Thursday, September 5, 2013

Serious Pie

Rounding out my trip to Seattle, I had to stop by Tom Douglas's esteemed pizzeria that ain't no laughing matter-

Serious Pie. I had heard that Tom, arguably Seattle's greatest restauranteur with 14 restaurants and multiple James Beard awards to his name, was behind some interesting pizza in the heart of downtown Seattle. Just steps from Pike Place Market where I had just spent the morning, who was I to say no?

I hit the joint at an off hour, which left the place rather quiet- though it was obvious SP gets packed at peak times so I was grateful. I knew straightaway, as I do everywhere I visit, that I had to order a Margherita (which at Serious Pie comes with mozzarella di bufala by default), but as I poured over the menu, I just couldn't shake trying his potato pizza.

And there you have it! Let's tackle the Margherita first-

Gotta love that oblong shape. Sure, there's nothing wrong with a symmetrical pie, but it's always nice to see some variation. This one in particular really reminded me of some of the pies at L'asso in NYC. Maybe it's just because I like grabbing square slices down the center, but consider me a fan.

I'll be honest, and I know I've made this point before: I'm not the biggest fan of julienned basil. In my opinion, basil has the best and brightest flavor when the leaf is first broken. After this point, the potency dissipates, particularly when you slice it to shreds. That aside, I really loved this pizza.

The sauce was light and sweet, and the mozz cooked perfectly to the point of almost liquidizing. What I couldn't place my finger on was what was being added on top for seasoning- it wasn't pepper or oregano, but it gave the pizza a little zing, rounding out a great product. But enough on that, I'm eager to show you this potato homeboy, the pizza that really sang for me-

Now I love pizza (obviously), and I've always loved potatoes in just about any form they can possibly come in, but a potato pizza is no easy feat to pull off well. At its worst, it manifests itself in big hunks like at Pizzeria Paradiso, when decent it can look like the mashed potato and bacon pizza at Bar in New Haven, but this- this is how potatoes on pizza is done, ladies and gentlemen.

Certain challenges present themselves when you decide to put potato on a pizza. First, you don't want a starch overload. How often do you see potato paired with bread? Not too often, because a little of both goes a long way.

Second, and more importantly, you essentially need to cook the potato twice- first on its own, then again on the pizza. In doing so, you really need to know (just as you would with any other par-cooked topping) when to stop cooking it the first time around. What Tom has done here has delivered, against the odds, beautifully moist, buttery slivers of spuds a top a perfectly cooked pie. My hat is off to you, sir.

Paired with the rosemary and post-oven Pecorino Romano, the potatoes are imparted with just the right amount of seasoning and salt to better tie these near-potato chips to the pizza.

But ultimately what Tom has on his hands here is some great goddamn bread. His dough recipe, whatever it is, is something I would eat plain every day of the week. He of course is fully aware, and opened Serious Biscuit to expand this market.

Using what seems to be a custom Woodstone gas-assisted wood-burning brick oven, Tom Douglas and his crew sure know what they're doing.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013


As I made my way north up the coast of the Pacific Northwest, I found myself entering a new city, filled with new experiences... and new pizza. Several years ago I received a tip from a reader that, if I ever made it out west, I had to try Delancey.

Okay! Located north of downtown in the hip, former blue-collar fisherman neighborhood of Ballard, Delancey was founded by Molly Wizenberg (a food blogger!) and her husband Brandon Pettit. Brandon missed the pizzas he left back in NYC when he was a music student, most notably Di Fara (can you really blame him?)

I got there just as they opened since I've heard it's quite the pizza destination in town. The space, which seems as though it was originally two units now conjoined into one, is well lit by natural light- unless you go after sundown of course.

The exterior of the oven is a bit dark in this shot, but they're working with a beautiful Mugnaini oven from where else? Italy. Delancey has two different versions of the classic cheese and sauce pies. One is a standard Margherita with the obligatory fresh mozzarella and basil, while the other ("The Brooklyn") comes with fresh and aged mozz and Grana Padano. Naturally I ordered both.

Here's your, or well, my Margherita, with a side of my favorite topping, fennel sausage. Before I get to the sausage, the pie alone without toppings is a gorgeous sight. This is, in my opinion, the perfect amount of basil for a pizza, and evenly distributed (and ultimately cooked) to perfection. 

But man, that sausage. This is what sausage on a pizza should look like! Slightly charred, manageable size, little fennel seeds poking out, my mouth is watering just remembering it. After taking a bite the truth was confirmed: both the Margherita and the sausage that adorned half were unbelievable.

Before I could savor all of the Margherita, the Brooklyn arrived (with pepperoni on half). Simply stunning in my book. If you take a closer look, you can see the white blobs of fresh mozzarella floating to the top over the more uniform yellow "aged" low moisture mozz (the kind you see on a typical NY slice).

And don't forget that grated Grana Padano! It stands out in this picture much better on the crust to give you an idea. Know who else grates Grana on top of their pies? Dom Demarco over at Di Fara (smooth move Brandon). I thought this was another fantastic pie, it's not every day that you get both fresh and aged mozz on the same pie.

The pepperoni, made by local purveyor Zoe's Meats, was also delicious and definitely a cut above your average 'roni. But let's talk about the crust-

Brandon, in his pursuit in recreating the familiar New York style of pizza, spent, from what I've heard, two years perfecting his recipe until he gave it his nod of approval. Whatever he was doing in his test kitchen paid off, because it's remarkable.

Coupled with a powerful wood-burning brick oven, Molly and Brandon have a great product on their hands. After just one bite I knew why I was beckoned to Seattle to give this place a try. Now it's your turn!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ken's Artisan Pizza

I touched down at the PDX airport and hurriedly hobbled with my luggage to pick up my rental car. I was in a rush, in a city I'd never been to, suffering from an all-too-familiar hunger. I had 30 minutes to put the pedal to the metal and drive all the way across the darkened city of Portland before a certain wood-burning oven would go cold.

Yet against all odds, I made it just in time to Ken's Artisan Pizza in South East Portland. Founded just over seven years ago by baker Ken Forkish and chef Alan Maniscalco, the duo created KAP following the smashing success of their Monday Night Pizzas at Ken's bakery in the Alphabet District.

The photos speak for themselves- Ken's is spacious, welcoming, and certainly cozy. The first thing that caught my eye was their beastly oven, how could I do anything but stare at this beauty?

Simply massive. This is a Le Panyol from Maine, a larger indoor counterpart to some of its copper brethren like that seen at The Copper Oven. I love this fire-breather.

Shortly after being seated I came to realize that a lot of, if not all of the wood used the tables and bar at Ken's was made from re-purposed supports from local defunct amusement park Jantzen Beach which closed its doors back in the '70s.

Alright alright already, let's get to the pizza! Ken's offers a number of toppings to pick from, but in typical fashion I went for one Margherita and one fennel sausage pie, the latter comes with caramelized onions by default.

Just over two minutes later, this guy appeared at my table. Gorgeous is the word I'd use for this- smooth pureed tomatoes, perfectly melted cheese, and a cornicione that screams hearty deliciousness.

This was indeed a great pie cooked to perfection, but I have to say its successor was the real star-

To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of onions (even caramelized), but Holy Vidalia did these pair fantastically with the house-made fennel sausage, sauce, cheese and basil. At this point you know I love my sausage in crumbled chunks, but the smaller grain size used at Ken's worked just great.

If Portland is just a bit too far to travel, you can always take a stab at recreating Ken's pies at home with his James Beard award-winning cook book. This guy knows bread. All said and done, Ken's Artisan Pizza and its warm hipster vibes were exactly what I was in need of straight off the plane.
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