Puget Sound Pizza, the little pizza parlor that could.
Ed's note: Today in GO, I skipped down pepperoni lane and wrote about three old-school pizza parlors. Here are some excerpts from previous pizza reviews.
PUGET SOUND PIZZA
Puget Sound Pizza is the little restaurant that could. While downtown Tacoma's "restaurant renaissance" chugs along, this 6-month-old spot has quietly, steadily and deliciously matured into a neighborhood pizzeria, lunch destination and breakfast hangout, all in one tiny location.
The pizza is fantastic. More New York than Chicago, the crust is thin enough to be crispy, thick enough not to fall flaccid and bready enough to gnaw without being chewy. A brushing of garlic butter around the crusty edges makes a just-from-the-oven pie glisten and reek enticingly.
Pies are 16-inchers, starting with the cheese pie (not your basic cheese pie, either: This mozzarella monster's studded with feta) up to the pesto pie with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and feta. In between, there's barbecue chicken, one for meat lovers ($14) and a garden-bursting veggie.
The "specialty" pizza menu is artfully constructed: Pesto pie had the lightest application of basil-garlic spread; pickled jalapeños merely accented spicy Italian sausage and pepperoni on another pie. The only fault I can find with Puget Sound Pizza is that the toppings don't spread far enough to the crust edges; another half-inch would make me one happy pie-eater.
The "personal" pizza is a great deal: An 8-inch pie with three toppings is just $7.50, although these smaller pies tend to be breadier than their larger cousins.
-- from a review of Puget Sound Pizza (317 S. Seventh St., Tacoma; 253-383-4777), April 1, 2005
Chef-owner Charlie McManus' dough begins with a sourdough starter that's been carefully developing character in his refrigerator for two years. The dough, fermented overnight before hand shaping, has a San Francisco-style sour cast and a crisp, if slightly under-salted, character that gently yields to libretto handling. Delicious topping combinations: Grilled portabella mushrooms with caramelized onions and goat cheese; pancetta and radicchio with hot pepper and Fontina cheese; and zesty sausage with creamy billows of ricotta.
-- from a pizza report on Primo Grill (601 S Pine St., Tacoma; 253-383-700), July 8, 2005
NEO WOOD FIRED PIZZA
Neo Wood Fired Pizza has moxie. Check out the menu's fine print: "Due to our signature dough, our crust is very thin, and adding extra toppings is not recommended, please limit to one extra topping."
And then, as if to discourage piles of pepperoni and mounds of mozzarella, diners are charged $2 per extra meat and cheese toppings (a buck for veggies).
I like Neo's approach. Thin-crust pie can't support but a few toppings - some sauce, some cheese, maybe a little meat, definitely some fresh herbs.
With a couple of exceptions - like the Neo Luau: roasted pineapple, gorgonzola, pancetta, red bell peppers, green onions - Neo's tastefully crafted menu of Naples-inspired classics and specialty pies are pretty straightforward.
Apple wood fires the oven to 700 degrees. Twelve-inch pies bake in about 90 seconds.
Neo's crust is crispy and slightly chewy, with a lightly sourdough cast. Its made in the traditional Neapolitan style using fresh yeast, water and light 00 flour, which yields a cakier, not breadier, interior crust. Modestly topped pies can easily be eaten libretto-style, in which you hold and bend a slice of pie from the wide end as the pointed ends stays up.
Margherita Classico ($6.45) was a bare-bones beauty - a light application of San Marzano plum tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil.
I enjoyed two sauceless pies. Proscuitto and arugula ($9.95) needed little more than a base of fresh and smoked mozzarella and grana padano cheese. A bed of lightly wilted arugula danced spicily against heaping slices of thin proscuitto. Veggie pie ($8.95) was equally fresh and flavorful, sans sauce.
Fresh basil stepped up Sergeant Pepperoni ($7.95). Hot cherry peppers, Italian sausage and pepper bacon spiced up Some Like It Hot ($8.95).
White pizza - just olive oil, grana cheese, sea salt and fresh rosemary - was a simple snack at $2.95. It could be a kids' meal, but there are two pies for kids (cheese and sauce, $3.95; add pepperoni, $4.95).
Pizza Lasagna ($8.45) fell flat. Diced rosemary ham and cherry tomatoes released too much water during baking.
-- from a review of Neo Wood Fired Pizza (8425 S. Hosmer St., Suite 106, Tacoma; 253-538-0870), Jan. 27, 2006
Thin crust had body and bite, perhaps too much. I liked it, but each time I was on the verge of true enjoyment, I encountered the tough sheen of boiled bagels. It gave the crust structure and character, but it left the center strata underbaked and challenging to chew.
Chia Pizza was not as tacky as it sounds. It turned out to be tossed green salad on tomato-and-cheese pizza. I saw small children enjoying this pizza. I enjoyed this pizza. Another salad-on-a-pie worked: Epicurus, topped with fresh spinach, garlic, olives and feta.
Pizza Mexicana? Think nacho pizza - with bland black beans, corn, onions, tomatoes and tortilla chips adorned with pickled jalapeños. Think not so good.
On the spare (but delicious) end of the topping spectrum, an earthy minefield of wild mushrooms (porcinis, black trumpets, golden oysters, shiitakes) took cover beneath mozzarella, cheddar and provolone. Other tempting toppings: roasted eggplant, chorizo sausage, capers, meatballs and goat cheese.
Pizzas were presented attractively in colorful large, shallow bowls. The year-old restaurant has a cozy, Ikea kindergarten vibe.
-- from a review of Upper Crust Pizza & Eatery (2714 N. 21st St., Tacoma; 253-752-0900), May 26, 2006
"Pork was especially tasty on hearth-baked pizza, with tangy barbecue sauce and smoked mozzarella. Pizza crust was light and crisp. Despite the meaty topping, I didn't feel heavy after eating a few slices. (The same went for pepperoni-and-mushroom pie, but I couldn't muster the nerve to try jambalaya pizza.)"
-- from a review of Ramblin' Jack's Lone Star Kitchen (4441 Pacific Ave. S.E., Lacey; 360-528-3226), July 28, 2006
I went for Vince's Special, but Margherita made me swoon. Vince's makes two kinds of pies: a "true Italian pizza" and a "true Neapolitan pizza." Both are hand-tossed. Both are baked on a brick hearth. I liked the latter better.
Vince's "true Italian pie" was indeed a good pie and, like the caller said, not too thick, not too thin. The crust had golden snap and airy lift. But I didn't like the toppings. Vince's Special comes with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, black olives and green bell peppers. Sausage reminded me of the gray meat nuggets on frozen pies, and nearly raw peppers, cut too large for comfortable bites, were better suited for a salad bar.
More pleasing were the Napoli, with roasted red and yellow bell peppers, garlic and mushrooms, and pesto pies. But like most of the half dozen pies I ordered for this review, they arrived with oil slicks on top. Vince's kitchen may want to dab the tops of its pies with clean paper towels.
Vince's "true Neapolitan pizza" was a delight: extra thin, slightly crispy and sparsely topped. Margherita ($8.50) was beautiful in its simplicity, with crushed tomatoes providing a light, fruity base for fresh mozzarella. My one quibble is that basil was added as garnish, not baked onto the pie. Strips of buttery prosciutto took the pie to a new level, for an extra $1.95.
Another Neapolitan pie, Capricciosa ($10.95), was indeed as whimsical as Vince's menu described, with crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, mushrooms, kalamata olives, capers and basil. That sounds like a lot of toppings, but they were deftly applied.
-- from a review of Vince's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria (32411 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way; 253-839-1496), June 30, 2006
It's like dinner theater: Pizza on the Burlington Express.
Pies are named in railroadese. The Ol' 97 chugged along: Tomatoes sprinkled on after the pie baked fell off each time I grabbed a slice that was already laden with mushrooms, garlic, goat cheese and olives.
California Zephyr sped away from other "California" veggie creations and into the land of barbecued chicken pizza.
Chihuahua al Pacifico would have steamed along better with pickled jalapeños (fresh peppers baked up tough) joining Italian sausage, pepperoni and garlic.
Trackside opened March 10. Its crust is vegan, made with flour, water, yeast, salt and no oil. Crusts on my three pies were limp and bready. The bottoms of each pie looked pale and under-baked.
Tempting build-your-own toppings: prosciutto, myzithra cheese and goat cheese.
-- from a review of Trackside Pizza (201 N. Meridian, Puyallup; 253-845-7437), May 26, 2006
While I don't sense enough heat from its new location's oven, I've warmed up to Farrelli's since dismissing its wood-fired pies last year.
I enjoyed smaller (6-inch) pizzas better. They seemed to bake crisper.
Larger pies blistered and popped around the edges just like you'd expect from wood-fired baking, but their centers sagged under the weight of too many toppings.
I enjoyed the pesto base of the California pizza. It was decadent and light at the same time. Chicken, feta and sun-dried tomatoes were California cool. But as nuts go, almonds would be more "California" than walnuts.
I draw the line at Canadian bacon-pineapple pie. But combine Canadian bacon with blue cheese, and I'm penciling in a date with the chicken cordon blue pizza (blue cheese sauce replacing red sauce, of course).
Aloha chicken had honey Dijon sauce, not red sauce. So I took a chance on a pie with pineapple. It was too sweet for a second slice, but I can see why some people like it.
I didn't order it, but I fully endorse the concept: cashews atop spicy pepperoni pie.
Tempting build-your-own toppings: Asiago cheese, goat cheese, pine nuts and Fontanini link sausage.
-- from a review of Farrelli's Gourmet Wood Fire Pizza (3519 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-759-1999), May 26, 2006
By Joe Stortini's own telling, Joeseppi's pizza isn't original. He wanted Cloverleaf's pizza dough recipe, but the Tacoma pie parlor said nothing doughing.
Sysco may be the culinary Halliburton, but the prefab pie crusts Stortini buys from the food services giant bake up beautifully. If Stortini hadn't told me otherwise, I could have believed the crust on my sausage-pepperoni-crimini mushroom-and-five-cheese pie ($12.99 for a 15-incher) was made fresh. It was thin and sturdy, not bready, with a crisp, pastrylike crumble.
Joeseppi's Italian Ristorante
-- from a review of Joeseppi's (2207 N. Pearl St., Tacoma; 253-761-5555), April 12, 2006
Thin, crisp and slightly soft - the kind you can hold from the crust end and bend in half, what the keepers of Naples-style pizza call libretto style.
-- from a pizza report on Trattoria Grazie (2301 N. 30th St., Tacoma), July 8, 2005. Tratoria Grazie's building now houses law offices
Arrivederci, beautiful wood-oven pie at Trattoria Grazie.