Fireside Pizza (Review)

The former food truck establishes a stationary spot in an old Walnut Hills firehouse

click to enlarge Fireside Pizza's Greek "Pi"
Fireside Pizza's Greek "Pi"

F

ireside Pizza in Walnut Hills is the latest in the ever-growing cadre of food trucks/carts upgrading to brick-and-mortar locations in Cincinnati. Since 2010, Mike Marschman has paraded around town in his distinctive mobile pizza wagon comprised of a miniature version of a brick wood-fired pizza oven on top of a small trailer. When deciding to add a stationary spot to his pizza business, it took Marschman a couple years to find the right permanent location. But he found one in the oldest fire station in Cincinnati. 

Not only is having an actual restaurant good for Pizza Wagon fanatics (since it stays in one place), but also it’s important for the Walnut Hills community, which is currently undergoing revitalization as a new entertainment district.

The brownstone fire station Fireside Pizza now inhabits was originally built in the late 19th century but has been vacant since 1976. Marschman and company (including partner Elias Leisring of Eli’s BBQ) have done extensive renovations on the building, but they have also retained some of its storied past, including a mural from its days as Fire Company No. 16, a fireman’s pole and a picture of William DeHart Hubbard, a Walnut Hills resident and the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual event.

To visit the restaurant, park in the Walnut Hills free public parking lot next door and enter through Fireside’s open and airy garage. A chalkboard at the bar lists the entire menu (convenient if you’re ordering drinks), but they also have a printed food and drink menu to examine.

After making a selection and ordering at the bar, guests receive a record sleeve to demarcate their table. Clever. They gave us Johnny Cash’s At San Quentin.

First, let’s talk drinks. Their cocktail menu features affordable specialty cocktails like a Manhattan, a beermosa, a margarita and a bloody mary (spicy house-made chipotle mix and Smirnoff vodka, garnished with a meat stick, cheese puff and an olive). It was a no brainer to order a bloody ($6) for dinner. The mix was so spicy you could see black pepper specs floating in the red liquid, but the drink had too much ice in it and was just OK. My dining companion ordered a Highland Kashmir IPA on draft ($5), which poured out of an inverted brass fire extinguisher repurposed as a three-pronged beer tap.

Besides their specialty drinks, they also offer an assortment of local and regional beers in cans and bottles, and a shelf full of wine and spirits. For those non-imbibers, they have root beer, soda, ginger ale and juice boxes for the kiddos (this is a family-friendly place). For appetizers, Fireside serves three kinds of salads — a house ($4), Caesar ($5) and seasonal ($6) — but nothing like garlic knots or breadsticks.

Now, about that pizza. Fireside’s pizzas come as a personal 9-inch (about six slices) ranging from $4-$9 and a larger 14-inch for $8-$18. Specialty pizzas have a set price, while custom-made pizzas start at $4 or $8 (based on size) and are an additional $1-$2 for toppings like bacon, anchovies and basil. We both went with $9, 9-inch specialty pizzas: the Pesto Plus (basil pesto, shaved Parmesan and mozzarella) and a Greek “Pi” (olive oil, mozzarella-provolone mix, spinach, red onion, Kalamata olives and feta).

While waiting for our pizzas to singe in the restaurant’s large wood-fired oven, we devoured a spring mix house salad with not-homemade croutons, red onion, tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette (dressing is an extra 50 cents). The salad needed more tomatoes on it but was otherwise typical.

Looking around the 40-seater dining room, we spotted an old-school jukebox that only plays 45s and a cabinet Ms. Pac-man/Galaga game. A table containing paper plates, plasticware and beer coasters sits next to the jukebox, and on the individual tables they have a shaker of red pepper and a bottle of chili oil (no Parmesan, though). For those who don’t mind a little heat, the open kitchen area has a couple seats to watch dough being thrown and pizzas roasting in the oven. (I also noticed a real fire extinguisher hanging in the dining room corner and thought how ironic it would be for a firehouse to catch on fire.)

Our pizzas arrived crispy but not cracker-like. The Pesto Plus tasted oily (not in a bad way) and quite basil-y, more so than most pesto-based pizzas. I thought the pungent basil totally made the pizza, though. Cubed feta and lightly charred spinach pieces topped the Greek pizza, which was also palatable. The only issue with the pizzas was the surplus ash that smeared all over our hands, but I guess that’s why there are paper towel rolls on the table.

The quality of the pizza is on par with A Tavola, except A Tavola doesn’t offer personal pizzas — an advantage for Fireside. And I should feel ashamed we gobbled up all 12 slices and had nothing to take home, but Fireside should take the gluttony as a compliment for their remarkable pizza-making skills.


Go: 773 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills
Phone: 513-751-FIRE
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.

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