Driving along Route 12 through Gales Ferry, you’ll pass landmarks like Ocean State Job Lot and McDonald’s. Now add to that list the Statue of Liberty. Yes, the Statue of Liberty. Not the New York icon, of course, but the patriotically named sandwich at Fireside Brick Oven Creations, which opened last fall—across from Job Lot.
Owner and chef Stephanie Nicholson named the grilled pizzas, sandwiches, and other dishes on her menu after various national parks and attractions.
The Statue of Liberty is a pile of pastrami, caramelized onion, tomato, melted Colby-jack cheese, and Russian dressing—a messy, drippy, Ruebenesque tribute to the Big Apple. I ate mine on flat bread, quarter-sized or small ($8.25), which was plenty large. The bread emerged from the oven smoky and perfectly grilled, an all-around thrill.
We also enjoyed the Muir Woods, a sandwich of eggplant, pesto, onions, garlic, and provolone. We chose the ciabatta-style Fireside bread ($10.95), which likewise was grilled masterfully to create a crunchy crust but a warm and chewy inside. The light touch on the pesto impressed me; some places overdo it with pesto and too much pesto is too much of a good thing. A lighter touch on the garlic would have impressed me too, but it had a clove or two too many. The eggplant tasted superb, each bite practically melting away.
Sandwiches like these could put Gales Ferry on the map, and could make Fireside a place worth stopping at on your next spin down Route 12. You’ll find a dozen more sandwich choices, including a fancied-up ham sandwich called the Mount St. Helens. Each sandwich comes with potato chips, or, for $1.50 more, French fries or pasta salad. My fries were fair, but a little greasy and not worth the $1.50.
Our appetizer sounded promising but disappointed. The Loaded Baked Potato Pop-a-tini featured five fried gnocchi, stuffed with tiny bits of bacon, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chives. Smaller than ping pong balls and tasting rather like fried instant potatoes, these hardly justified the price of $5.95. The Fireside quesadillas, only 30 cents more, might have made a more satisfying choice.
A plate of Donner Pass chicken ($12.95) also failed to excite us. Ordered scampi style (BBQ and buffalo are also available), it tasted dry and essentially like soy sauce. The brown rice and broccoli served with it seemed dry and chewy as well. The dish lacked chemistry, but I got quite a kick out of the name, considering what the real-life Donner Party had to eat.
The brick oven pizzas, on the other hand, more than satisfied us. We tried one red pie and one white. The red, the Sequoia ($12.99 for a 12-inch, $17.99 for an 18-inch), struck me as pleasantly tangy thanks to its light sauce, candy-sweet sundried tomatoes, and deliciously creamy clumps of sharp gorgonzola. Ultra-tender artichoke hearts and eggplant made it a meal.
Better still, however, was the Glacier—basically a loaded baked potato disguised as a pizza, thus giving it the stage that it deserves. Come to think of it, this pizza ($13.99 or $18.99) was what our lackluster appetizer aspired to. Lumps of seasoned potato with bits of red skin were piled thickly upon the crust amid dollops of rich Alfredo, slightly crunchy broccoli, Colby-jack cheese, bacon, and scallions. Best of all, the crust emanated the smokiness of the wood-fired oven.
In both pizzas, the homemade crusts looked perfectly imperfect, somewhat oblong, a bit darker and crispier in some spots, paler and chewier in others, and every bite delicious. The aroma from the twin brick ovens filled the restaurant and clung to my shirt hours after we’d left, rounding out the fun of the experience. It really is encouraging to see a restaurant like Fireside arrive in Gales Ferry.
Fireside Brick Oven Creations
1661 Route 12, Gales Ferry, CT 06335
Cuisine: Wood-fired brick-oven pizzas, sandwiches, and more
Atmosphere & Service: Casual, family-friendly. Wine menu. Twin brick ovens in full view.
Hours: Sunday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers and salads, $3.75 to $8.25; sandwiches $8.25 to $10.95; red and white pizzas $8.99 to $19.99.
Credit Cards: Yes
Handicap access: Yes