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. There 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.
|The Gladstone Coffee and Pizza|
|3813 SE Gladstone St (map)|