If you find yourself wandering around downtown Abilene looking for something good to eat, you need not wander far. Vagabond pizza is right around the corner. What makes this place so great you may ask? Well for starters the front of the restaurant is quite inviting. Who can resist the visual appeal of a large two colored sign that displays the word Vagabond in bold red letters?
So what makes Vagabond different from any other pizza joints? Well, for starters, they cook all of their pizzas fresh using a wood-fired oven. I think this is the way pizza was meant to be cooked. There are just so many things to appreciate about having a pizza cooked in this type of oven. For one, the oven enhances the flavor of the pizza. You get a little bit of that smokiness from the wood, not overpowering, but rather just the right amount. This is something you won’t get at some fast food pizza place or even in your own home making a pizza from scratch unless you want to put fresh logs in your oven and light a fire…I don’t recommend that.
Another fascinating thing about the wood-fired oven is the speed at which a pizza is cooked. It takes between 90 to 180 seconds for a pizza to cook (I’m pretty sure closer to 90 is the norm). Since the temperatures are much higher than a standard oven, the pizza doesn’t need to stay in nearly as long which is great for the hungry customer waiting to chow down. Even though Vagabond was filled to capacity with people, I thought the wait was reasonable and I expect serving times will be even faster in the upcoming weeks. These opening night affairs are always super busy.
So what pizza should you order? Well, that’s entirely up to you, but two recommendations that were made to me were the margherita and the gia pizza. The margherita is quickly becoming one of my favorite pizzas in general. I had this one tonight and it was cooked to perfection. The cook really hit the sweet spot with this one. The margherita is topped with basil leaves, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. I was concerned that the basil leaves and the crust might come out a bit charred but it turned out to be a non-issue. The cook checked back with me to see how I liked it and I let him know it was great. Honestly, I have a lot of admiration for the cooks here, they were really working hard to get these orders right. I can’t imagine how hot it must be to work one of these ovens especially since the mouth of the oven is always open and you can see the glowing hot wood from the bar seating.
The previous day I ordered the gia. The gia has calabrese sausage, kalamata olives, mozzarella and tomato sauce. The pizza was served to me fresh out of the oven and was cut into several slices. The bartender asked if I needed a knife and fork that day and I accepted. He also laid down a cloth napkin for me and laid out the fork and knife (Yes, an actual cloth napkin. Not a paper napkin, a real cloth one). However after cutting into and sampling the pizza I realized one of two things. The first was oh dang this pizza is really good and secondly the only time you really need to use a fork and knife to eat a pizza is when you are dealing with a thick Chicago deep dish style pie…but that’s another story for another day. After ditching the fork/knife deal and being told by the bar manager that I was one of the few people who he saw use utensils today I felt confident enough to dig in with my hands and eat my pizza boldly. We ended up talking a bit about pizza folding styles, beers, and other things. His pizza eating philosophy happened to involve folding his pizza in half the long way. I, on the other hand, tend to not fold my pizza unless I have to. I have long fingers so I’m able to support a whole pie in my hand without the need for folding generally but occasionally I’ll bend my pizza if it’s extra heavy, but this wasn’t necessary here. The crust is about finger thickness and the dough under the toppings is pretty thin.
What I really like about Vagabond pizza is that they don’t just load the pizza down with toppings. Sometimes having more toppings just isn’t better. There is a tasteful simplicity to Vagabond pizza that makes it exceptional. Here’s the thing, if you only like fat soggy pizza loaded down with lots of toppings to the point where you can’t pick out the taste of the each individual piece of olive, calabrese, and cheese morsel then I recommend going to some large pizza chain for this sort thing. However, if you are looking to try something new and experience all that pizza is and can be then Vagabond pizza is for you. Don’t get me wrong, I like pizza from chain restaurants as much as the next guy. I get it on the weekends when I’m watching movies at home, playing board games with friends or going to some big social gathering. It’s good, but I don’t expect the highest quality pizza. However if you are looking for a high-quality dining experience, a perfectly balanced pizza with the right amount of everything, then I’d recommend going to Vagabond.
And what would a fine dining experience be without dessert? I found myself ordering the one dessert they had on the menu which was Butterscotch Pot de Crème (This was also the night I ordered the Gia). Since it is the sneak peek weekend, they only had a partial menu. I must say, though, I was feeling a bit apprehensive about ordering dessert. I didn’t want to be disappointed. The thing is I’m not a huge butterscotch fan. I actually really don’t care much for it, one might even go so far as to say that I dislike it. The problem for me is that it tends to be a bit overpowering for my palate. I can never eat it without my tongue taking some sort of offense. However, I tend to be bold in my dealings with food and drink. If I haven’t tried something I’ll take a leap of faith because that’s how I discover the best life has to offer food wise . Sure I’ve been burned a few times by this philosophy, but what can I say. You win some and lose some. This time, I won. The Butterscotch Pot de Crème was a great choice. I highly recommend it. This light sweet and surprisingly refreshing custard was served in a clear circular dish. I noticed that it had pockets of more textured custard that I can only assume was a little bit of brown sugar mixed with custard. It left me feeling quite satisfied. It seemed like the perfect portion size as well. I’m excited to see what other culinary delights vagabond will get when they switch over to their full menu.
I had a really great experience, especially since I sat at the bar. I prefer a bar counter to a table because I love striking up a conversation. I find you learn more about a place if you get to talk with the people who work there. As good as my pizza was, I find that people are really what make or break a dining experience. I really enjoyed talking with the workers at vagabond pizza, they contributed to the great dining experience I had there. From the hostess who seated me to the 1st bartender who recommend to me what is now one of my favorite beers, to the bar manager who talked to me about pizza folding styles and to my exceptional waiter who recommended the gia pizza to me, it its clear that when you come to Vagabond you are going to receive the very best of service. I really am excited to see this place open and I know they will be a fine addition to the downtown Abilene scene.