I was on a perfectly beautiful summer ride from Bangor, Maine to Weare, N.H., via Route 2 to Gorham, N.H. I’d planned to stop in Gorham for lunch, having been there before and knowing that there were some good places to eat. I actually stopped somewhere else first, but a sign on the door informed me that the place didn’t take credit cards. That had me right back on the bike. But it all worked out, because down the street I spied Mountain Fire Pizza, which lured me with the promise of pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven.
I admit that, when I pulled in, I was a bit nervous at the Sysco truck in the parking lot. It isn’t that Sysco doesn’t serve a purpose, but when I see one at a pizza place I worry that the restaurant is using those dough balls that Sysco peddles, of which I am not a fan. Even if piled with quality sauce, cheese, and toppings, a dreary, mass-produced, food-service dough will just sabotage the recipe. There’s an old saying: “Sex is like pizza: When it’s good, it’s very, very good; but when it’s bad it’s still pretty good.” Fair enough, but with intimate partnerships as well as pizza, I for one prefer a quality experience over a half-hearted one any day.
I took it on faith that no restaurateurs serving wood-fired pizza in a handcrafted oven would make the critical mistake of using junk dough. I soon learned from Todd Ross, who owns the restaurant with his wife Ellen, that my faith was not misplaced. According to Todd, Mountain Fire Pizza does not make its own dough but tried several doughs from various suppliers before settling on a blonde, New York-style gourmet dough from It’ll Be Pizza in Portland, Maine. The results were great.
I wanted to sample as much of Mountain Fire’s toppings as I could, so I ordered a small The Works. This 9-inch pizza came with sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ham, green pepper, red onion, and black olives, along with a blend of provolone and mozzarella cheeses. When it arrived, I was at first disappointed that the toppings weren’t piled on, but to be honest I found the flavor distribution to be a perfect mix, with the toppings balanced so that they didn’t overwhelm the cheese, sauce, and dough. Mountain Fire reportedly uses the freshest available toppings, and when possible they’re locally sourced—the latter always worth extra credit in a nice eatery. The cheese blend was perfect, as was the delicious dough. And the smoky, wood-fired flavor of the whole affair made for a great lunch.
And bonus: Pepsi products, for those of us who want to fuel up on Mountain Dew in the middle of a long day of riding. Well, it matters to me, anyway. Coke products aren’t a deal-breaker, but Pepsi products in a great restaurant just elevates it to another level for me. But I digress.
I also tried strawberry-topped cheesecake for dessert. The glaze fruit topping was good, but the cheesecake itself was stunning. First of all, it was sizable—not a thin sliver as is typical in most restaurants. No, this was a fat wedge of creamy, vanilla heaven with a cinnamon graham-cracker crust like no other. It easily ranked high among the very best cheesecake I’ve ever had. Todd told me that his mother Robin makes the cheesecake, having started with a good recipe and perfecting it until it became the cheesecake wonder that it is. When the menu calls it “Robin’s Incredible Gourmet Homemade Cheesecake,” it isn’t hubris. It’s that good.
But as wonderful as the food was, I was equally enamored with the story. Todd and Ellen met in 1988 and experimented with pizza recipes for years before opening the restaurant in 2011, using a stone wood-fired pizza oven that Todd designed and built. The restaurant’s Web site says the oven runs from 750 to 1,000 degrees, fired with hardwood; when I spoke with the pizza-maker on duty, he said they cranked the fires up hotter when they were busy, and that when the oven ran hot a pizza could be in and out in two minutes.
There are other reasons besides food to enjoy this place—that impressive oven, for one, never mind the beautiful, elegant dining room with its great décor. And the service is top-notch; remember, Todd, who waited on me, co-owns the place with his wife. These aren’t absentee restaurateurs but people who work at and clearly care about their business. But even if all of those things weren’t so, the quality of the food was enough.
Mountain Fire Pizza is definitely a place I’d visit again, and in fact am already looking forward to another trip to Gorham—for the wonderful ride that gets me there from Bangor, Maine, but for the fantastic wood-fired pizza as well.
Mountain Fire Pizza is located at 245 Main Street in Gorham. You can find it online at www.MtFire.biz.