I'M TYPING this one-handed. A cold slice of the first decent deep-dish pizza made in Portland is occupying 50 percent of my digits, and I'm not about to put it down until I'm done.
Portland is inexorably linked to a few places: San Francisco, Brooklyn, and the small Midwestern towns from whence all of our newbies seem to arrive. But for some reason, Chicago—land of da Bulls, da Bears, and da deep-dish pizza—hasn't shared many of its fine culinary exports with our fair city.
Portland's excellent Dove Vivi—one of my top three favorite spots—has a deep-dish cornmeal crust, but no one, including the restaurant itself, is trying to make the argument that it's the real deal. And Via Chicago, a popular cart that opened a sit-down spot last year, falls flat.
The key elements that must be present: The crust must be buttery, not bready. The sauce goes on top, with at least a three-quarter-inch layer of cheese encapsulating the toppings (preferably spinach and pepperoni or sausage).
Thick, a newer food cart in the SW 3rd and Washington pod, is making pies that hit more bases than the hapless Cubs this season. Owner Michael Cline, from the Chicago Heights area, opened the cart this past winter, after noticing the lack of authentic deep dish in Portland. The menu is simple: pepperoni slices for $5 or cheese for $4. Add arugula, seasoned to order with sea salt and olive oil, for $1; it's excellent when added to the cheese. The chunky sauce is layered with spices—I'd eat it on a meatball sandwich or pasta any day. The mozzarella is appropriately stretchy and thick. The corn-flour crust can be a bit mushy in the middle, but its buttery crispness is just right around the edges.
A single slice will do you for lunch or a late-night snack (two-thirds of a cold pepperoni for breakfast is holding well past noon). Forks and knives are optional, depending on your dignity level. The whole pies take more than an hour to prepare, so Cline makes a few each day and serves slices until they sell out.
With at least an hour's notice, order a whole pizza for yourself at an obscenely low cost. A whole cheese pizza starts at $20, while a half pepperoni and half spinach ran me $24. Cline leaves the whole-pizza topping options up to the customer, and with even more advance notice, he'll whip up cart-made sausage.
Cline, who is open 'til 4 pm most days, will even hang around Thick until you're off at 5:30 pm to make sure you get your dinnertime fix. Finally, no more mail ordering Lou Malnati's.
Mon-Sat 11 am-4 pm, Fri-Sat also open 11 pm-4 am. Whole pies available in evening; call ahead to reserve.