Little Furnace quickly established a reputation for itself and subsequently did what might have seemed impossible (or, at the very least, improbable) ten years ago. It opened a restaurant on Smithdown Road – and now we wonder how we ever coped without it.
While the restaurant revels in simplicity, we don’t expect it was quite as simple as all that, however, and we don’t doubt their groundwork. The two founders observed how pizzas were made in Sicily – a Naples-style fermented puffed crust made in wood-fired pizza that resulted in chewier dough, rather than the crispy bases we’re more used to. They determined to bring that style of pizza back to Liverpool, starting at the Granby Four Streets Market and graduating to festivals and other events around the city (spot them at Africa Oye and LIMF, among others) and beyond.
More recently Little Furnace has been a vital part of the Baltic Market‘s success, but the announcement they were to open their own place on Smithdown Road was greeted with something near ecstasy by the hungry hordes of South Liverpool.
Little Furnace arrived on Smithdown Road within a couple of years that saw the additions of Evil Eye, Craft Taproom, Belzan and the Handymans Supermarket. With the Smithdown Road Festival as its centrepiece, the renaissance of Smithdown, not so long ago a sorry place, seems complete.
The queues outside Little Furnace attest to its popularity, but what is it that makes their pizzas so good? For us it’s the simplicity. These rough-looking hand-hewn irregular discs of handmade dough are the bases for a select few toppings (15 regulars plus a special or two) and the founders visited Naples and New York to really get the hang of it.
Puffy, a little charred, the dough takes up to three days until it’s ready for the oven. They’re chewy without being stodgy and quite unlike the standard takeaway and restaurant fare you might be used to – you won’t be able to eat a slice without folding it. Heck, we’ve given up at times and gone for the eating irons.
Ever discarded the crusts of your pizza? You won’t at Little Furnace. In fact there are oils and dips just for the crusts. We tend to go for all of them but the Little Furnace Special is by far our favourite, a dusky tomato blend of herbs and spices.
Something else that’s unusual is the amount of Bianca – so-called ‘white’ pizzas – on the Little Furnace menu. These eschew the typical tomato sauce and focus on the cheese and a few select toppings. Alternatively some do without the cheese, we’ve tried the Marinara with anchovies, chillies and olives and didn’t miss the white stuff.
Our favourite is the Calbarian sausage, with little smears of ‘nduja ( so hot right now) with just enough heat to let you know it’s there. We’ve not braved the Sicialian Death Wish because, as with our Beer Festival policy, we tend to shy away from any food or drink that sounds like a threat. It’s there ‘to show your mates how hard you are’, according to the menu. The Lamb with Hafla sauce is a revelation too. Can’t choose? Just mix and match.
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Recent additions are Panuozzo – oven-baked sandwiches hailing from the south of Italy and stuffed with tasty things. And yes they do gluten-free (even the flour for these comes from Napoli), Halal and even vegan pizzas if you ask. There’s the likes of Peroni and Birra Moretti available, as befits the ambiance, but you can get a glass of Love Lane Pale, San Pellegrino or wine too.
The restaurant is dominated by the furnace, Pappa Gabosa himself, a red mosaic-tiled beast that marks the end of the counter and the beginning of a wall housing hundreds of logs. Form follows function. Add in four booths and that’s about the size of it, quite literally.
If it’s busy, take a chance and wait for a table. Or, if you’re prepared to wait until it’s less busy (we’ve yet to discover exactly when that might be), have a swift pint or two in the Craft Taproom next door. We’ve occasionally cut our losses and plumped for a takeaway – as if by magic someone will appear in Craft 15 minutes later to tell you your pizza is piping hot and ready.
Little Furnace is a happy place for good food. It’s like popping to a mate’s, if your mate happens to make the best pizzas in the city.