As soon as I heard about the Park Avenue Community Oven (PACO), in Dartmouth, I knew our family would love it. PACO is Dartmouth’s volunteer-run, wood-fired community oven, located in Leighton Dillman Park, on the Dartmouth Common. The location is in a wonderful park setting, with picnic tables for eating, beautiful trees all around and running water access. There aren’t washrooms yet, but they’re hoping to add those soon.
The PACO is open every Saturday, until the end of November, as long as it is not raining. A fire is lit early Saturday morning in the oven and is usually hot enough for cooking pizza by noon. We dropped by around 12:30 to ask the volunteer running the oven when it would be best to cook a pizza that day. He mentioned that the first hour to hour and a half is best for pizza with fresh uncooked dough. We bought an uncooked pizza from Big Life Whole Foods in Dartmouth, but since the crust was precooked a little, the oven needed to cool down before we could use it or the pizza would cook too fast.
We returned at 1:15, with our delicious, local, zucchini cheese pizza. My oldest daughter was able to use the tool provided, to slide the pizza, right into the oven and onto the stones. We didn’t even have to close the door, before we could see the cheese melting quickly. Once the oven is hot, a pizza cooks in approximately one minute. The oven is between 800 and 1,000 degrees at it’s hottest. It was pretty amazing to watch! All the tools you need to use the oven are supplied, however you have to bring your own plates, napkins, utensils and, of course, all of the ingredients!
Pro tip: If you pre-make your pizza at home, it might stick to the pan you brought it on and not transfer well to the oven. That’s where PACO’s stainless steel counters come in. You can use them to roll out your own dough to avoid a sticky situation. There is plenty of room for more than one family to roll and top their pizzas.
Eating hot pizza right out of a stone oven in the outdoors and meeting new friends at the PACO was a fantastic experience. And you can bring so much more than pizza. The PACO has been used to make vegetables, meat and bread as well!
If you’re interested in being trained to use the oven from start to finish, drop by in the morning on a Saturday to see how the oven is lit, and talk to the volunteers.