800 Degrees

800 Degrees
5129 Illinois Rd Ste 101
Fort Wayne, IN46804

With the recent opening (just 6 days prior to our visit) of the 800 Degrees’ South location, the 3 Elles were destined to try the eatery which consistently ranks at the top of Urbanspoon’s suggestions. 

The manager visited us at our table and gave us some “inside information” including the ovens are really the signature “thing” of the restaurant.  It’s too bad that’s really the case because they are definitely not “shown off” or exemplified in any way.  If indeed, they are so special – imported directly from Italy, then why “hide” them, we ask? 

Jake explained that the Napoli crust is hand pulled resulting in a thinner center and thicker crust.  The crust, which is truly perfect, is made from Italian wheat. 

One of the other “tidbits” we were hipped to was that they use local ingredients especially their proteins which come directly from local farms.  We feel this was an extremely important thing to share with customers and definitely makes it worth patronizing this establishment.  (Note to owners:  We really do feel strongly about using local ingredients and think it should be more widely promoted in-house either on the menu which was just an 8.5 X 11 piece of paper, or something more grand like including it in a large sign/mural/or chalkboard).

We selected Bruschetta to begin our Italian journey.  Because of the ovens, the $6.00 starter is uniquely prepared resulting in a beautiful presentation unlike anything else we’ve tried in The Fort.  The edges are oven fired (read that as “burned”) which has some charm visually but slightly less pleasant on the palate.  It’s changed up pizza crust base lacked the PIZAZZ we were expecting and the linear pieces were slightly difficult to eat.  You definitely can’t look cool while trying to balance the toppings on the crusty pillars.

Presented at our table was a rubber gasket sealed bottle of filtered water along with 3 8 oz. glasses.  This embossed self-pour vessel was definitely quaint and added a special touch to what is otherwise just boring water.  It was beautiful and fun.  (Note:  we weren’t told or offered, but saw others ask for larger glasses).  

Adams L and I enjoyed unlimited soda refills!  The service was exceptional and the refills were plentiful and prompt.

Allen L discovered a secret treasure – beer samples.   With her indecisiveness, our server, Lauren, offered her a chance to get 3 samples which, in effect, was cheaper than one normal sized beer.  To keep it all straight, the samples arrived with a coaster with the 3 beers (and their locations) handwritten on it. 

We have really one word to describe the food at 800 Degrees - it’s “FRESH”  like “F.R.E.S.H.” like the freshest thing you’ve ever eaten FRESH!    The salads arrived with a crispness unequaled in FW.  The just picked lettuce and veggies brought amazing enjoyment.  That said, we suggest skipping the salads.  They are overpriced for the ridiculous salad-to-topping ratio. 

Adams L selected the Caprese salad featuring fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil, and balsamic.  It’s light combination of incredibly fresh ingredients was indeed a palate pleaser.  Adams L suggested that either it be prepared with a  bit more oil or served with a side of additional oil.
Allen L opted for the Mista salad which included fresh greens, carrots, cucumbers, fennel, red onion, parmesan, pine nuts, and tomatoes.  It’s heavy-on-the-greens base had delicious, but sparse amounts of the other toppings.  The rice vinegar dressing was exceptional.  Fresh ground parmasean and/or black pepper tableside might have been a nice touch – but none was offered.

I thought I would start things off with a large Caesar salad which had only 4 ingredients . . . 99% romaine lettuce, a handful of pizza crust croutons, 4 cherry tomatoes, and a few grates of parm cheese.  The freshness of this salad cannot be described.  The true disappointment that I paid $8 for a huge bowl of mostly romaine lettuce can be described as a rip off.  I boxed up ¾ of my salad (it was a HUGE salad) for lunch the next day and was completely unimpressed enough to eat it – it was just lettuce!  On a positive note, the scratch Caesar dressing was over-the-top awesome!!!!

With guidance from our server and the manager, we opted for the yin and the yang of their pizzas:  800 Degree pizza and a Verdure Pizza.  Seriously, these 2 pizzas could not be more opposite and luckily Adams L loved the Verdure while Allen L loved the 800 Degree and I loved them both – worked out perfectly!

The 800 Degree pizza is the house specialty pizza including tomatoes, spicy sausage (SPICY!), mozzarella, ricotta, roasted red peppers, chili oil (SPICY!!!!  And fyi – it can be omitted but no one warned us ahead of time), and Italian Parsley.   When it arrived, we all said the same thing – wow, it looks so fresh . . . and definitely homemade .  .  . nothing frozen or nuked here!  It’s uniqueness and POW definitely make for a fun play date with your taste buds. 
For our contrasting option, we selected the Verdure Pizza which presents with a white sauce, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, red onion, zucchini, mushrooms, fennel, tomato, basil, goat cheese, and chive oil.  Want to guess the word we used to describe our first bite?  FRESH!  Unbelievably, deliciously, unequaled freshness!  This veggie pizza was a rainbow of delight on the plate.  It’s colorful presentation left a pot of gold goodness in our mouths.  The balance of flavors including the sweetness of the onion played harmoniously together. 

A couple of general observations about the featured item at 800 Degrees - their pizza.
1.        We think pizza servers should be included . . . awkward and messy to hand serve.
2.       The pizzas were NOT greasy and were bursting with flavor  = fantastic.
3.       The 4” diameter plates it was served with was kind of insulting – bust out the bigger plates.  This isn’t the appetizer course after all. 
4.       Since the pizza is their signature item (at least for now, Jake informed us that they were going to be including fire roasted duck, chicken, and other luxury entrees in the future – by the way, we don’t think that is a good match for the eatery’s niche), we feel that it deserves some special presentation whether that be on a elevated stand or with a charger, but the simple white pie plate is uninspired.
5.       Fresh ground parm tableside was a nice touch – too bad the grinder (she tried 2 of them) didn’t work.

Please understand that we had a perfectly fine time.  This extremely clean restaurant is a must-try if you enjoy pizza, and we understand that with only 6 days under their belt, everything may not be completed.  In the meantime though, the restaurant really needs to decide what it wants to be.  It’s “warehouse” feel including the stainless steel and distressed concrete floors conflicts with its Tuscan café paint scheme.  The concrete “theme” is definitely missing – unless the mixed message is the theme (unlikely).  Here are some examples:
1.        Gourmet pizzas and other menu items presented in plain black font on basic white printer paper.
2.       Handmade tables that are to be admired shoved too closely together to comfortably access.
3.       The juxtaposition of a casual atmosphere including using your hands to serve the pizza with upscale lighting pendants leaves a diner spending more time trying to figure the eatery out and less time really enjoying the food. 
4.       Such pride is had with the use of quality ingredients including imported Italian Wheat and local proteins so put it on display – many restaurants such as Unos and even Penn Station have their cans of ingredients set out as a display.  Consider a display, a mural, or even a large chalk board detailing the interesting aspects of the ingredients.

Lauren was lovely.  She was funny and engaging and helpful.  While not always present, the other servers were more than willing to step in and assist.  Lauren and Jake explained that the key feature to their customer service is that the staff is a TEAM – we definitely noticed how willing to help everyone was.  We have no doubt that you will feel taken care of an your every need attended to.

We enjoyed our food immensely.  We were confused by the undefined environment.  We were pleasantly surprised by the top to bottom freshness of every ingredient.  We feel this eatery is perfect for a mother-daughter shopping day, a co-worker gathering for a pint and slice after work, and possibly a casual date – not so much for a girls’ night out.  This is not an elevated level of fancy cuisine or elegance – despite the gourmet combination of ingredients and some of the décor elements.  It’s definitely worth trying and we all agree we would go back. 

p.s. Love a newly opened restaurant with a sense of humor and willingness to roll with those less than planned things that happened . . . (a sign for "sprinkler" arrived 20 times larger than it was suppose to) . . . we thought it's funny . . . where's the sprinkler?????

p.s.s. The manager asked us to make mention that there is plentiful parking in the back of the restaurant and the eatery has a lovely canopy covered entrance back there as well - so no excuses, go check 'em out!

Until the next bite - 
800 Degrees Three Fires on Urbanspoon