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A while ago we rated pizzas from a number of Wilton Manors restaurants. While those places all had their pluses and minuses, there are two new pizza places in Fort Lauderdale that are following a new business model. These restaurants are similar to many, such as the California-based chain Pieology, which follow the same format as Subway and Chipotle; you step up to the counter and pick the ingredients from fresh selections on display. The pizza is assembled right in front of you, popped into a super-heated oven and within 10 minutes, you’ve got your own personal pizza creation in front of you.

The secret to this super-fast preparation lies in the super thin crust popular in Naples (Italy, but perhaps Florida too). What you get is a slightly blistered, crisp crust. Obviously this style of pizza is not intended to be piled on with “the works.” You can do so, but you’ll miss out on the beauty of this pie, which is simplicity.

Flash Fire Pizza
2949 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale

Flash Fire Pizza features a good mix of guilty pleasures and health-conscious options, there’s even gluten- free dough, hormone-free chicken, local organic vegetables, GMO-free greens and premium local and globally sourced cured meats. A build your own pizza starts at $7.95, with a plethora of options, some of which, such as prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, incur an up-charge. However, most of the ingredients are included in the basic rate. On one visit I piled all three sausage options, salami, and kalamata olives onto my pizza. On another I went for all veggies (caramelized onions, oven-roasted peppers and tomatoes and capers).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you even get to the toppings section of the assembly line, you can opt for one of a half-dozen sauce options (standard or spicy red sauce, pesto, Alfredo or garlic oil) an equal number of cheeses; a mozzarella base with a choice of standard, smoked or fresh or a combination of all three. There’s also Parmesan, feta, blue and a few other cheeses from which to choose. The topping options total more than 40 and range from the expected (sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, etc.) to the exotic (bison sausage, peppadew, butternut squash and roasted corn) and finishing items such as sea salt, truffle oil and live herbs.

If you prefer not to trust your own instincts, the menu offers suggestions by way of their signature combinations. For those looking for something other than pizza (there’s always one in every group, isn’t there?) pies, salads, and charcuterie boards are an option. Beer, wine and Italian ices are available. There’s also a $9.95 daily special which includes a one-topping pie side salad and soft drink.

Although Flash Fire is a one-off restaurant, there are plans to franchise. Co-founder Jason Frese explains his concept of his new restaurant, “The philosophy is ‘farm to fire in a flash’ — artisanal pizza done fast and fresh. Flash Fire Pizza may be fast, but it’s not fast food.”

Blaze Pizza
6334 N. Andrews, Fort Lauderdale
2135 S. University Dr., Davie

If Flash Fire is a one of a kind restaurant, Blaze is the quintessential franchise operation, with uniformed employees who spout what have to be suggested lines of dialogue. There are, in fact, hundreds of Blaze Pizza restaurants around the country, mostly on the west coast and in the Midwest. The chain, founded by Rick Wetzel of the famed pretzel company, has only two South Florida locations so far. Expect that to change-the Andrews location has been packed on my visits there.

The vibe is slick, yet manages to feel like a local place. The chain gets extra points for being environmentally conscious using materials that can be easily recycled. The basic pie is the same price as Flash Fire, though slightly smaller. It’s also an all-the toppings-you-want deal. Blaze also offers “signature pizzas” for those who can’t or don’t want to come up with their own combinations, which oddly, are priced more than the build your own variety, even though you can build exactly the same pizza.

The meat options include; bacon, crumbled meatballs, grilled chicken, Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami or smoked ham. Veggies include the usual suspects as well artichokes, arugula and jalapeños. Cheese selections are a little more diverse than at Flash Fire, adding goat cheese, ricotta and a vegan cheese to the mix.

Blaze also wins in the salad department. While there isn’t a build-your-own option, the pre-made (surprisingly fresh) salads offer a selection from side salads to entrée portions. Among the stand-outs are beets with goat cheese, almonds and arugula, house vinaigrette; roasted veggies with gorgonzola; classic Caesar and an antipasto entree salad with grilled chicken, bacon, artichokes, roasted red pepper, red onion, shredded mozzarella and romaine. The only dessert option is the S'more pie. Wine and beer are available in some locations.

If Blaze and Flash Fire are the future of pizza, I say bring it on – as long as I can go to Chicago for some of that decadent stuff once in a while.