THE OWNERS of PREAM came out of the gate with more swagger than Ol' Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.). In a Mercury feature ["Pizza Overload!," April 1] about the proliferation of mediocre wood-fired pizza in this city, PREAM pizzaiolo Nick Ford told me, "There are a lot of shitty wood-fired pizzas out there. It's not just buying a nice oven and cooking a pizza."
Them's strong words for the typically passive-aggressive, everyone-plays-nice-on-the-surface Portland restaurant scene... and PREAM, whose name is a Wu-Tang Clan nod, wasn't even open yet. Sometimes, though, it's okay to have big (dough) balls, particularly when your pizza is damn good.
Co-owners Ford and Brandon Gomez struck out on their own in late April after a successful run as a Monday pop-up at Ned Ludd, where they hijacked Jason French's sound system and wood-burning oven, churning out old-world pies to a thumping bass soundtrack.
Ford clearly respects tradition, and is happy to expound on how even a slight temperature variation in either the dough or the 900-degree oven can lead to disastrous results. But while his margherita pizza ($14) is a solid primer on char-dotted chewy crust and sauce made right, PREAM really drops the mic when it blends Neapolitan roots with Pacific Northwest bounty.
The pizza is dialed in and aggressively seasonal, managing innovative toppings without resorting to gimmicks. To wit: a tomato leaf pizza ($16) in June. Turns out tomato leaves are not poisonous, and instead wilt down like any other green, imparting an additional tomato-y nuance to the sauce.
But the crew is wise enough keep a back catalog of pizza favorites. The pie to rule all pies is always on the menu: a tomato sauce base topped with kale, lardo, smoked mozzarella, onion, honey, and chili ($17). It's one they dreamed up during their pop-up days—the pork fat is made all the sweeter with honey, then substantially toned down with the smoky cheese and crisp kale.
For all its high-class trappings and toppings, PREAM has a dive-bar edge, which is sure to confound those looking for an austere epicurean experience and delight someone like me. One evening, I sat under a framed portrait of Tupac and small cross-stitches reading "F*ck tha Police" and "Hood Sweet Hood." The toilet paper holders are two fists clenching the roll. Yet the windows are large and open, and the counters are sparkling clean.
The rest of the menu—organized like a song, with an intro, hook, chorus, verse, and outro—is still evolving to find the alchemy of a smash hit. An early salad of oven-roasted romaine, buttermilk dressing, cured egg yolk, and chicken skin ($10) was plated around just one edge of a dinner plate, looking like half of it had crawled back to the prep counter.
The kitchen's also been experimenting with polenta: On one visit, it was topped with short ribs and a spring salad ($12). It was tasty and savory, but small and ultimately a distraction from the pies. The polenta will be great comfort food in the fall, or even right now, if you're gluten-free.
Drinks are fantastic, and thankfully fall onto the highbrow side of the divide. Sure, there's a Brass Monkey ($4), but PREAM resisted the urge to put purple drank on the cocktail list. The best by far is a twist on a root beer float ($10) with bourbon, root liqueur, cream, and root beer. Add an egg ($1), which gives it a frothy float on top. Grab a drink and two pies to share. And no, your dad won't be able to hear you: The hip-hop is loud and proud at all hours. Wu-Tang forever.
Tues-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5 pm-midnight, Sun 5-10 pm, closed Mon. Full bar, no reservations. Some outdoor seating. Not for the hard of hearing.