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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 11:37 am

Burning wood

Lake Pointe Grill has an oven to die for

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Untitled Document Every time I eat at the Lake Pointe Grill, I feel a twinge — and sometimes more than a twinge — of jealousy. It’s not because I want a restaurant that’s been busy since the day it opened. That naïve dream died years ago when I found out just how complex and difficult — and how much sheer hard work — the restaurant business can be. It’s not because I envy the décor. It’s nice, but it would be out of place in my 150-plus-year-old farmhouse. No, what has me turning faintly green around the edges is the Lake Pointe Grill’s wood-fired oven.
It’s not even that I covet the oven. I already have one, though it’s much smaller, intended for home rather than restaurant use. Unfortunately, my wood-fired oven has been lying in pieces on the floor the outbuilding we use for storage for the past 15 years. Because of a long-ago remodeling project that didn’t go as planned, it was never installed.
That’s why I’m envious. When owners Chris Hanken and Vic Lanzotti decided to make a wood-fired oven the centerpiece of their new restaurant, they did it right. Some commercial “wood-fired” ovens are actually gas fired. Sure, they’re easier to use, but they can’t match the unique flavor and high temperatures that wood provides. The Lake Pointe Grill’s oven is a Mugnaini, imported from Italy (see www.mugnaini.com). Hanken and Lanzotti had done their research but never actually used one until theirs was installed. For four months they, along with general manager Jim Coleman and chef Alex Ingram, experimented with the new acquisition until they were satisfied that they’d mastered it. Wood-fired ovens are both one of the most ancient and most contemporary means of cooking. Dome-shaped interiors and heavy insulation produce intense heat: Coleman says the base temperature ranges from 700 to 750 degrees and that the temp goes as high as 900 to 1,000 degrees; in the mornings, even though the fire died the night before, the temperature still hovers around 400 degrees. The Lake Pointe Grill’s oven is fired solely with oak. A small fire is built on one side. It only takes about an hour to bring it up to temperature, after which a log is added every half-hour. The heat’s so intense that few ashes are left. Wood-fired ovens can be used to bake bread, roast meats and vegetables, and braise long-cooked items such as stews. At the Lake Pointe Grill, however, the oven so far has been used exclusively for pizzas and recently, calzones. When I ask Coleman whether they plan to offer more oven items on the menu, he shakes his head. “We’ve talked about it,” he said, “but we’re making so many pizzas, there’s not room for anything else.” The oven holds 12 to 15 pizzas, and Coleman estimates that they’ve served more than 6,000 since the Jan. 3 opening. Lots of care goes into the Lake Pointe Grill’s pizzas. Unlike many of the thin-crust versions that are common here, the crust is an integral part of the pizza rather than just a substrate for toppings. The dough is made fresh daily. Most impressive is that the staff has gone to the trouble and expense of obtaining tipo 00, an Italian flour that’s milled extra fine. Tipo 00 can be hard to find. I finally located a source for tipo 00 pasta flour several years ago, and it made a big difference in the quality of my homemade pasta. The tipo 00 used at the Lake Pointe Grill has a higher protein content specially formulated for yeast doughs; it yields a crust that’s both tender and chewy. Pizzas at the Lake Pointe Grill range from the traditional classic Margherita, incorporating fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, to such innovations as a steak-and-mushroom pie and a spicy Cajun with peppers, shrimp, and andouille.  Until we finally get around to installing our own, I’m glad that the Lake Pointe Grill will be there to give us our wood-fired-oven fix.  

Lake Pointe Grill is located at 1386 Toronto Rd. (217-679-3900). Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fri. & Sat. For more information, go to www.lakepointegrill.com.
Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
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