BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Not quite a year after bringing his wildly popular Buffalo menu to Fort Madison, Chase Gibb has another iconic restaurant in the works, and is about two months from literally “firing” it up.
Gibb is bringing an 11,000 lb. coal fire oven into the former The Italian restaurant building at 337 N. Roosevelt in Burlington.
Those that follow the Buffalo brand and Gibb on Facebook, may have seen threads of Gibb playing around with oven-baked pizzas and other foods for a week.
Gibb is bringing that knowledge back to Burlington and will be opening Coal Haus 337 this spring, with former Burlington Golf Club food manager, Carlee McIntyre leading the way.
The oven will be the center-piece of the restaurant and Gibb said it will be something for people to come and experience.
“This thing weighs about 11,000 pounds and is about 10 feet long by nine foot wide. It has to be loaded and off-loaded with crane. And it has to cure so it’s about a 12-week production time,” Gibb said.
While a lot of the plans for the endeavor are focused on creating unique pizzas with ingredients from around the world, Gibb said it’s not a pizza joint.
The coal fire grill will be just the third in operation in restaurants in the state.. The oven burns anthracite, often referred to as hard coal with a submetallic luster. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest energy density of all types of coal.
Gibb said it provides culinary opportunities unmatched in this area.
“This won’t just be a pizza place and it’s not an Italian place,’ he said. “We’re going to be doing coal fired steaks in these ovens too. You can cook those right on the coals, they’re called ‘dirty steaks’. If you look into it, it was a favorite of Dwight Eisenhower.”
The oven will also be used to make appetizers, ingredients for salads and other fares. And Gibb said the ingredients will be made homemade from scratch. He doesn’t even think he’ll need a freezer on site.
“I feel like it’s going to be a destination for people who want nice pizza, good food with a really neat atmosphere. It will be something people will drive an hour and half to experience,” Gibb said Thursday from Buffalo61 in Fort Madison.
He said people are already getting wind of the new concept and some staff has been retained and there will probably be about 20 wait and cook staff, split almost evenly, with McIntyre overseeing operations.
“She’s very good at what she does and is very detail-oriented. People are going to really enjoy this experience.”
Gibb said he is shooting to have the restaurant open by mid-April. But right now the building, which housed The Italian most recently and has housed Sarducci’s and was a former site of Pizza Hut, has been gutted to the frame.
“We’re not sparing any expense on this. We’ve taken it down to the frame and we’re going to redo the interior. We want this to be a very rustic antique-y, but modern facility with a different atmosphere than what you get at the Buffalos,” he said. “This is a pet-project for me that I’ve wanted to do for a while.”
He isn’t going cheap on the ingredients either. Gibb is bringing in all foreign wines from countries like Italy, France and Portugal. He will also have close to a half-dozen craft beers on top including the Italian Peroni.
His cheese will be from the Grande Company, which is a company setting standards on “cow comfort” to produce some of the best cheeses in the world.
“This Grande cheese is known to be the best cheese in the world. I think these cows that are massaged and exposed to Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra music,” Gibb quipped.
Tomatoes will be imported from Europe through Stanislaus, an Italian originated canning company with a reputation for some of the best canned produce in the world.
“We’re bringing in all Stanislaus Tomato products from Italy. And our flours are Caputo, which are Italian flours and the best in the world,” Gibb said. “The products we are using are great and they cost a little more, but I’m a firm believer that you get what you pay for. It doesn’t mean were going to be expensive by any means, but you won’t find $5 Wednesday here.”
In addition to the steaks and pizza and salads, Gibb said his chefs will be preparing fried calzones in sunflower oil.
“We’ll have a fryer in there and instead of baked calzones, we’ll do a fried calzone in sunflower oil. Sunflower oil is really light and gives it a fluffiness that when you eat it, you can’t even tell it was fried,” he said.
“Pizza will be our big seller I know that. but we’re gonna make that oven the center-piece. When people come in they can see everything being made. There will actually be a small bar in there where you can sit and watch that process.”
He’s hoping to have seating capacity for close to 100. He said that seating capacity may require some parking in the lot behind in the strip mall behind the restaurant.
“We’re excited to get things going up there. I’m at the point where I’ve got everything situated well here in Fort Madison and Burlington, so we’re going to focus on this for the next couple of months,” he said.
Hours of operation will be evenings Tuesday through Friday, all day Saturday and during the day Sunday until 9 p.m.