arranged and very appetizing.
Alas, as I bit into the first piece, I realized that the bottom had been burnt. Not just mildly, but nearly inedibly so. Still, it didn't stop me from powering through half the 9-inch pizza, as I found the meatball and topping combo hearty and delicious. And there was something to be said about eating a pizza with an ash-like, carbon aftertaste in a remodeled firehouse. If the pizza had just been removed from the oven a minute sooner, it would have been perfect.
On the other hand, everyone else in our party was quite pleased with his or her respective pies. So out of six people, Fireside managed to burn the pizza of the lone food blogger of the group. Not very good at Russian Roulette, this restaurant.
But given how much people rave about Fireside, and given my past positive experiences back during the mobile wagon days, I'm going to assume my burnt pizza mishap was an odd anomaly.
For those who enjoy a smoky, relatively thin crust, wood-fired pizza, Fireside remains a solid bet.