Hot find! Pizza maker discovers coal oven in his basement

Hot find! Pizza maker discovers coal oven in his basement
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Meet David Sheridan — Brooklyn’s first pizza archeologist.

The amateur pizzamaker-turned-Ditmas Park restaurateur discovered the holy grail of treasures for fans of the delectable dough, sauce, and cheese creation in the basement of his soon-to-open eatery: an ancient coal-burning oven used by generations of Brooklyn bread bakers hiding behind the building’s boiler.

“It was a sign that we were in the right place,” said Sheridan, who found the hidden treasure — which is currently illegal to use in New York City because of environmental concerns — buried in the back of the basement of the Church Avenue retail space he wants to transform into a restaurant by early next year.

The 14-foot-long steel oven forms part of the building’s rear foundation, extending three feet under the backyard, said Sheridan, who found the oven after learning that the space he rented once housed an Italian restaurant in the 1950s that used the oven to bake bread and pizza.

The oven’s door says “T. Dumbledton & Sons Oven Builders, 619 Carlton Ave. Brooklyn NY,” — the inscription from the Prospect Heights oven builder who died in 1920.

Yet it’s doubtful that the resurrected oven will be used to cook anything anytime soon.

“The amount of work to resurrect the oven would be significant,” said Sheridan, who said the oven’s chimneys are currently blocked, its flue rusted, and its door in need of repair. “But it’s not going anywhere.”

Coal ovens, which were originally used by bakers before being co-opted by pizza makers, are prized for their slow, but hot, burn that produces a pie that takes a bit longer than the trendier wood-fired pizza oven parlors that have been popping up around town.

Many a pizzaiolo — legendary pizza-maker Patsy Grimaldi among them — have made names for themselves with coal ovens, but some pizzaphiles say the oven is but an accessory to the art of pizza making.

“The oven doesn’t create the pizza, the pizza maker does,” said Scott Wiener, a pizza expert who leads tours of city pizza joints.

Coal ovens can’t be used unless they are either approved by the city or have been in use before the environmental laws were changed.

Despite the discovery, Sheridan, who cut his teeth in the pizza pie-making world by hosting wildly popular pizza parties at his home in Gravesend, says he plans on sticking with the electric oven he’s ordered from Italy for the bulk the pizza making duties at his new restaurant, Wheated.

Once it opens, the restaurant will join the new parent-friendly Lark Cafe on a strip of Church Avenue currently undergoing a development microboom.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.