Seattle, WA 98101
If any chef in
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 Seattle 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
, 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. Los Angeles
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
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. Seattle
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."
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.
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.