Thursday, December 17, 2009

News: Domino's Revamps "Classic" Recipe

From a story on CBS News:

After nearly 50 years, Domino's Pizza is changing its core recipe. A recent survey placed Domino's at the top of service and delivery among chain pizzerias, and at the bottom for taste. This new recipe changes their "classic" pizza in three ways:

1.) The crust will now be seasoned with garlic and parsley.

2.) The sauce will be sweeter and include red pepper flakes.

3.) The cheese will be a mix of shredded mozzarella and provolone.

Now, I've always found Domino's pizza to be an abomination, an affront to all things good about pizza. It's worse than Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Lil' Caesars...any of the chains, really. And worse than most frozen pizza. I'll still eat it if someone is clueless enough to order it, but probably not more than a slice or two. That crust is just too gummy for me, and the sauce too sweet (which really makes me question whether making it even sweeter is a wise decision).

I'm curious to see how the Domino's-loving public responds to this. In the CBS story, they allowed some random people to try it, and their reaction was quite positive. So were the reactions from the talking heads on the CBS Early Show. I just can't help but recall the disaster that befell Coca-Cola when they decided to change up their classic recipe in the '80s for "New Coke," and sure enough, CBS mentions it in their report.

Can you believe that survey? I for one find it very hard to swallow the idea that the #1 chain pizza people prefer comes from Papa John's. Over Godfather's? Please.

Anyway, there's a less-than-1% chance I'll be trying this new iteration of Domino's in the foreseeable future, so if any of you get your hands on their new pies, do write in and tell us about it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Impressions: Firehouse

711 NE Dekum Ave
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 954-1702

(photo courtesy of Firehouse)
For about a year now, I have adamantly believed there to be only two truly sublime pizzerias in the Portland metropolitan area: Ken's Artisan and Apizza Scholls. A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being proven utterly wrong when I joined some friends for a fabulous dinner at Firehouse. After a second dinner last night, I can promise you that Firehouse deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those titans.
(photo courtesy of Firehouse)
As its name implies, Firehouse is in fact built in the remnants of the old Dekum firehouse in northeast Portland. Owners Matthew and Elizabeth Busetto gutted the interior, stripping the walls down to the beautiful red brick, obliterating the ugly popcorn ceilings, and restoring the glorious old wooden beams. Their dreams of owning a restaurant fulfilled, Matthew now works downstairs with his old friend from New Seasons, Eric Rose, and pastry chef Gretchen Glatte, while Elizabeth practices Chiropractic and Naturopathic medicine upstairs. (You can read more about their story here).
Shortly after taking our seats (the restaurant takes reservations, God bless them) our hungry party perused the menu, which changes daily, and ordered a few drinks, appetizers (some very tasty fried cauliflower, so-so roasted beets and walnuts) and a few pizzas, more than we could possibly eat that night but enough to get a good feel for chefs Busetto and Rose's repertoire.
First up: the Margherita ($11). The pizzas coming out of the enormous wood-fired oven at Firehouse are Neapolitan in nature, and the Margherita makes this abundantly clear. The crust is thin, light, and airy, wonderfully charred by the oven, and delicious. The sauce is a simple, very bright concoction of crushed tomatoes (San Marzanos, I'd wager) and light seasoning, the classic flavors you'd expect from the best Neapolitan pies. The mozzarella is fresh and creamy, and its flavor is enhanced by the generous grating of some nicely salty hard cheese atop the whole pie, most likely parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino, or parmesan.
This is a dynamite Margherita, and I think the best in the city. It's not soupy like many Neapolitan Margheritas, and it holds up well even after it's cooled for a time. I couldn't get enough of this pie. It's salty in all the right ways, and the flavor of those tomatoes shines through splendidly in every bite. My one complaint with Firehouse's Margherita: both nights the pizzaiolo seriously stiffed us on the basil. There were perhaps three or four basil leaves on the entire pie, with at least half the slices lacking any basil at all. To capture the true balance of the Margherita, they're going to have to work on this. Still, I've yet to have a better Margherita in the entire city. It's the one to beat.
As much as I love a good Margherita, I get even more excited when we start getting into the realm of meat toppings, so of course we had to order the Spicy House Fennel Sausage & Onion pizza ($12). The sausage is the star of the show here. Juicy, slightly spicy, and made in-house, the sausage has perfect texture, not too tough or too crumbly, with just the right level of fennel flavor to it. It makes this pie absolutely worthwhile, though I was a little put off by the onions. They're placed raw on the pizza just before it enters the oven, coming out steaming hot but still crispy. Others may actually find this a selling point for this pizza (and indeed my friend and neighbor Kevin Wilson loved it), but I would have preferred the onions roasted first before being added to the pizza. The snap of the al dente onions made them feel too raw for my mouth. But I'm just being picky, really. They don't hurt the pie. It's still delicious. (Ed. - On a subsequent visit, the onions were less sharp and thus melded perfectly with the rest of the ingredients).
The first night we dined at Firehouse, the fennel sausage pizza had not cooked in the oven long enough, and as a result the crust hadn't quite solidified enough to withstand the weight of the sizeable chunks of sausage. This, coupled with the sauce soaking into the crust and further weakening it, caused major tip sag. Not disastrous by any means, but the pie could have used another 30 - 60 seconds in the heat of the flames. This seems to have been a one-time issue, because I haven't experience it on any subsequent trip to the restaurant.
After the Margherita, my favorite pizza at Firehouse is their Salami and Green Olives pizza ($12). Sometimes olives on a pizza can be overwhelming, but the green olives used on this pie sang a song of balanced perfection on the palate, with just the right levels of "olive" flavor and saltiness. The salami, too, didn't overstep its boundaries, but played off the boldness of the olives with a mild yet distinctive meatiness. It also managed to avoid becoming overly greasy, a serious problem with many types of salami that never became an issue here. A fantastic pizza.

A fourth pie we tried (but one I sadly did not photograph) was a pizza with Oil-Cured Olives, Garlic, and Chile Oil ($12). Those three ingredients alone made this a pie with robust flavors impossible to ignore. In this case, I thought perhaps the olives were a little overpowering, and we all felt it was our least-favorite pie of the night, but we still enjoyed it.
(photo courtesy of Firehouse)
Before I sign off, I do have to mention one thing I find slightly frustrating: Firehouse does not cut its pies, and leave you to do it with a knife and fork. Now, this is how pizza is traditionally served in Naples, Italy, and I would expect no less -- were I in Naples, Italy. This is Portland, Oregon, and while the pizzas are unequivocally inspired by those in Naples, the rest of the cuisine on the menu is not restricted in origin by that city. Another Portland restaurant, Nostrana, also irritatingly serves its pies uncut, but at least they offer kitchen shears which easily slice through the dough, sauce, and cheese. The knives provided by Firehouse to accomplish this task aren't quite sharp enough to make a very clean job of it. Neapolitans will love it, though.
(photo courtesy of Firehouse)
Does Firehouse have room for improvement? Sure it does. But these minor quibbles aside, I'm thrilled by the pizza coming out of their oven, and even more thrilled that Portland has a great pizzeria for which reservations can be secured. Neither Ken's Artisan nor Apizza Scholls can offer that godsend. This place gets busy, so the next time you want outstanding pizza but don't feel like waiting in line, you can just give Firehouse a call and snag your reservation. I love that. And I love the pizza here. It's undeniably great.

OVEN: Wood

RECOMMENDED: Margherita, Salami & Green Olives Pizza

Update 7/21/10 -- A recent visit to Firehouse found that nearly all of my previous quibbles with the food had been rectified. The pies coming out of the oven now are cooked perfectly, with plenty of wonderful black char on both the underside of the crust and the cornicione. The food is dynamite, though they're still not cutting their pies...

Monday, December 7, 2009

News: Lovely Hula Hands Owners to Open Pizzeria

(photo courtesy

Well well. It would seem that the owners of Lovely Hula Hands, a highly praised restaurant in North Portland, is closing its doors in January and moving next door to open a wood-fired pizzeria called Lovely's Fifty Fifty. Having never eaten at Lovely Hula Hands (perhaps I should while I still can...), I have no idea what to expect, but news of another wood-fired pizzeria opening in the area always puts a smile on my face. So yeah, I'm looking forward to this.

Here's the press release from Lovely Hula Hands' owners, Sarah and Jane Minnick:

Hello friends and fans of Lovely Hula Hands- Our new wood fired pizza restaurant, Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty, should be open sometime in January. There have been a lot of construction setbacks since the beginning of the project, but we are finally awaiting the arrival of the wood oven, ice cream case and other exciting things.

Also, at the end of this month, Lovely Hula Hands will be closing. The reasons for this are many, but in the end it comes down to one thing above all. When we first opened the restaurant six years ago, a family member was our chef. As time went on and this changed, we found ourselves in the position of running a restaurant from the front of the house. That is, we relied on someone from outside the family to direct the kitchen. As you know from the loyalty of our customers and the critical reception that Lovely Hula Hands has received, we have always been lucky with the talented people we’ve chosen. But now it just makes sense for us to focus on our new venture 100 % and have more of a hand in the production of the things we serve.

We plan to have a great final month at Lovely Hula Hands and finish strong with the same seasonal menu, cocktails, etc. New Years Eve will be our last night open. We hope to see many of you this month at least one more time and we hope to keep seeing you next door at Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty. It will have a lot of things in common with LHH- a seasonal menu, buying exclusively from local farmers and ranchers, a hefty list of salads and starters, and even one or two wood fired entrees along with the pizza offerings. We will also have six flavors of seasonal homemade ice cream in a big case up front and people can get a scoop or a pint to go. Our current staff will stay with us and work next door, so no one is being put out of work in this economy.

We want to deeply thank all of our loyal customers and staff for the last six years. It has honestly been a pleasure running this restaurant.

Finally, please note that we will be honoring Gift Certificates for Lovely Hula Hands next door at Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty. If you have one and can’t get in this month, please use it there.

Sincerely, Sarah and Jane Minnick