Serious Pizza Plus
244 Robert Gray Drive SW
Ilwaco, WA 98624
|[Photographs: Adam Lindsley]|
Growing up in a small town in the southwest corner of Washington State on a 28-mile finger of land known as the Long Beach Peninsula meant one thing as a pizza-lover: pure misery.
Many tried to bring pizza to our tiny string of hamlets over the years, but no one did it successfully, and only one spot (Chico’s, which maybe I’ll review someday if I’m bored) has really survived the harsh economic reality of business on the Long Beach Peninsula: three months of feast thanks to summertime tourists galore and nine months of famine in a cold rain-and-sea-spray-soaked vellum. In fact, with the exception of the inimitably good maple bars at the Cottage Bakery in downtown Long Beach, I have zero recollection of any great food ever being served to me in a restaurant on the peninsula during my youth, let alone great pizza. The sad fact is that a drive across the river into Astoria, Oregon, was a real treat, because it meant a visit to Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut! That’s how dire the culinary scene was (and, to a large degree, remains) in Long Beach.
So imagine my surprise when I heard that someone had opened a tiny food stand in my old hometown. And not just a food stand, but one serving pizza. And not just any pizza, but wood-fired pizza. My mind could barely compute this information; black was white, up was down, left was right. I knew I had to try Serious Pizza Plus as soon as possible.
My first attempt did not go successfully; Serious Pizza Plus is not open in the winter months, which makes sense, given that it’s smack dab in the middle of beautiful Cape Disappointment State Park’s campground. Its business relies mainly on walk-up orders from the surrounding campers, and few visitors prefer to spend their Decembers shuddering in a tent a stone’s throw from the frothing maw of the Pacific Ocean.
A recent July afternoon visit, however, proved fruitful, with owner Jim Chrietzberg and his wife Chi taking orders and making pies as fast as they could for the impressive crowd out front. While I stood around snapping photos, I can’t tell you how many people came up to Jim after finishing their meal to tell him how wonderful the food was and how they were going to return that evening for dinner. The Chrietzbergs have done a fantastic job of culling the affection of park regulars (this is their third year at the site) with their relaxed and friendly demeanor, the obvious pleasure they take in what they do, and their actual pizza, of course.
Oh yes, the pizza, that’s what you’re here to read about, isn’t it? Well rest assured, this pizza stand in an out-of-the-way state park is no mere gimmick: Jim and Chi are putting out the real deal. This is good-quality wood-fired pizza made from a properly salted, fermented dough that gets a lightly charred and crisp exterior that crackles audibly as it gives way to its soft crumb. The tomato sauce has a bright quality to it and a hint of garlic, and the fresh mozzarella is appropriately milky and properly melted (a point I note after my experience at Una Pizza Napoletana). With the final addition of basil chiffonade this becomes one solid Margherita ($20), not just good for a state park, but good for anywhere.
Pies come in two sizes: single-serving 8-inch and feed-the-family 15-inch. Most of the larger pizzas run $20-$25, and yes, they can do half-and-half. Unless you have a favorite, half-and-half is the way to go if you want to have any hope of getting through the substantial menu before the season ends. Also, the 8-inch pies, quite frankly, are only going to leave you hungry and send you back in line for a second pizza.
Beyond the Margherita, I also sampled the Earth Pie, the Pepperoni, and the Meat Lover. The Earth Pie ($23) would never have been my first choice at any pizzeria, simply because of the addition of raw sliced tomatoes, but Jim gave it his strongest recommendation, so I bit. The thickly sliced tomatoes adorn a base of garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, gorgonzola, red onions, and basil. With Jim’s suggestion to sprinkle a little sea salt over the tomatoes, the pie became more than palatable; it was actually quite delicious. Texturally I still find it somewhat awkward to eat sliced tomatoes on a pizza, but the palate of flavors presented with them on this pie makes it worthwhile.
It’s been a while since I've had as good an interpretation of the classic Pepperoni Pizza ($21) as the one I had at Serious Pizza Plus. The key here is good pepperoni that actually has some heat to it, without being overwhelmingly spicy. I also prefer my pepperoni sliced paper thin; that way it crisps up in the oven and doesn’t transform into goblets of grease (I also like that kind of pepperoni, by the way, just not as much). There’s a lot of flavor packed into those salty, oily discs, which is why this was far and away my favorite pie of the day.
The pepperoni makes another appearance on the Meat Lover ($25), though it’s half-hidden beneath a smattering of sausage, Canadian bacon, red onions, olives, and fresh mushrooms. I don’t mind “supreme” pizzas but they’re never my favorite, and while I think the simplicity of the Pepperoni pizza surpasses this pie, it’s still well executed and very much worth your time and money, if this is the style you crave.
A perusal of the User Reviews on Yelp (a site comparable to a rupturing wart but the only source of online information I could find for this place) reveals that “the best pizza I’ve ever had” is not an uncommon reaction to Serious Pizza Plus, especially for Southwest Washingtonians. It’s obvious why. Long Beach set the bar ludicrously low long ago, but the Chrietzbergs weren’t content with maintaining the status quo, and they have singlehandedly surpassed decades of competition without batting an eye.
RECOMMENDED: Large Pepperoni Pizza
NOTE: A Discover Pass is required for parking in Cape Disappointment State Park, but if you’re only there to order/pick-up pizza, don’t bother stopping at the ranger’s station; just drive right through, park in the short-term parking, grab your pie, and split.