Monday, October 24, 2011

Impressions: Handsome Pizza

1603 NE Killingsworth St.
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 247-7499

NOTE: These impressions, while written about Handsome Pizza's original location farther west on Killingsworth, still apply to their new location at the address above. 

[Photographs by Adam Lindsley]

Oh how things can change in a year and a half. Pizza Depokos, one of the city's bright and shining beacons of quality (and sometimes Greek-themed) wood-fired pizza, recently underwent a change of ownership. Dough guru and all-around nice guy Ethan Welt is out, and Will Fain, formerly of Portobello and a bona fide Pizza Obsessive, is in. And lucky for us, Pizza Depokos--rebranded as Handsome Pizza--is still a bright and shining beacon of quality (but not really Greek-themed) wood-fired pizza.

Fain's take on the pizza itself isn't an enormous departure from Welt's, but there are some key differences. The Greek-inspired pies are off the menu, with the za'atar (a Middle Eastern blend of thyme, oregano, and other herbs) relegated to a garlic herb flatbread. The menu now consists of six basic pies: marinara, Margherita, cheese, pepperoni, the Rico Suave (with ricotta, aged mozz, garlic, olive oil, oregano, and cracked pepper), and the Sausage y Fromage (aged mozz, fennel sausage, hot peppers, and roasted onions). He also offers a specialty pie or two, which changes daily.

I was curious to see how close Fain's pizzas hewed to the excellent vegan ones he put out at Portobello, and quite rightly I expected the quality to surpass even those with the addition of real cheese and meat. My expectations were certainly met (and exceeded) in the second regard, but in their current form the pizzas have taken a striking shift in identity that will most likely change and change again over the next year.

The current pies are Neapolitan in style. That's certainly due to the drastic switch from Portobello's gas-fired oven to the wood-devouring monster at Handsome. The Portobello pizzas were more of a Neapolitan-New York hybrid, a larger-sliced and crispier-crusted version of an otherwise classic Naples pie. Fain's still learning his new oven and experimenting with the types of wood used to heat it, so the pies coming out of it right now have that traditionally soft Neapolitan crust (UPDATE 4/9/13 - The pies now more greatly resemble New York-Neapolitan pizza than straight Neapolitan). Easily foldable for quick consumption, but lacking the crunch imparted by the gas oven, which ran at a much lower temperature than this wood-burning oven and therefore dried out the dough more as it cooked longer.

Which isn't to say the lack of crunch means this isn't great pizza, because it absolutely is. In fact, it's pretty much perfect Neapolitan pizza. So if that's what you want, get to Handsome Pizza ASAP, because Fain's continued tinkering could mean a new style in a day, a week, a month...who knows? Crunchy or soft, Fain knows how to make a good, simple crust from a good, simple dough. The oven blisters and chars the crust beautifully, making for one of the prettiest undercarriage shots I've seen in a while. Look at that thing. Gorgeous, isn't it?

His sauce is chunkier than most, almost salsa-like in texture, though certainly not in flavor. Nay, it tastes of bright, crisp tomatoes and lots of wonderful garlic. And Fain doesn't skimp on it, judging by the particularly saucy Margherita ($12) I ordered. He doesn't skimp on the basil, either, a concept many more-renowned pizzerias across the country seem to be fighting tooth and nail against. The result was a balanced, sterling example of the Margherita, but with a pronounced garlic element. I loved it. Eat it as fast as you can once it emerges from the oven for maximum pleasure.

Since Fain makes his own sausage, I had to try the Fennel Sausage y Fromage ($14). That sausage came out ground a little finer than most, and even though it was studded with fennel seeds, it tasted more strongly of pepper. Fain wasn't particularly pleased with this particular batch, but I liked that it lacked the gristly texture of many a homemade sausage. The softer nature of the sausage contrasted nicely with the sweet, crisp onions, which yielded an audible snap between the teeth. The fiery red and yellow banana peppers packed a quick wallop of heat in every other bite, which paired splendidly with the richness of the meat and islands of milky mozzarella.

Fain stressed that the pizzas are still a work-in-progress, but even so, they're of high quality and absolutely worth a visit. They cook ridiculously fast in that oven, so you can satiate your pizza cravings however quickly you can get yourself to the Killingsworth & Greeley North Station cart pod. The best part about it this particular pod? Handsome Pizza is housed in an old garage heated not only by the wood-burning oven but by overhead heat lamps, so rain, sleet, or snow, you'll never find yourself shivering as you eating your pizza. Shivering with pleasure, maybe, but not from the cold.

OVEN: Wood

RECOMMENDED: Margherita, Fennel Sausage y Fromage (probably the others as well, but I haven't tried them yet)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Impressions: Sunshine Tavern

3111 SE Division St.
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 688-1750

[Photo: Portland Mercury]
While much talk has been made in the early reviews about how much Sunshine Tavern isn't much of a tavern at all (true), virtually no attention has been paid to the pizzas. And while they're not like to swear anyone off Ken's or Scholls, I have to say that they're quite fine, and better than expected for a place that doesn't even specialize in pizza.

[All remaining photos by Adam Lindsley]
Let's start with the crust. It hits the table hot from the gas deck oven with a crisp, bubbly shell that crackles nicely when bitten into or folded, yielding to a somewhat dense, bready center. Co-owner Jenn Louis experimented with the dough until settling on a version using high-gluten flour, salt, water, yeast, and a little olive oil. It's not the absolute most flavorful crust you'll ever eat, but it's far from bland, and that alone puts Sunshine Tavern above 75% of everyone else slinging pies in this town.

The tomato sauce on the pepperoni pizza ($14) wasn't memorable, and spread pretty thin. Thankfully the creamy fior di latte (that's fresh cow's milk mozzarella to you) has plenty of rich milky flavor, and the pepperoni from Molinari Salame is cut paper thin, crisping up in the oven and offering a both crunch and a little kick of spice. The sliced red onions are a nice little touch, imparting even more crunch and, occasionally, that unmistakable onion flavor into the cheese and sauce. Altogether it's far from a blow-your-mind pepperoni pizza, but it's a wholly solid one.

I liked the NY white pie ($14) even more. The ricotta isn't spread on too heavily, as is often the case with many white pies, and the same great fresh mozz makes a reappearance. But the best thing about this pizza? The sprinkling of fresh thyme. It really cuts through the richness of the cheeses and balances out the fats. Pair it with a pint of Upright Brewing Four and you are set, my friend.

Sunshine Tavern features two other pizzas on their current menu: one topped with parmesan, wild oregano, olive oil, and a hen egg, and one topped with zucchini, oil-cured olives, red onion, tomato, and fontina. Both sound good, and on my inevitable return to this establishment, I will absolutely order them. Unless of course they've been replaced by something else, in which case I won't, now will I?

Proprietors David Welch and Jenn Louis have a great little place here with Sunshine Tavern. They make a good burger, and the soft serve honey ice cream from Fifty Licks they're serving right now is out-of-this-world delicious (I would avoid the housemade chocolate "magic shell," though, which tastes strongly of chemicals to my palate). Service was spot on and very friendly. And they have shuffleboard! A welcome addition to the neighborhood (as if you didn't have reason enough to dine out on Division).


RECOMMENDED: NY White Pie (and don't forget that ice cream!)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Impressions: Sizzle Pie

624 E Burnside
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 234-7437

[Photographs by Adam Lindsley]
With so many good pizza options in Portland, it's rare for me to go out of my way for a New York-style slice. Finding a good example of the form outside NYC itself is like rooting for treasure in a piranha tank: you might strike gold, but more often than not, you're just going to get bit. (Wow, my analogies are really getting rusty.) So far I've found one, count it, one great slice joint in the Pacific Northwest (Giannoni's in West Seattle) and a lot of totally fine if unremarkable ones serving completely acceptable pizza. Sizzle Pie is one of the latter.

For hangover food, it's prime. Greasy crust, salty cheese, and processed meats; it gets the job done. The crust itself has good flavor. Early reports found it lacking salt, but based on my recent meal there, they solved that little problem.

Sizzle Pie sells whole pizzas, as well as pizza by the slice. As an added bonus, they also sell half-slices (called cuts), making it a ridiculously inexpensive prospect to sample several types of pizza on any given visit. Tonight I ordered cuts of the D-Beat (cheese), Ace of Spades (pepperoni), and Francesca (jalapeños, pineapple, and smoked mozzarella).

I've thought long and hard about how to describe the D-Beat ($1.50/cut) and Ace of Spades ($1.75/cut), and after hours (okay, seconds) of contemplation the only word that comes to mind is fine. The pizza is just fine. It's good for what it is, which is cheap thin-crust pizza with minimal sauce and cheese. Surprisingly, the flavor of the pizza could almost be described as slightly muted, which is why I highly recommend dousing your slices in Aardvark sauce.

I do wish the slices hadn't been so limp, though if I had ordered whole slices instead of my half-slices, I could have folded them (will have to remember that next time). And I wish the cheese element would have been stronger. But the crust itself is pretty tasty, which is a huge hurdle Sizzle Pie has overcome. It gets some nice char in their deck oven, though char really isn't what you're tasting. It's just a well-salted, crunchy-rimmed wedge of salt and flour. And it's good like that.

The Francesca ($1.75/cut) was a little more interesting. The jalapeños come with plenty of seeds intact, so they go off like firecrackers in your mouth. For those who laugh at the thought of food being too spicy, by all means give this one a shot. Me, I had to ditch some of my peppers to keep my entire jaw from going numb. The downside to the steel-toed kick of the jalapeños is that they completely overpowers any subtlety in the smoked mozzarella; you could have told me it was Daiya and I would have believed you.

Speaking of Daiya, Sizzle Pie does offer vegan options for those of that persuasion. On this matter I will speak no more.

Is Sizzle Pie the Great Portland Hope for New York-style slices? No, unfortunately it's not. But if you're in the neighborhood it's a no-brainer, and they're open until 4 a.m. on the weekends (!) for the hardcore night owls. If I lived within short walking distance I'd hit it up all the time for the bargain aspect alone. As it stands, I'm much closer to Straight from New York Pizza, which is actually a bit better.


RECOMMENDED: Ace of Spades and a squeeze bottle of Aardvark sauce

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Impressions: Pritty Boys Family Pizzeria

Pritty Boys Family Pizzeria
1430 34th Ave
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 257-1319

[Photographs by Adam Lindsley]
If you don't mind eating with a bunch of rug rats turning plastic toys into percussion instruments in the dining room playpen, Pritty Boys Family Pizzeria is a good spot for anyone in the neighborhood to grab some well-executed pies thanks to pizzaiolo Byron Hummel, formerly of Phoenecia.

You can read my impressions of their meatiest option, The Craver, over on Slice.

What you won't find there is a quick word about the other pizza I tried there, the Aloha.

This is Pritty Boys' version of the Hawaiian, with the addition of sun-dried tomato. Unfortunately, neither I nor my dining companions could find any trace of sun-dried tomato on the pizza. It's possible it was ground into the sauce, but it tasted so similar to the red sauce on The Craver that I doubt that's the case (and if it is, there's no point in having it in there in the first place). Probably just an oversight. A pity, because some extra flavor would have been nice here. The Aloha was just flat-out bland, especially in comparison to the salty goodness of The Craver.

Conclusion: Stick with The Craver. With its crispy pepperoni and crunchy (yes, crunchy) sausage, it'll leave you with a smile on your face. Especially if it's in a box on your way out the door.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Impressions: Filiberto's

Filiberto's Cucina Italiana
653 SW 152nd St
Burien, WA 98166
(206) 248-1944

[Photograph by Adam Lindsley]
There are long-venerated establishments that manage to live up to their colossal reputations, and there are those that do not. Filiberto's in Burien falls somewhere in the middle, with adequate pizza that could really use a hotter oven and about half the cheese.

To find out how to make the pizza here ten times better by ordering one specific side dish, read the full review on Slice.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Impressions: Tico's Pizza

Tico's Pizza

[Photographs by Adam Lindsley]
In the dust-choked town of Colonia Vicente Guerrero, about 180 miles south of the border, there aren't a whole lot of options available when it comes to varied cuisine. Typically, the entire peninsula, let alone this poverty-stricken village, wouldn't even register as a blip on my radar of food destinations (Michoacán is really the place I want to eat my way across). But when you have a girlfriend you love and adore working and living there, look at things in a different light.

I've gotten to try a lot of the food in the area (feel free to check out the forums for a complete rundown of my culinary exploits there). And since there happens to be pizza served in Vicente Guerrero, and this is first and foremost a pizza blog, my curiosity had to be satisfied. For you, dear readers. I do it all for you.

No, I didn't really expect to find good pizza in Baja, but the locals liked this place enough to recommend I try it. And you know what? Despite being pretty mediocre, it's better than a lot of pizza I've eaten in the States. Not most, but a lot. Certainly better than the last pizza I had in San Diego and the crap slices I had at Safeco Field.

That said, there's nothing particularly special about it. It's dough from a mix (Bay State), it rises uniformly across the pie, making it very close to thick-crust pizza, and the toppings aren't high quality. But I liked it well enough.

The Mexicana was surprisingly agreeable. It's topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, bacon, chorizo, pinto beans, and jalapeños. Couldn't really taste the sauce; it was applied in too thin a layer. But the bacon and chorizo was salty enough to make up for the fairly bland dough. I wasn't sure I'd like beans on pizza, but they weren't distracting at all, and they actually worked well with the other toppings.

Didn't care for the Mixta. It's topped with pepperoni, ham, olives, onions, jalapeños, mushrooms, green peppers, and canned pineapple. Too many toppings, and they fell off too easily when you picked up a slice. Not horrible, though. Just a veggie explosion.

When you live in a town this poor, you take your dinner options where you can get them, and as a pizzeria, Tico's is far from the worst you'll find. I'd still take it over Domino's any day of the week. While it won't impress you, it acquits itself nicely as a passable example of the highly Americanized version of this staple. And it may make you a pinto-beans-as-toppings believer, as it did me.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

First Impressions: Apizza @ Safeco Field

Apizza @ Safeco Field
1250 1st Ave S
Seattle, WA 98134

[Photograph by Adam Lindsley]
Modern Apizza is well known to pizza fanatics. The New Haven institution goes head-to-head with the two "big guns" in town: Pepe's and Sally's, and often comes out ahead. Its owner, Bill Pustari, recently opened a pizza concession stand in Seattle's Safeco Field, dropped the "Modern" and just called it Apizza. Last week I slipped in to try it.

The verdict? Pretty terrible. Still, it's early (they just opened a few weeks ago), so I've got my fingers crossed that Pustari will turn it around (please, please turn it around).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Impressions: Mioposto Caffe e Pizzeria

Mioposto Caffe e Pizzeria
3601 S McClellan St
Seattle, WA 98144
(206) 760-3400

[Photograph by Adam Lindsley]
Breakfast pizza. Sounds crazy, right? Well it happens to be the best thing on the menu at Mioposto Caffe e Pizzeria in the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle. Thanks to the pureed Calabrian chiles serving as the sauce, this thing is a kick in the mouth. What makes it breakfast pizza? Pancetta and eggs, of course! Oh, and the crust tastes like Wonder Bread toast.

Want to learn more about the rest of the pizzas they serve? Check out the full review on Slice.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Impressions: Operacaffe

835 4th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 234-6538

[Photographs by Adam Lindsley]

I recently took a trip to Mexico to see my girlfriend, Meghan, and on the way back to the airport in San Diego we stopped into a quaint little downtown Italian eatery called Operacaffe. As there was pizza on the menu, I naturally had to try some.

I'm not sure exactly where this Margherita ($10.95) is supposed to hail from, but Italy isn't it. It's cooked in a gas oven so that the rim of the crust gets some nice char, but the top and undercarriage are left merely golden brown. No matter if the crust tastes good, right? Well, unfortunately it was flavorless. It had a decently open crumb, so just a bit of salt in the dough would cure this problem in a jiffy.

Moving inward, the tomato sauce is a tad sweet, but more than that, barely detectable under the landfill of aged mozzarella. There was so much cheese weighing everything down that it was nigh impossible to extract a slice without three dozen strands of gooey, greasy mozzarella tethering it to the rest of the pizza. As it was aged mozzarella, and sodium-rich, it nearly made up for the blandness of the crust being squashed beneath it.

This is gut-bomb pizza, plain and simple, a bizarre, over-topped hybrid of Neapolitan and New York-style. It's not awful (I mean, how wrong can you go with lots of cheese?), but it's not strictly good, either. I won't write this place off completely, though, because my girlfriend's ziti was pretty tasty. Just don't order the pizza unless you want a little crust with your melted cheese. 

Or bring along an extremely attractive woman to distract you from the food, as I did.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Impressions: Pulcinella

Pulcinella Pizzeria
10003 Rainier Ave S
Seattle, WA 98178
(206) 772-6861

[Photograph: Adam Lindsley]
VPN-certified pizza is almost always guaranteed to be good, though probably not great. Nowhere is this more true than at Pulcinella, which serves a fine pie, albeit a rather unexciting one. But hey, see that "For Sale" sign in the second-story window? If you ever wanted to live above a wood-fired pizzeria, now's your chance! Full review up on Slice now.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Impressions: The Independent Pizzeria

The Independent Pizzeria
4235 E Madison St
Seattle, WA 98112
(206) 860-6110

[Photograph: Adam Lindsley]
New review for Independent Pizzeria is up on Slice. Don't worry, it's not nearly as pretentious or ostentatious as the surrounding neighborhood, and the pizza is worth putting up with the rich schmucks strolling outside.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Opening: Nicli Antica Pizzeria

[Photo courtesy Scout Magazine]
When I visited Vancouver, B.C. last year, I went to the food boards and asked locals where to find the best pizza. Most of the posts directed me to Marcello, which was a crushing disappointment. But then I heard about a place that was going to open soon that was going to be Vancouver's first authentic Neapolitan pizzeria. That place was Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Gastown.

Well, I just received an email from owner Bill McCraig that Nicli opened today, Tuesday, February 7, 2011. They'll be open from 5pm to close, no reservations (even though there's a reservation form on their website, oddly enough). An early review from Scout Magazine is very positive, so now I can't wait to get back up there to try it!

Nicli Antica Pizzeria
62 East Cordova
Vancouver, B.C.

ADDED 2/15/2011 - TIP Reader "Lindsay" sent these photos along. She noted that they still have a few kinks to iron out.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Delancey Slice Review

1415 NW 70th St
Seattle, WA 98117
(206) 838-1960
[Photo by Adam Lindsley]

The "official" review for Delancey is up on Slice. Go read it now while it's hot off the presses!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Impressions: Phoenecia

2716 Alki Avenue SW
Seattle, WA 98116
(206) 935-6550

[Photograph: Adam Lindsley]
Not far from Pegasus is Phoenecia, which serves considerably better pizza. You'd better like end crusts, though, because Phoenecia serves the fattest crust I've ever seen on a pizza. Read the full review on Slice.

Impressions: Pegasus Pizza & Pasta

Pegasus Pizza & Pasta
2770 Alki Avenue SW
Seattle, WA 98116
(206) 932-4849

[Photograph: Adam Lindsley]
Tried the very heavy, very meaty, very cheesy Hercules pizza at Pegasus recently. Check out my impressions on Slice. Fair warning: this stuff is best eaten under the influence of a substance that changes the way the mind or body works.