Monday, June 11, 2012

Impressions: Kindle Kart

NW 27th & Vaughn
Portland, OR 97210
(503) 893-5049

[Photographs: Adam Lindsley, unless otherwise noted]
Anyone who enjoys good pizza has to appreciate living in Portland today. Not only has the city’s overall pizza scene climbed steadily in quality within the last five years or so, but so have the food carts stepped up their game when it comes to putting out quality pies. Carts like Wy’east, La Pizza Pela, and Pyro are all making solid pizza without the need of a brick-and-mortar location. Now there’s a cart making better pizza than almost any of them, and it’s Kindle Kart up on NW 27th, across from the iconic Montgomery Park building.

Helmed by proprietor Kevin Hutchinson, Kindle Kart sports a domed wood-fired oven that quickly blisters the 24-to-36-hour fermented dough, giving the crust of his Neapolitan pies a great outer crunch and a tender, open crumb. No surprise that Hutchinson’s set the bar high for himself, given that he’s been making pizza for over 15 years. His cart used to live over on North Mississippi, but he hated the oven there so much that he sold it (to Ned Ludd) and built this one:

Not the best photo, I know, but you get the idea. Here’s a different angle from the Willamette Week with a shot of Hutchinson in-frame:

[Photograph: Willamette Week/]
Looking at the menu (online here), I was struck first by how inexpensive everything is: There isn’t a pizza over $8. Sharp contrast to most pizzerias around the country, which seem to be pushing the agenda of disproportionately increasing the price of pizza every year. Is it any good, though? I wondered, worrying that the low prices would translate to a commensurate level of quality.

The Margherita ($7.50) put those fears to rest on the first bite. With the exception of the confusing addition of fresh grape tomatoes, which have no place on any pizza as far as I’m concerned, this was a sterling example of the classic bread/tomato/cheese/basil pizza that showcases a perfect harmony between few ingredients. As I mentioned before, the dough is fermented for at least a full day and often longer, depending on the weather. Fully cooked, it contains a proper (read: generous) amount of salt and elicits decent char, although my Margherita was a little too blackened on one side. It happens.

The tomato sauce feels thicker than the sauce on a VPN-certified pie, and it’s visibly augmented with a few dried herbs. The fresh mozzarella came properly melted (you have no idea how many times a wood-fired pizza comes with not-quite-melted mozz...or maybe you do) and was nicely salted to bring out the natural milky flavors. Again, the only misstep was the raw grape tomatoes, which, next to the sauce and cheese, didn’t offer enough flavor to warrant their inclusion. Now, if they were baked on the pie like the Filetti at Una Pizza Napoletana or pre-semi-dried and added afterward like this, it’d be a different story, but as is I just ended up picking them all off.

I’d have to slap your hand if you picked off anything from Hutchinson’s Sausage pie ($8), though. His homemade sausage, studded with fennel seeds and laced with five different types of pepper, is among the best in the city, rivaled only by Brian Spangler’s at Apizza Scholls. It’s spicy and meaty and salty and packed with flavor. Just look at these craggy boulders of pork and try to keep your mouth from watering:

Add to that the sweet, delicate onions Hutchinson grills on his flat top beforehand and you’ll be hard-pressed not to finish one of these pies singlehandedly in one sitting. It’s the ideal marriage of sweet and savory and you’d be certifiably insane not to order it (unless you’re, you know, vegetarian).

What’s even more amazing about the fantastic pizza coming out of this cart is that Hutchinson’s menu isn’t even completely devoted to it; burgers and fries take up a full half of the offerings. As I haven’t yet ordered a burger from Kindle Kart I can’t comment on them, but I’m looking forward to trying one in the near future.

Kindle Kart raises the bar for cart pizza in Portland. The out-of-the-way location might seem like a trek, but I think it’s a trek worth taking. Don’t let this one fade like so many carts; it is absolutely worth your time and money.

OVEN: Wood

RECOMMENDED: Sausage pie