To the South!

I’ve returned home to San Francisco and JMR and EDP are here with me! Follow the continuing adventures of our search for the best slice at sfpizza.wordpress.com.

And stay tuned to the PPR for more from MK!

Thanks for the great pie, Portland!

IZ

The Gladstone Coffee and Pizza

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that Gladstone is totally weird? Not only is Gladstone Pizza actually The Gladstone Coffee, magically transformed from bins-furniture cafe into bins-furniture pizza place after 5 PM, but some friends and I felt like we had been plopped into Inland Empire while waiting for our bumbling waiter to stop fishing for non-sequiturs and take our order. 0527091940There was a woman a few picnic tables behind us who couldn’t stop plunging her hands into her tank top to show off her new, full chest tattoo. There was a smoking patch of ground (yes, smoking, and yes, substantially) about a stone’s throw from our table that was the prime entertainment for bantering barflys at the Gladstone Pub next door. There was a group of kids trying to run cars off of 39th with a basketball. And there was a long, long wait for our pizza.

A former Gladstone Coffee employee told me that the shop started baking pies after the manager decided that profits needed a boost. It sounds like a good idea in theory: the Steele/Holgate/Gladstone sector is in need of a pizza joint that dishes out a bit more bite than Woodstock’s Pizza Roma. Gladstone has played its cards well — they’ve hopped on the Portland bandwagon and only cook with meats from nearby Otto’s Sausages, and get their dough, sauce, cheeses, and veggies from local sources. Besides pizza, the shop offers salads and pasta dishes that I wasn’t able to try, though our waiter compensated for the spotty service (he was the only person waiting on a full house) by serving us a complimentary appetizer of roasted asparagus, salami, and coppa. I figured, at least the guy is trying to be nice, but I’m not sure if the other patrons equally sympathized with his brisk beer run/escape attempt up to the nearby Plaid Pantry when the shop’s Hop Lava IPA tap went dry.

This guy was starting to get suspicious. After biting into our $20 half-margherita-half-andouille sausage pie, I couldn’t help but feel that he must have thrown a veil over my eyes before he pranced around the sidewalk wildfire and shouted something about coal mining. Everything smelled good and looked great, but Gladstone had served me one of the blandest Portland pies I’ve ever eaten. With all snarkiness aside, Gladstone’s crust is delicious, and reminiscent of my beloved east coast crusts that most Portland pizza shops will never get close to emulating. It’s perfectly charred, has a great crunchy underside that’s counteracted by a soft and moist topping side, and holds rank alongside Sellwood’s Tastebud for quality. In fact, if Gladstone were to only serve crust with a little bit of oil on top, I’d say they make the best pizza bianca in town.

It’s the toppings that spoiled the pie — the sauce was under-salted, overloaded with garlic, and a bit thinly spread. The cheese was an aged mozzarella (not fresh, as we hoped the price would entail) that melted into a tasteless film on top of the pie, and was even more disappointing when andouille sausage sat on top of it. The sausage and cheese were polar opposites on that pie, and rather than finding an interesting flavor through the tension, I just couldn’t figure out what I was eating anymore. I also prefer a pie that’s cooked a bit crisp, and found Gladstone’s pizza too slippery; it didn’t help that the andouille made the situation a whole lot greasier.

Gladstone has some work to do if they want to transform their neighborhood cafe into a respectable pizza spot. Our waiter was facing a tough night — the place was understaffed and the tap went dry, but he didn’t really respond as a waiter usually does, and should do. Instead, he acted like an awkward barista stuck in a foreign situation. It’s great that the shop is trying to use local ingredients, but that doesn’t help things if the pizza is just underwhelming. Rumor has it that Gladstone has purchased a neighboring building and plans to expand into a full-scale restaurant. Let’s hope that they expand service and re-plan their recipe, too.

MK

The Gladstone Coffee and Pizza
3813 SE Gladstone St (map)
(503)-775-1537
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Tastebud

As it’s been a while, I’ll try to keep this review brief. The strength of my memory, however, is strong, on account of one of the best ‘zas in Portland. Yes, it is pricier than some for their speciality pies (though no worse than Hammy’s), but for a tasty, luscious, fresher-than-fresh pizza, one must look no further. Except maybe Apizza Scholls, the review for which is also long overdue.

First, a bit of history:

Tastebud started as a farm. An organic farm, actually, and in 2000 began making wood-fired baked goods for the Portland Farmer’s Market. These baked goods were good. Very good. And last summer (2008), chef/owner Mark Doxtader opened the restaurant on SE Milwaukee, across from the Aladdin. Tipped off by Jeremy, the owner of Cellar Door Coffee Roasters, JMR, EDP, and I took a ride down to the dining room in August to get a pie to go. I’ve been going back ever since.

photo-39The first thing you notice about Tastebud is that it really feels like a dining room. Not in a restaurant sense, but in a this-is-your-aunt’s-house kind of way. At first, I felt the space strange, almost artificial seeming, but now I’m fond of it; mirrors, vases, mismatched plates, and all. There’s also the smell – the wonderful aroma of a wood-fired brick oven doing its thing back in the kitchen. Tastebud offers other hearth-roasted appetizers and goodies (including bagel brunches on the weekends) and some delicious salads – on a good night, their caesar with bagel-croutons may be the best in town. But that’s on a good night, and quality, I must admit, has seemed to vary.

But on to the ‘za.

The most amazing thing about Tastebud’s pizza is the crust. Crisp, firm, dusted with flour on the outside; fluffy, airy, soft, and moist on the inside. The flavor is there too, with just the right amount of salt to bring out the flavors of their dough. The sauce is also quite good, and I’m always struck by a faint fennel taste in the bright, clean tasting tomato sauce. The mozzarella, it has to be said, isn’t the best. It’s good, sometimes very good, but occasionally it will taste a little too briny and once they ran out and used different cheeses. When they use fresh mozzarella it is amazing (creamy, goey, tender), but sometimes they don’t and it is a little-bit lacking. But not very much. You can also get their specialty pizzas (but be careful, because sometimes they don’t tell you if the pizza has sauce or just olive oil) or you can customize the basic cheese, starting at a reasonable $14, with arugula, various meats, olives, and other seasonal items for a few extra bucks. I can eat a whole one, but I think less gregarious folks can (should) split one between two, or even three people if you get an appetizer.

Service is always very kind, though sometimes a bit slow. In the earlier days, I was stuck waiting for water, waiting to order, or waiting for my pie, but in recent months, this hasn’t been a problem.

Minor flaws exist, but I still can’t think of many pies and rather be eating right now. Now. Maybe I’ll go back tonight.

IZ

(oh: they usually have a pretty good beer selection: Caldera, Hair of the Dog, and some others. Wine, I’ve been told, is also good.)

Tastebud
3220 SE Milwaukie (map)
(503) 234 0330
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Nostrana

Sometimes, when I’m eating, I just don’t feel the need to be in a fancified warehouse. It’s not that I get vertigo looking up at those high, beamed ceilings, nor do I think about all the bugs and critters that may be inhabiting such lofty wood; these things don’t bother me. Perhaps its just that the emptiness of the space above my head seems to demand filling. Maybe one must look up with soaring ideas of how wonderful the food may be, eyes rolling to the tops of their sockets, tracing the beams, if one is so lucky, to put words to the sublime occurrence dancing across one’s taste-buds. Well, most-likely not.
Sitting in a corner booth this weekend at Nostrana, the space above my head felt decidedly vacant. This was to be my second trip to the well-known eatery in a few years and, I feel bad to say, I could never understand how it was ranked Restaurant of the Year in 2006. Don’t worry, I’ve had other things besides the pizza to make sure that my feelings were not in error and, across the board, I’ve felt let down. Their menu seems so interesting, ingredients so fresh; even on the plate the food looks amazing. Once it enters the mouth, on the other hand, not much lives up to Nostrana’s impressive pedigree. I don’t mean to say the food is bad, which it is not per se, its just lacking, as if each dish needed one thing, one spice, one technique to bring all the flavors together, but that something just wasn’t there.

As this is a Pizza Review, I’ll leave the other foodstuffs to the side and focus my efforts on a “traditionally” “uncut” Margherita pie. House mozzarella, tomato, basil, with added arugula, and proscuitto. Fancy. I’m sorry that the picture I have doesn’t do justice to the wonderful look of this pie, but you’ll have to believe me that my mouth was watering.

With the commencement of the cutting, however, things started to go downhill. In the middle, there seemed to be a pool of the most liquified elements of the sauce and melted cheese, which caused unnecessary difficulty in cutting a slice. Upon reaching the crust with the knife, I had a ball of dough and toppings, which I had to fold over into a sort of calzone in order even to attempt a bite. The sauce was good, very simple; the crust, inconsistent; the cheese, a bit over cooked; the arugula, a bit greasy; the proscuitto, very nice. On their own, each component had flavor, texture, and was most certainly fresh, but together, I found them bland. It was as if all the flavors canceled each other out. Very unfortunate.
Overall, Nostrana greeted me with high expectations and, when all was said and done, I left unsatisfied and with a hole in my wallet.

(Other notes: Service was aloof. They have Caldera IPA in a can.)

IZ

Nostrana
1401 SE Morrison (map)
(503) 234-2427
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Dove Vivi

Across the street from the garish colors and outdoor tables of Pambiché, the strip mall housing Dove Vivi is a calm, unassuming location. A big, black heart on a sign-pole stands in the parking lot. A few people drink beer outside. I couldn’t really tell if the design was supposed to be upscale, hip, or neighborhood-y, but the pans of deep-dish convinced an entrance.

The first thing you see when you walk through Dove Vivi’s glass doors is refrigerated display case full of half ‘zas. These must be the source of the individual slices ($3.75) and are, as their website stresses, not pre-cooked. A nice hostess informed us of a short wait and we were seated in approximately five minutes. Not too bad.

In terms of décor, I like it. Simple, grey walls, wooden tables and chairs, that exposed warehouse-type ceiling – a little noisy, a little cramped, but not distractingly so. Water was waiting for us at the table in little glasses and a large mason jar.

Quatro Fromaggio

Quite hungry, my friend and I ordered one full-sized Quatro Fromaggio ($18), described as mozzarella, fontina, provolone, parmesan, and tomato sauce, and one half-sized Pepperoni ($10.50), a combination of mozzarella, fontina, pepperoni from the Molinari Salame Co. in San Francsico, mushrooms, and fresh tomatoes. Both of them on Dove Vivi’s signature corn-meal deep-dish crust (the only choice). With a smile, the waitress told us that we were “ambitious.” Yes we were.

And then we waited. It’s not that the wait was overlong, as deep-dish does take a while to cook, but that our waitress never came back to check on us, inform us of the usualness or unusualness of the wait, ask us again if we wanted something to drink, or anything else. We just sat there and, when I was just about to say that this was getting bad, the pizzas arrived. Generously sized, good-looking, not-quite-piping hot ‘zas. I tucked in, pulling out a hefty slice of Quatro Fromaggio.

The ‘za was delicious. Definitely one of the cheesiest slices I’ve had in a long-time. Dove Vivi’s cornmeal crust is quite good – it doesn’t become overbearing, but you can certainly taste a difference. Though, I will say that I would have liked just a bit more corn flavor, however crunchy-on-the-outside light-and-fluffy-in-the-middle it was. Smattered across the top of the pie were chunks of tomato sauce – very garlic-heavy, a bit over-salted, but tasty nonetheless. As I mentioned above, there was a whole lot of cheese here. It would have been better to have a little more distinction between the four different cheeses, as they all blended together in texture and flavor, but there is very little to complain about. Overall, very satisfying.

I’ll leave the description of the Pepperoni for another time, but suffice to say that I thought it less inspired than the Quatro Fromaggio.

Dove Vivi is certainly recommended, but I’d like to see their staff become a bit more attentive.

IZ

Dove Vivi Pizza
2727 NE Glisan St (map)
(503) 239-4444
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Rovente Pizza SE

First off, I’m starving. Famished. In need of a slice. J and E agreed that pizza was a good idea and I saddled up to my first review. As I waited around for them to return from Hawthorne, I thought of Rovente’s with anticipation. Would it be overly buttery like Rudy’s? Soggy like Hammy’s delivery? A slice of that Ninja Turtles pie I’ve been waiting 17 years to taste? Truly though, these questions don’t really matter when an extra-large cheese costs 7.99 for pickup. It’s a deal. It’s a steal. Sale of the fucking century.

(writer’s note: When I began this review I was halfway through my first slice. After one paragraph I’ve inhaled nearly four.)

To be completely honest, I desperately wanted to maintain my skepticism of Rovente’s Pizza. All the hype, the arguments, and, most importantly, the low low price made me think that I’d get some cardboard dough, cheap and overly salted sauce, and a thin, insubstantial layer of a plastic-like cheese. I’ll be the first to admit, I was wrong. This SE pizzeria actual brought forth a tasty pie. The crust was pleasantly doughy, a bit par-baked, but not offensive; cheese was generous and added more than just texture; and the sauce was surprising, tasting like tomatoes, not paste, though canned it must be. Hot out of the box, I couldn’t get enough (again, four slices in approximately three minutes) – the bottom of the crust crisp, the cheese ever so slightly browned. I was hungry and now I am not, which is, in the most essential of views, an important quality for pizza.

However, I must now give my 20-minutes later check-in. Gurgling in my stomach, probably more to do with my rapid eating than the quality of the slice, I’m not sure I’m such a glowing fan of this pizza as I was before. It seems secretly greasy. Indeed(!), what seemed a dry, reasonably oiled pie at first has now left only its trace – residue on my fingers and lips, plus a bit of indigestion. Very similar to what I’ve always thought of as “salt-butter” around my mouth when dealing with Rudy’s, Rovente’s leaves me in much the same discomfort, but to an admittedly lesser degree. I guess the thing you have to watch out for when dealing with both of these pizzas is the high salt content. I’m no kid with an iron stomach anymore and sodium really gets me. But that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to visit Milwaukee Teriyaki and it won’t make me pass up Rovente’s again.

I’m satisfied; the lesson learned being more about my eating habits in general than of this pizza. It was good and enough is enough.

IZ

Rovente Pizza
3240 SE Hawthorne (map)
(503) 234-7777
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Bella Faccia Pizzeria

Bella Faccia

Bella Faccia is another one of those NE PDX ‘za establishments that is all the rage these days. Most likely, this stems from the cozy but disjointed atmosphere, the slightly detached pizzaiolos, and the guaranteed vegan fare. Portlanders…

Anyway, the pizza is good. Thin crust, even cheese distribution, sizable slice. If you get there between 4 and 6, the beers (Laurelwood, Terminal Gravity… PBR) are a little cheaper. JMR and I can’t remember anything special about the sauce, so it can’t be awesome (or terrible, for that matter), but the overall experience is generally a positive one.

Though the ladies behind the counter seem a bit distant, their lack of warmth is more than made up for by the pace at which they can serve the long lines that tend to spontaneously form in the shop. Even with a dozen people in front of you, it never seems to take more than a few minutes before you step away from the counter with a little slice of heaven in your hand.

On a personal note: Last time I visited the Fac’, I bought $8.50 worth of ‘za and brew. When I checked my bank e-statement several days later, I noticed I was charged $13.50. I don’t know if this was an honest mistake, or if it was a well calculated attempt to shake me down, but I was/am pretty annoyed. Moral of the story is, either pay with cash, or hold on to your receipt so you can make sure you don’t get stiffed.

DT.

Bella Faccia Pizzeria
2934 NE Alberta (map)
(503) 282-0600
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