Saturday, November 7, 2009

Impressions: Serious Pie

316 Virginia Street
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 838-7388

If any chef in Seattle is a household name, it's Tom Douglas. A James Beard award-winner twice over, he owns no less than six restaurants, all of which are located in downtown Seattle. All are known for something specific (seafood at Etta's, pastries at Dahlia Bakery, etc.). At Serious Pie, the name of the game is pizza, though after eating there recently, I can't help but wish Douglas would read Peter Reinhart's book, American Pie, particularly the chapters concerning pizza dough.

I got to Serious Pie around 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and the place was just packed. There were people crowding the waiting area, waiting to be seated, and all I could do was stand there and marvel at the popularity of this place (and the meat coolers positioned front and center). I mean, a full house on a Saturday at off-hours? If that's not a very good sign indeed, I don't know what is.

Soon enough I was seated at one of Serious Pie's communal tables, sharing the dining space with several other patrons. Sitting directly next to me was a young couple who eyed my camera and notepad with curious sideways glances, nothing new to us food-blogging geeks who stand out like sore thumbs no matter how diligent we are about blending in. I secretly prayed they wouldn't be irked by my obtrusive dining routine and pretended they just weren't there. Like I do with the monsters in my closet every night.

Serious Pie has a great Happy Hour deal: the pizzas on the menu are served in personal sizes for a mere $5. Unfortunately, this is a Monday through Friday offer, so I was out of luck. Constricted to a single pie, I chose the house Margherita, which, as the menu attests, is made with buffalo mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes. Another good sign.

While waiting for my pizza, I managed to strike up a conversation with the previously-ignored young couple to my right, who introduced themselves as Chris and Zen. They had ordered one of the other items on the menu I had wanted to try, the fennel sausage and cherry bomb pepper pizza, and after explaining who I was and what I was doing there, they cheerfully offered to share their pie with me in exchange for a few slices of my Margherita. They were so charming and personable and fascinated with the idea of a pizza blog, how could I refuse?

Then the Margherita ($15) arrived. Pizzas at Serious Pie are oval, not round, and are served on a rectangular slab. The pizzas are surprisingly small, especially considering the prices being charged. They're cut into eight fairly square slices, with the slices on the four corners consisting almost entirely of crust.
And here we come to Serious Pie's crushing downfall. Despite hearing assertions to the contrary, I cannot say that this is a good crust.
At first glance, though, it looks like a good crust. Like the pizza at Mozza in Los Angeles, the cornicione here at Serious Pie is enormous. It is impossibly airy, filled with gaping air pockets you could land a jumbo jet in. But this is the sole strength of the crust. A crust can be as airy as helium for all I care, but if it doesn't taste good, then what's the point? And the Serious Pie crust, it must be said, doesn't taste all that great. The base of this surprisingly greasy Margherita was dusted with cornmeal which had soaked up some of the oil, and the cornicione was caked with what looked and tasted like clumps of very buttery flour. It was very unappealing.

The toppings fared no better, and in fact managed to be even less appetizing than the crust. The menu said this sauce was made with San Marzano tomatoes, but to taste them you sure as hell wouldn't know it. I make a basic San Marzano sauce on my homemade pizzas, and it's a thousand times more flavorful than Serious Pie's. Their sauce is also very chunky--large hunks of tomato lay scattered on the pizza like red hills on a Kansan plain at sunset. The so-called buffalo mozzarella used here was completely bland and lacked the creaminess of the buffalo mozz I've had, well, just about anywhere else. And the basil, sliced and minimal, was undetectable on the tongue.

What was going on in that kitchen? I couldn't believe that such mediocrity could garner this ardent praise among the Seattle food community. Staring at my half-eaten Margherita, I wondered what they were seeing that I wasn't. Or rather, what they were eating that I wasn't.

I was just about to write Serious Pie off completely when my new friends Chris and Zen received their Fennel Sausage and Cherry Bomb Pepper pie ($16). Smelling it as it passed by, I knew at once it had to taste better than my Margherita, and this was confirmed the moment I sunk my teeth into it.

Oh the crust was just as disappointing as the one on my Margherita, but the toppings on this pizza more than made up for it. The fennel sausage is sweet, and delivers a robust, meaty punch the Margherita desperately needed. The peppers were even better: sweet, not at all spicy, but peppery enough to add a new dimension of flavor to the pie. These two ingredients rested atop the same bland tomato sauce, but they were so flavorful that I barely noticed anything else. This was a much tastier pizza than the Margherita, so much so that the presence of the Margherita on Serious Pie's menu is actually providing a great disservice to the restaurant's credibility. I mean, these two pizzas were like night and day. Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to order their Margherita. For $15, it's outright thievery.

But do order that sausage and pepper pie.

Maybe I caught Serious Pie on an off day. Maybe I didn't. Who knows? I do know I'll be back again to try more of their pizzas and find out once and for all whether this is a place I'll recommend to others or shun forevermore. For now, all I can do is quote my wise neighbor, Sarah Wilson: "Serious Pie...Serious Disappointment."

OVEN: Wood

RECOMMENDED: Fennel Sausage and Cherry Bomb Pepper pie

Update 11/11/10 -- Finally made it back to Serious Pie to give it a second chance after the first underwhelming visit. My brother joined me despite the pouring rain, and together we tackled six of the eight mini-pizzas available on the Happy Hour menu. My overall reaction? More positive than the first visit, absolutely. I still don't hesitate to say this is not great pizza, though.

Some thoughts:

1.) The crust still bugs me. It tasted a lot better this time around than it did before, but the underside is still caked with a thick layer of flour and cornmeal, so that when it enters your mouth, it flakes off and forms a kind of mush on your tongue. So bizarre, and not pleasant.

2.) The Margherita this time was a hundred times better than the one I ate on my first visit. There was an ample amount of shredded parmesan on top to provide the saltiness that was missing from the first Margherita, and the sauce was heavily herbed, whereas the first Margherita's was a flavorless red paste.

3.) I enjoyed the sausage and peppers pie on my first visit, and once again, it was the pizza of the night. Great fennel-spiked sausage and peppers that deliver just a hint of heat.

4.) Pumpkin and squash are not idea pizza toppings. We tried two pizzas with these gourds, the pumpkin with pork belly and the delicate squash with roasted garlic. Both needed the addition of the second topping.

5.) The truffle cheese and roasted mushroom pizza was surprisingly sweet, and light on flavor. The sweetness came from the cheese, overpowering the mushrooms. Nothing memorable.

6.) The most interesting pizza of the evening was the guanciale, soft egg, and Beacon Hill arugula pie. The egg was cooked through, which I appreciated, as I don't particularly enjoy runny whites. Tasted great, too. Nice fresh arugula, slightly peppery. The pizzaiolo was pretty stingy with the guanciale, though. It really needed that pork flavor to tie the other two toppings together.

In conclusion, it appears that Serious Pie is like many other pizzerias, in that consistency varies greatly from one day to the next. My first visit here was a massive disappointment. My second visit...not totally redeeming, but a vast improvement. If they could cut down on the pantry-full of flour and cornmeal inundating the bottom of the crust, they'd be taking another huge step in the right direction.


  1. I just had Serious Pie-- I am a visitor to Seattle from Minneapolis-- and I had the roasted mushrooms and truffle cheese pizza. It was jaw-dropping. Unbelievable. I almost wanted to stand up and give the place a round of applause. I completely disagree with you on the crust. It is about as perfect a crust as could be imagined. Almost pillow-like softness but very sturdy as well, with a post-baking brush with olive oil on the crust. I have not had any of their red sauce pizzas but have had the yukon gold potato, rosemary and olive oil pie, and it was very good but a little too dry. I also had an italian bread soup with cannellini beans and kale and it too was utter perfection. Give this place another try! If you ever get to Minneapolis, try Punch Neapoltan- I would put it up against any V.P.N. pizzeria in the country, it is that good. Great blog! I'll check it out more often. I travel to the Pacific NW and down to the Bay Area quite a bit and am always looking for great places to try. I like Ken's Artisan in Portland, as well as Via Tribunali in Seattle, but I must say that Serious Pie is among the best pizza I have ever had, anywhere. Take care!

  2. Hi Anonymous! Thanks for dropping by. We're going to have to agree to disagree on Serious Pie's crust, because while I appreciate the airy structure of the bread, its texture and flavor are really off-putting to me. Now, it is quite possible that I visited on an off day, and I'm curious to try it again. Someday, I will.

    I've eaten a lot of Margheritas in my time, and Serious Pie's is definitely one of the worst. And it's not even the crust that's the main problem with it (though it's certainly a contributing factor). It's the blandness of the sauce, cheese, and basil on top of it. It's just a big slab of bland. If I'm going to recommend a pizza, it has to have flavor, and the Margherita does not have it.

    The sausage-and-pepper pie, on the other hand, DOES have flavor, and I quite enjoyed that one. So Serious Pie isn't a total loss to me. I just can't fathom why anyone would want to eat their Margherita. It's awful.

    Glad to hear you've tried Ken's and Via Tribunali. Have you had Apizza Scholls in Portland or Delancey in Seattle?

  3. I was in Seattle this past Memorial week-end at my daughters' volleyball tournament. Delancey was closed down for about a week (I knew this in advance). Went to Serious Pie on Sunday about 2:00 pm and got there just in time. Had to wait about 10 min., but then lines started forming out the door. This was the best pizza I've ever had (I've been to Ken's, Apizza Scholls). Got the Cherry Bomb and Fennel Saugage and wife got Nettle Cream and Morel mushroom which was different but very good too. The crust is out of this world. Then chased down the pizza with a couple of scoops of ice cream at Molly Moon ice cream in Capitol Hill area. Serious Pie was so good that after VB Tourn on Monday, stopped in again, but there was a 45 min wait. Instead, got 3 pies to go and ate it in car trip back to PDX. Cherry Bomb (spectacular), Salumi (pretty good - needs some red sauce), roasted mushroom (pretty good). Again, chased it with Molly Moon ice cream. Illegal: talking on cell phone while driving. Legal: Pizza in one hand, ice cream in another, steering with my knees.

  4. It's me again, pizza and ice cream guy, you have done great work with your blog and wonderful information and reviews. Thanks!

  5. Thanks, pizza and ice cream guy! I enjoyed the story of your latest trip to Seattle. Sounds like a blast (and I'm definitely going to have to try that Molly Moon ice cream now).

  6. Adam,
    I am the "first" anonymous guy up above. I finally went to Apizza Scholls this week in Portland and had the Margherita. The sauce is what did it for me-- I absolutely loved it. The crust is good if not great for that style of pie too. I like that it was light on cheese too. Overall very good, but I am more of a V.P.N. person. Again, if you get to the Twin Cities, you must try Punch. Here is their website with a great video of their oven.

  7. @Anonymous: That video is great! Clearly shows how quickly a proper Neapolitan pie should be cooked. I wish I had family in the Twin Cities so I'd have another excuse to visit. As if pizza wasn't reason enough...

    Glad to hear you liked Apizza Scholls, too. I was just there a little over a week ago and it was as good as I've ever had it. Spangler knows what he is doing in there.

  8. We visited Seattle from Phoenix in mid-December, and visited Serious Pie on our first night there. We did not think it lived up to the hype. We had the sausage and pepper pizza but on they day we went I guess they were out of cherry peppers because ours was topped with green bell pepper. That might have made a significant difference. The pizza was good, but nothing remotely amazing, and definitely not worth the $17 they charged for it. (We liked the Kale salad we ate first much better). The crust, sauce and cheese were all bland. The sausage was nice and flavorful though. The peppers might as well have not been there.

    Where we sat, I had a perfect view on the pizza-making process. Instead of one pizzaiolo they had an assembly line of four guys: one who shaped the dough, one who put on toppings, one who manned the oven, and one who sliced-up the pizza and drenched it with olive oil from his squeeze bottle.

  9. @Jessica: Yeah, it's just not what I think of when I think of great pizza. Not terrible by any means, but nothing particularly special, either. I really hate how much flour ends up on the finished pie and, by association, in your mouth. I agree with you; the cherry peppers add something that green bell peppers cannot remotely come close to.

  10. Made my first visit to SP tonight (new SLU location) and count me among the doubters. Couldn't agree more with the assesment of the crust, no flavor and weird texture. Great toppings, but that just ain't enough...

  11. Tried Serious Pie last week, and wondered if I was alone in my dislike of their pizzas. For $20 i felt ripped off- most of the pie was the dry, flavorless crust. There was barely a any sauce or cheese, and the toppings were few and far in between. I felt like the overall quality was less than a street vendor's 'za.