2719 NE 7th, 287-3645, slicepdx.com
THE OPENING of Slice, a laidback spot next to a dress shop and a mini mart, wasn't trumpeted across the foodosphere, but its inventive pies don't need buzz marketing. Without hype, something pretty great is happening at this little slice of NE 7th and Knott.
Every house pizza, each named after a Portland street or neighborhood, does our fair city justice. The Prescott takes the anise flavor of fennel and shocks it with salty prosciutto, sweet peach, fresh mozzarella, and an olive-oil base. Cooked in an electric oven, the crust is puffy and delightfully salty, and holds its assigned ingredients like a champ. It's available by the ample slice ($4.50), as a whole pizza ($11-24), and by delivery—a rare treat in this town, even for pizza.
The hearty Irvington is like a Sunday dinner on dough, with potatoes, leeks, thyme, mushrooms, bacon, and garlic. The Eliot is a spicy twist on a traditional sausage pie, with chorizo, Mama Lil's peppers, fresh mozzarella, and red sauce.
The gluten-free crust, made with Bob's Red Mill flour and $2 extra, failed to rise to the occasion, but it's serviceable on the Knott Street, with tender roasted cabbage, rosemary, bacon, and onion. Grab a table out front, a massive $5 pour of house red wine, pick a few combos, and nosh on the simple but stunning arugula pistachio salad ($5-7) while you wait.
Fire and Stone
3707 NE Fremont, 719-7195, fireandstonepdx.com
HAD I WRITTEN about Fire and Stone when I initially tried it in January, this would have been a different review. Even with bona fides like owner Jeff Smalley, formerly of Grand Central Bakery, and pizzaiolo Joey Alvarez from Ken's Artisan Pizza, the first pies from the wood-fired oven were dry, crisp, and uninspiring. Rapini and smoked mozzarella sat in a pool of grease on what amounted to a burnt saltine. A meatball pizza, on that first go-round, had a shocking paucity of... meatball.
But time and seasoning have done a world of good for Fire and Stone—a former convenience store made cheery with bright orange paint and open plate-glass windows. It's not the best pizza ever, but the wooden booths and tables are packed nightly, mostly with families, and they're getting the job done. The crust has changed from brittle to chewy, and the topping distribution and quality have been nailed down. The best of the Neapolitan pizzas ($9-15) are the salami, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, and grana ($15), or the meaty cremini mushrooms, tomato, capers, oregano, and more salty grana cheese ($12). Don't forget: This is still wood-fired pizza. The crust is thin and the circumference is small, so order two and tack on a starter of deep-fried stuffed risotto ($6).
6708 NE Sandy, 971-373-8348, pizzeriaotto.com
YOU GOT your wood. You got your fire. You got your 900-degree oven and a pizza in there for no more than 90 seconds. You got... well, meh. And it's going to run you up to $20 for a 14-inch pie.
Pizzeria Otto, unlike some of the other lesser wood-fired pizzas I've been tossed in town, is just okay. A vongole pizza ($20), normally a treat topped with in-shell clams, was verging on soggy and limp, yet served with a ramekin of melted butter, daring us to further drown it. An oversweet balsamic reduction on one $18 pizza overwhelmed the prosciutto and arugula, while the wild mushroom pizza ($16) is still trying to make truffle oil a thing. (Truffle oil is not a thing anymore.) The more basic pies, including the margherita ($10), give the crust a chance to firm up a bit more, allowing it to go to a happier, chewier place.
3262 NE Broadway, 732 SW Yamhill, pieology.com
OH GOD DOES PIEOLOGY WANT YOU TO LOVE IT. This California-based chain, which has opened five locations across the greater metro area, recently and un-invited sent the entire staff of the Merc personalized pizzas that had our FACES printed in supersize on the inside of the box, with instructions to "Say Cheese!" Upon entering a Pieology location, their signage warns our hunger to "Be Alfredo. Be very Alfredo." It's like a puppy I want to kick.
This is not quality pizza in any way, but it is effective pizza. Pieology is like the Italian bastard of Chipotle and Subway, offering an 11.5-inch personal thin-crust pie with unlimited toppings for $7.95. The bell peppers, the chicken, the mushrooms, the pepperoni, the spinach (the everything!) are all in the same metal tubs that Subway uses. Your "pizza artist" tosses them on with fast-food care before shuttling it into an electric oven (which, at the location on NE Broadway, had a "fire" burning in the back). It's out in less than five minutes, whereupon you and your picky children have a surefire winner on your hands. It's a brilliant and basic idea that will please the masses. I'm not sure why no one thought of this before.
1935 SE Hawthorne, 236-5223, blackbirdpizzapdx.com
BLACKBIRD PIZZA has a great cheese pie that takes hot sauce well. My affection for this venture from the owners of the Swift Lounge ends there. Opened a few months back in the former Vincente's Gourmet Pizza location, Blackbird has delivery and is open from noon until 2 am every day, serving New York-style pizza, salads, pasta, and sandwiches.
The garlic knots ($6) were puffy and bready, with very little garlic, oil, or butter to break up the carb monotony. The pizzas aren't great, and are ungodly expensive: A 12-inch ranges from $14-20, while a 16-inch can hit $26. A small chicken cacciatore pizza ($20) was drowning in rosemary, and a meat lover's combo was forgettable. And I demand to know who was smoking what when the "Everything Bagel Pizza" ($20-26) was created. This poor pizza is spiced with everything bagel seasoning before being brutalized with red onion, tomato, caper, and goat cheese. The cold lox, which is added after cooking, turns tepid and sweaty as it steams on top of the hot cheese. At least they offer Swift's delightful boozy mason jar cocktails to help you get through it.
Midwest Pizza Co.
4233 N Mississippi, 697-4992, mwpizza.com
DEEP DISH is a deeply personal thing. Anyone who has spent time in Chicago is likely to have a hardline opinion on which restaurant's pie—piled two inches high with cheese and toppings before being drenched in marinara—is best. (The answer is Lou Malnati's. Duh.) The food cart Midwest Pizza Co.'s crust style is more like Gino's East in Chicago, slightly breadier rather than hyper buttery like Malnati's. Still, this is a fine representation of Chicago pizza, especially with spiced, large chunks of Italian sausage rounding out the cheese and slightly sweet sauce. In a town with only one other acceptable Chicago pie (another cart, downtown's Thick), this is a welcome Eastside option. A single slice, a meal unto itself, runs $5.50, but I'd call ahead and get the whole enchilada—a 14-inch is $20—because leftover cold deep dish is also a revelation.
This may also be the only place in Portland where you can score a Detroit-style pizza—a square pizza bread concoction with a heavy dose of parmesan baked into the crust until caramelized, like the edges of a good homemade mac 'n' cheese. Round it out with hard-to-find Midwest favorites like Ballreich's chips and Faygo, Sprechers, and Green River pop (that's what they call bubbly sugar water). You betcha.