Sunday, March 28, 2010

Impressions: Gladstone Coffee & Pizza

3813 SE Gladstone St
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 775-1537

(all photos by Adam Lindsley)

The 2010 edition of the Willamette Week's Cheap Eats guide asserts that Gladstone Coffee & Pizza slings the only good pies south of Powell. After my visit this afternoon, I'm inclined to agree with that statement.

For whatever reason, I wasn't able to convince any of my friends to join me on this pizza excursion (traitors!), so I approached the charming blue-and-salmon storefront at the stroke of noon a lone gunman. Stepping inside, I was struck by the sheer quiet of the place. Music drifted from the overhead speakers at such an inoffensive volume it may as well have been leaking from someone's iPod buds. Not a soul was speaking. I'll be honest, it was a little unsettling.

I strode to the counter to peruse the pleasantly lean menu and met one of the co-owners, Grace Emanuel. Gladstone C&P serves two types of pizza in two varieties: a 10-inch small ($9) and an 18-inch large ($19) cheese, and a small ($10) and large ($19) pesto & pecorino. Toppings are $1.50 - $2.50, depending on the type and size of pie. As I was alone, I opted for the small cheese pizza with half andouille sausage. Now, I have no idea what prompted me to order andouille sausage on my pizza instead of the Italian variety (which is what I really wanted). My mind must have decided to take a momentary leave of absence, prompting the mistaken order. That, or I was temporarily possessed by the spirit of Emeril Lagasse, God bless his still-beating heart.

Though the café wasn't at capacity, there was nowhere to sit inside. Every table had been claimed by a single patron, either sipping coffee or tapping away on a laptop, leaving me no choice but to journey outside to the surprisingly large backyard patio.

Although a cloudburst brought the showers down in full force, it wasn't particularly chilly out, so I settled into a chair beneath the wide canopy (bedecked with chandeliers, no less) to enjoy the fresh air and the pattering of the raindrops on the canvas above.

My pie arrived quickly, piping hot from the gas oven. A ring of bright red tomato sauce peeked out between the edge of the sea of aged mozzarella and the well-risen, perfectly cooked crust. Thick slices of andouille sausage had been strewn generously on its designated half. I dug into the cheese half first, noting the excellent charring on the chassis.

The combination of the sauce (tangy and garlicky), the aged mozz (salty), and the crust (wonderfully crisp) made the first slice very agreeable. In particular, the cornicione (end crust) is worth noting: fantastically crunchy on the outside yet soft on the inside. Its crumb (hole structure) was dense in places and spectacularly airy in others, with the largest of the air pockets forming delicious, charred blisters.

As I had feared, the andouille sausage didn't work. It was delightful on its own--peppery and meaty--but on the pie it was just too overpowering for me. I plucked each hunk off with my fork and ate them separately as if they were an appetizer.

Aside from that, I enjoyed the pizza. If one were forced to categorize it, I suppose New York-style is close enough, though it also has much in common with American "pizza parlor" pies. They're pretty heavy-handed with the sauce and cheese, with both liberally applied to my pizza. The mozzarella in particular was laid on especially thick, so much so that its depth actually exceeded that of the crust beneath it (see the above photo). I suppose that would be my one suggestion to the owners of Gladstone Coffee & Pizza: go easy on the toppings! Co-owner (and pizza fanatic--it's his dough recipe) John Mitchell wasn't present that early afternoon (he'd be working later in the evening, I was informed), so perhaps this isn't a problem with the pizzas he constructs personally. Indeed, some of you may not even find extra sauce and cheese a problem at all!

Gladstone Coffee & Pizza is well worth a visit (don't be fooled by the name: it's not in Gladstone, thank God). It's cheap, tasty, and the portions are substantial (I'd guess one slice of the 18-inch pie is probably the perfect amount of food). Just skip the indoor tables and their introverted occupants: the patio's where it's at.



Saturday, March 6, 2010

Impressions: Pizza Depokos

2730 N Killingsworth St.
Portland, OR 97217
(503) 247-7499

(all photos by Adam Lindsley unless otherwise noted)

If you've been reading Nick Zukin's great food blog over at (and if not, why haven't you?), then you already know that he and I embarked upon a Portland pizza crawl last Wednesday, in which we stuffed our faces with no less than six different pies. I got the chance to revisit a couple great local carts (Pyro and Wy'east) as well as a brand new one: Pizza Depokos up on North Killingsworth.

Perhaps "cart" is a misnomer. In owner Ethan Welt's mind, Pizza Depokos was always meant to be a food cart, but after the county told him he couldn't leave his wood-burning oven on a trailer outside year round, he moved into the old garage in the Refuel North Station food pod. So technically, Depokos isn't a cart. That said, the food comes out just as quickly as it does at most carts, so if you're looking to satisfy your pizza craving on the go, don't let the fact that this place isn't on wheels prevent you from swinging by.

Depokos was the first stop on our crawl, so my belly was empty and my spirits were high. Browsing the menu, I discovered that in addition to the more traditional Neapolitan-style pies, Ethan is also serving up Lebanese pies on his house-made pita dough. Naturally, we had to try one of each. Nick and I ordered a Margherita with fresh mozzarella and a half 3-cheese/za'atar pie. Ethan was working with a new employee that evening, and because of this our Margherita with fresh mozz ended up with fresh chopped tomatoes instead of sauce and aged mozz instead of fresh. I did eventually get to try the "normal" Marg, but I'll get to that later.

As our pies cooked, Nick and I got a chance to chat up Ethan about his dough (a several-day refrigerated ferment) and the oven, which he built himself (he used to be in construction before diving into the pizza biz). Talking with Ethan, you quickly realize what an immense passion he has for pizza. He spent months perfecting his dough, and mixes it entirely by hand (see the above photo for proof). He's familiar with the stories of pizza legends Jeff Varasano and Anthony Mangieri. He carefully monitors the oven's temperature, noting the differentiation between the front and the rear and how they gradually cool as the night progresses. There is no pretension here whatsoever; he is a genuine human being, as easy to talk to as a friend you've known for years.

Before long our two pizzas arrived piping hot from that wondrous wood-burning oven, and after the requisite photo shoot, Nick and I dug in. I started with our altered Margherita ($10). The first thing that hit me about this pizza was the crust: just delicious. It's got a great saltiness to it, and a nice yeasty bread flavor permeating its soft, chewy body. The oven had charred the bottom nicely. While I was disappointed about the mix-up with the new employee, I actually rather enjoyed the pie.

I agree with Nick's assessment that, out of season, freshly chopped tomatoes may not be an optimal choice (especially compared with the sweet punch of cherry tomatoes), but I didn't dislike them either. They cut the salt in the aged mozzarella just enough to maintain a nice balance of flavor throughout. The fantastic crust, with its puffy cornicione and slightly dense hole structure, was a little thick in the center of the pizza. I learned later that this was because the new employee wasn't quite stretching the pies enough, but to be totally honest I didn't mind at all; Ethan's dough recipe is so good that, thick or thin, it's going to taste great no matter what.

The second pie, the 3-Cheese/Za'atar ($8) threw me for a loop. On one hand, the 3-cheese half of the pie was outstanding. The aged mozz, feta, and Lebanese Akkawi blend together as smoothly as the voices of Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras, a perfect equilibrium of the salty and creamy. I loved it. Curiously, the "house-made pita dough" used for this pie was exactly the same as the dough used on our Neapolitan pie. Either I am unable to detect the subtle differences between these two doughs, or the new employee's first-day jitters struck again and caused him to prepare both pies on the same type of dough.

(photo by Nick Zukin)

On the other hand, the za'atar half of the pie confounded my taste buds. Za'atar is a Middle Eastern blend of sesame seeds, salt, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and other dried spices. I have very little experience with Lebanese cuisine, so I can't speak firsthand on what za'atar is supposed to taste like; all I can do is convey to you my reaction to this version. I'll be honest: I didn't love it. The dense layer of herbs and seeds, so dry and crusty, wasn't getting into my palate's panties, so to speak. I'd be very curious to hear from someone who has eaten a few Lebanese za'atar pies; I'd like to know what to look for in terms of flavor profile, and how they feel Ethan's version stacks up.

Both tremendously satisfied with our meal, Nick and I continued with the pizza crawl, but I couldn't help but be disappointed that I didn't get to try one of Ethan's pies with red sauce. So two nights later, I stopped by Pizza Depokos again with my friend to get the scoop, and ordered the plain Margherita with Fresh Mozz ($12).

The pizza that arrived a few minutes later looked so vastly different than the pies we had been served two nights prior that it was immediately obvious someone else was working the kitchen. Sure enough, new pizzaiolo Jeremy (of Nostrana fame) was slinging the pies that night. He prepared the pizzas alongside a friendly young woman named Ferris (forgive me if misspelled your name...just shoot me a message if this is the case and I'll fix it!) who was working the front-of-house, as it were. Jeremy stretched the dough perfectly, leaving the finished pie with a pleasantly thin crust and a less-puffy-but-still-airy cornice that was given a nice crunchy exterior by the lick of the oven's flames.

I loved the flavor of the fresh mozzarella on this pizza, cheesy and creamy, without the blandness you often encounter when dealing with fresh mozz. The basil tasted fresh and vibrant. What threw me off about this pizza was the tomato sauce. This is a tomato sauce lover's wildest dream, and when I say that I do not mean it resembles anything close to a simple blend of San Marzanos, salt, and olive oil, but literally a sauce of tomatoes. It's chunky, heavily seasoned, and so unbelievably tangy (in an almost spaghetti-sauce kind of way) that, in the few areas on the pizza where it was doled out perhaps a little too heavily, it totally dominated every other flavor on the pie. Personally, I'd prefer it spread much thinner, but I know there are many people out there who are going to love it like it thick like this.

The night ended with Jeremy whipping up a pizza on the fly just as the place was closing, which began with a base of garlic, aged mozz, and feta, topped with basil, arugula, and a fresh egg. The egg was cracked over the center of the pie midway through its brief stint in the heat of the fire, then punctured to spread the scrumptious yolk across the whole pizza. Jeremy and Ferris graciously offered me a slice, and to call it good is an understatement. This was sublime, creative pizza. Normally I don't even like egg on pizza, but I loved this pie. I have my fingers crossed that Jeremy decides to stay on with Pizza Depokos, because he is a major talent and a key component to Ethan's already considerably realized vision.

Word about Pizza Depokos is going to spread rapidly. Both evenings I visited there was no wait at all, but I expect that to change once people realize what fantastic pizza they can get here, and how quickly they can get it. It's an asset to the neighborhood and an asset to Portland, and pizza aficionados throughout the city should take advantage of the tremendous food coming out of this tiny kitchen. Best of all, there is some serious love going into Ethan's pies, and you can taste it in every delicious bite.

As I mentioned earlier, Nick Zukin, the "ExtraMSG" of and, has also composed a write-up of our journey, with full impressions of the pizzas we ate at Pyro and Wy'east. I highly recommended checking it out. He is extremely knowledgeable about food and knows what he is talking about, and I had a blast hanging out with him and hearing about both his past (growing up around restaurants) and his plans for future endeavors (if you think Kenny & Zuke's is the last you'll see of him, think again). Plus, he loves pizza. Along with Ethan Welt's unbridled enthusiasm for the craft, this made for an unforgettable evening, and I wish you all could have been there.

OVEN: Wood

RECOMMENDED: 3-Cheese Pizza

(photo by Austin Haas)

Update 2/20/10 -- A return trip today with friends yielded two new pies: the Soppressata, and one of Jeremy's newest creations. The tomato sauce on the Soppressata pie, tangy to a fault the last time I'd tried it on the Margherita, was much more balanced this time around, and perfectly complimented the wide, meaty discs of soppressata.

(photo by Austin Haas)

The second pie consisted of smoked mozzarella, marinated onions, olive oil, Italian parsley, and sardines. Again, balance was spot on. The onions were cooked to perfection, with no sign of stringiness, and the cheese provided just a hint of smoke on the palate. The non-fish ingredients were pleasantly light, which worked quite well in tandem with the salt-bomb sardines. They may be a little too fishy for some, but if you think they're the bee's knees, then count your blessings if this pie makes it onto the Daily Specials board.