Friday, October 2, 2009

Impressions: Wy'east Pizza

3131 SE 50th Ave
Portland, OR 97206

This tiny trailer resting in one corner of a near-vacant parking lot in a less-than-hip neighborhood may not look like much on the outside, but like so many things in this life we wander through, it is what is beneath the shell that truly matters.

In this case, it's good Neo-Neapolitan pies prepared by a mustachioed man known only as "Squish."

I'd heard a little about this place on pdxplate.com, and the pictures were dynamite, so I knew I had to try it as soon as possible. Well, tonight, I did, bringing along two eager friends willing to tolerate my pizza fanaticism.

We ordered two pies: the Margherita (with pepperoni on one half -- $12), and the 3 Sisters ($13), then sat down at the one picnic table outside the joint (there are a few more green plastic chairs nearby for additional guests).

The Margherita came out first, hot and bubbling and picture-perfect. The char on the cornicione of this pizza, courtesy of Squish's 800-degree gas oven, is ideal, with wonderful black bubbles on the outer rim of the crust and impeccable spotting on the upskirt. This crust was thin, but it had a nice crispness to it, not quite as stiff as a NY-style slice, but not far off. The cornicione was crispy on the outside with a nicely chewy center, and good hole structure within. Sauce was dark and slightly thick, tangy. It had a cloyingly pleasant garlic taste to it, further enhanced by the minced garlic popping up randomly in the red tomato sea. Small rounds of fresh melted mozzarella lay in perfect balance on the pie, so creamy that my teeth sunk through it every time, even when the pizza had cooled, to my delight. Fresh basil was scattered judiciously on the pie after it had been removed from the oven, completing the classic Margherita.

As mentioned, I ordered pepperoni on half the pie. Wy'east's pepperoni comes from Otto's Sausage Kitchen in Woodstock, and after one bite it's immediately apparent just how much different true pepperoni is from the typical neon-red disks adorning most American chain pizzas. It actually tastes of meat, real meat, not some godawful over-processed substance infused with "meat flavoring."

The 3 Sisters came only a few minutes after the Margherita / Pepperoni combo (the oven cooks only one pie at a time). This one was topped with tomato sauce, plenty of mozz, olives, red onions, and mushrooms. I'm not a huge fan of this kind of pie, but I found Wy'east's version to be more than palatable, the bitterness of the toppings melding well with the tanginess of the sauce.

My one major complaint about Wy'east's pies is that the crust is utterly devoid of flavor. It has no discernable salt content, and neither could I detect any sourdough culture in the dough. It really is just a gorgeous, well-prepared vehicle for the toppings that is completely bland. It's my sincerest hope that Squish alters the recipe to include a sourdough poolish, or the addition of sea salt at the very least, to bring his pizza to the next level.

It is astounding the level of the pizza coming out of this little trailer. It puts many local pizzerias to shame, even with its needed improvements. This is definitely a food cart to watch in the Foster/Powell district, and one I'll be frequenting again in the future.

3 comments:

  1. It's truly sad that you gush over this restaurant, but then admit near the end that the crust is flavorless. I ate enough of that shit when I was in college. To me, the crust is the most important part of the pizza! I rate like this: 1) Crust; 2) Sauce; 3) Cheese; 4) Toppings. If the crust is flavorless, the pizza is crap.

    Of course, most pizza is crap in my book. The #1 pizza in the world, as far as I've experienced so far (and I've experienced a lot): Gino's East, Chicago, Illinois. A small (9") pizza will kill two people...there's no way that two people can finish it (well, maybe if they're starving college students that move furniture for a living). Each slice (there are four) weighs somewhere around 1/2 a pound. This is is the definition of deep-dish...it's somewhere between 2 and 3 inches deep. The crust, the sauce, the cheese and the toppings are all sublime. Nobody on the planet does deep-dish like this. And, as I recall, they only have four flavors; it's cheese, pepperoni, sausage or spinach. They don't need 20 toppings to make this pizza taste good. There are over a dozen locations, but the "real" Gino's East is at Ontario and Wells. Be prepared to wait in line though, as it's always packed at dinner time. Some of the other locations are probably not as crowded, and I'd imagine that the pizza is probably just as good (though I've never tried it).

    A close second is Lou Malnati's, also from the Chicago area. Lou's definition of deep-dish falls short of Gino's East (their 9" easily serves two...I'd go for the 12" instead), but it's still very good. They also offer a larger variety of toppings, for those that think that's important. Not me...remember, toppings are #4 on my list. They do have some tasty tomatoes though, and that's long been an oxymoron.

    If you go to Chicago and miss out on either of these restaurants, you've wasted an opportunity...and you've missed an experience that you would recount for a lifetime. Seriously. *This* is pizza.

    For the most part, pizza in Portland blows. Don't get me wrong, pizza doesn't have to be from Chicago or deep-dish to be good (maybe to be great, but not good). Most Portland pizza fails where your review failed, at the crust. Why can't people figure this out?

    The best pizza I've had in the Portland area is Abby's Pizza. They have locations in Gresham and Newberg, unfortunately there's nothing closer. The crust is decent (it has all of the glowing parts of your review, but stops short of being flavorless, thank god), the sauce is pretty darn good, the cheese is real and the toppings are top-notch (try the Linguica, it's wonderful). I think it's their toppings that really pull the whole thing off, but everything else averages out to pretty darn good. Like anything good, of course, it's not inexpensive...but I'd rather eat a little of some really good pizza than a lot of crappy pizza.

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