THE COMBINATION of my nerdiness and extreme food-motivated personality made me the master of our elementary school reading challenges—heady days of being rewarded for reading books with my very own Pizza Hut personal pan pizza.
I know I’m not alone in my love of a good thick-crusted pan pizza, often known as Sicilian (or the slightly thinner-crust variation, Nonna) to the discerning. Yet for all its pizza greatness, Portland has until recently been oppressed by the wood-fired Neapolitan trend and its delicate pizzas of char and few toppings.
But now some top-tier pizzerias are embracing the pan. Pizza Jerk, from Bunk founder Tommy Habetz, debuted the style, which it describes “like a warm hug,” last fall.
Portland’s undisputed best pizzeria, Apizza Scholls, has also been quietly perfecting its pan pizzas for the last several years. Owner Brian Spangler says he hopes to get his versions on the menu this spring, as soon as additional walk-in cooler space is built.
Apizza actually had “Sicilian Sundays” six or seven years ago, Spangler says, but they quit doing them because people would come in and be confused about not being able to order the classic Connecticut style.
“When we started attempting this, the culture here was different,” Spangler says over a few test slices of a Nonna-style pie. “People on the West Coast don’t know squares. Now there are more people who are from elsewhere, and there are people who have been here long enough [and] are looking for new styles because they’ve been beaten over the head with the same old shit for so long.”
Spangler’s hoping to add a Nonna pie, a Chicago pizza in the Pequod’s fashion, and perhaps stromboli and other saucy treats. He’s been adding an extra gram of yeast and then taking it out, playing with proofing time (three days’ minimum is best) and even fretting over effective cast iron pans (he’s finally found what he’s been looking for from a small supplier in Spokane), and feeding it to tasters including restaurateur Duane Sorenson before he’ll put it next to his top-tier thin crust items.
“When I get done with all this, and I’ve got some aces up my sleeve, it’s going to be amazing,” he says.
We can’t wait. In the meantime, several other respectable places have been adding these hearty slices to their own menus. Hot Lips does a Sicilian that delivers, and there’s a pantheon of thick crusted pizzas also worth checking out:
Pizza Jerk —I originally began researching pan pizzas in Portland just to have an excuse to write a column about how good Pizza Jerk’s 12-inch cast iron pies are. The crust is thick, and like a good pan pizza, the cheese melts down between the crust (made offsite by Fleur de Lis bakery) and the pan, crisping and caramelizing for a result no shorter than manna. Go with the pepperoni ($14), which doesn’t overwhelm the slices, and get two. 5028 NE 42nd, pizzajerkpdx.com
Scottie’s Pizza Parlor —The vegetarian Defino ($25) is the definition of comfort pizza. It’s a “Nonna” (AKA grandma style), or slightly more thin-crusted than a traditional Sicilian pizza, but is still baked in a pan and cut into square slices. Oozing with rounds of fresh mozzarella and pecorino crisping the edges, the Defino is punctuated by pungent garlic oil and whole leaves of crispy fresh basil, while the presence of red chile keeps it kicky. 2128 SE Division, scottiespizzaparlor.com
Baby Doll Pizza —Like Scottie’s, Baby Doll does it Nonna-style. Call ahead to make sure granny’s in the house, and then order by the slice or whole pie for no extra charge. Baby Doll’s crisp cheese on the edges of its crust were second only to Pizza Jerk’s, and the chewy, substantial crust held up to a house special with ricotta, spinach, mushrooms, and garlic with added bacon ($27) that made it precisely one day as leftovers. 2835 SE Stark, babydollpizza.com
East Glisan Pizza Lounge —Since last summer, Montavilla’s standout slicery has been putting out a Detroit-style square pie on Tuesdays. A cheese runs $11, but if you eat meat, the $13 pepperoni is the pie of choice. Like many thin-crust establishments, they’re consistantly tweaking the dough to reach perfection. But we found ecstasy eating the corner bite of this square pizza: an intersection of caramelized cheese on the outside, melty cheese on top, and a perfect cup of pepperoni waiting there as well. 8001 NE Glisan, eastglisan.com
Red Sauce Pizza —This was the only one we tried that we would not go back for. Red Sauce whips these up for sale by the slice or whole pie every Tuesday—call it an unspecial special. The thicker crust had no crispiness, and the pre-made, then reheated pie (not an uncommon technique with pan pizzas, to be fair) was still mostly cold, even though we were dining in. If you want more than a slice, a $24 pepperoni pie serves four. 4935 NE 42nd, redsaucepizza.com