A good neighborhood pizza joint is invaluable. It's the place to grab a quick slice when you don't want to think about what's for lunch. It's the place to bring a group to share a casual dinner. It's the place you have on your phone's speed dial, so you can painlessly drop in and grab a pizza to go, or have one delivered. It's a friendly, essential staple of the neighborhood.
My neighborhood pizza joint is SE Hawthorne's famed Apizza Scholls, which some claim has the best pizza in town. However, as a neighborhood pizza joint, Apizza Scholls fails miserably: They don't serve slices, they don't sell pies to go, and if you do stop in for some of their admittedly fantastic pizza, you'll face a daunting wait before getting a table.
So in spite of Apizza Scholls' top-notch pizza, I would happily trade them for Good Neighbor Pizzeria, a homey, welcoming new restaurant located off MLK in the Woodlawn neighborhood. The neon in Good Neighbor's window is exactly the kind of beacon that defines the ideal neighborhood pizza joint. If prices are a little on the high end, the portions are mighty, and the ingredients are fresh, regional, and sustainable.
You can get pizza by the slice, and the slices are pretty damn big. They also have specialty pies or you can create your own, either a 14-inch (way too much for two people) or an 18-inch (plenty for four). Toppings run from apple-smoked bacon, organic seasonal fruit, salami, and jalapeños to ricotta, feta, and blue cheeses—along with everything in between. I'd recommend keeping the toppings simple, though; one or two will do the trick. The dough is amply sturdy without being too thick—crisp and chewy in equal, appropriate amounts.
If you're not in the mood for pizza, you may be in the wrong place, but there are actually plenty of legitimate other options. A ricotta-stuffed calzone the size of a small blimp is large enough to stifle the most demanding of appetites. An uneventful but pleasant house salad comes with a heap of oil-drenched bell peppers; Caesar and spinach salads are also available. Good Neighbor's menu also includes a half dozen sandwiches served on house-made focaccia. I recommend the "Bird," a pesto-flecked sandwich with soft, creamy free-range chicken breast and Gouda.
You may also be tempted by the garlic knots, soft twists of bagel-like dough flavored with garlic and parmesan. I found them a tad bland, but I won't hesitate to urge you to go one step further and get the meatball slider, which puts a peppery meatball inside the garlic knot with mozzarella and tomato sauce. It decadently hits all the right notes: greasy, cheesy, chewy, snappy, satisfying.
There's a full bar, and a small selection of wine; beer from Southeast Portland's excellent new Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) flows through the single tap line. French-press Stumptown coffee is also available. The dining room is uncluttered and inviting, if a little chilly; service is casual, but unfailingly warm. Front windows open like garage doors for warm weather, and picnic tables are outside. Late weekend hours, a cocktail menu, and an open mic night all indicate that Good Neighbor wants to be more than just a place to grab a slice. And that's what a good neighborhood pizza joint is—a friendly hangout that feeds, reflects, and defines its neighborhood.