DALLAS MORNING NEWS

NEW YORK’S FINEST- A former NYPD officer is the creative force behind his upscale pizza joint.

Describing the proper way to make pizza is like taking a stand on the best religion. Zealots may stake their claim and defend it bravely, but wise souls just don’t go there.

Fan of New York-style pizza are a particularly obsessive bunch and can argue fervently over the crispness of a crust, the sauce-to-topping ratio, the inferiority of Chicago-style.

That group most likely includes Joseph Palladino, creator of Coal Vines restaurant. Mr. Palladino, a former New York City police officer, has created several restaurants in Dallas, but his heart, his dream, has been a pizzeria like Coal Vines. Or at least, this is what the waitresses tell us on two visits, and the manager confirms by phone. One sign that this may be true: Mr. Palladino has installed a rare coal-burning oven in Coal Vines to re-create the crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-in-the-middle, lightly topped, foldable slices that drip grease down your sleeve and are available in abundance in the Big Apple.

And it must be said that pizza at Coal Vines is crispy at the edge and chewy in the middle. Maybe too chewy. But perhaps that’s a matter of taste.

It also must be said that Coal Vines is a charming and cozy little joint, with brick walls and red velvet hangings and a handsome bar. There is covered outdoor seating, too.

As its tag (“An Uptown Pizza Wine Bar”) suggests, this is much more than a pizzeria. It’s easy to forget that nothing on the food menu here is over $20. That’s good news for patrons of the nightclub Medici next door. The restaurant is open late, but there are no paper-hatted men behind stainless-steel counter fending off the last-call rabble. Though you can’t stumble out with a slice, everything on the menu, including bottles of wine, is available for carryout.

Fresh sausage and piquant roasted green and red peppers topped the favorite of the three pies sampled. Bolognese, with its hearty meaty sauce, came in a close second. The white pizza, with its blend of mozzarella, oregano, Parmesan and ricotta that seems overly sweet, was not quite as winning.

Add toppings such as anchovies, pepperoni or wild mushrooms to any for $1 each.

All the slices are large and, in theory, foldable, though no one seems to eat them that way. They lack the familiar dribble of oil from cheese, but in a date-night place like this, surely no one misses it.

A variety of entrees, salads and sandwiches rounds out the menu. The jumbo lump crab cake lives up to its name, a fat patty of crab on microgreens with chunks of mango and other tropical fruits. The dish is an exercise in sweet (fruits, the crab) offset by the kick of horseradish pickles.

Tuscan steak is topped with an overly assertive slick of reduced balsamic vinegar and chips of roasted garlic, some of the burnt and bitter. But the fries that ride shotgun are spiced and salty; bite through the perfect crunch and sink into softness. Next time: the roasted chicken with more of those nice fries.

Coal Vines salad pies are a fun twist on the usual greens. Arugula with yellow tomatoes and Parmesan, or spinach with red tomatoes, mushrooms and onion, are stacked on pizza crust and served cold by the slice.

Rolls are similar to calzones with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. The ricotta and mozzarella wasn’t available, but the chicken Parmesan was a tasty little hot pocket.

The wine part of this equation is a list broad and reasonable – most wines available for carryout are less than $30. A smooth Cuvaison Pinot Noir stood up to the variety of dishes at our table, but a second bottle was unavailable. In addition to the wine and the roll, the tiramisu float dessert we hoped to order was also unavailable one night.

Service is extraordinarily friendly and seems to operate on an “all hands” level: Any number of waiters will stop by your table to check on you. So will the manager.

One problem, though, is the lack of a host or a hostess meeting parties as they walk in. This is charming when the restaurant isn’t crowded. But it usually is, and unless you have a traffic cop or a drama queen in your group, you might see folks who arrive after you being seated before you.

Coal Vines’ owners plan to open at least one new location in the next year. Texans may never approach the great pizza debate with the passion of New Yorkers; after all, we have barbecue and chili for that. But this concept restaurant should find plenty of converts in Plano, Addison or any other upscale night-life area.