Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mmmmm pizza

At this time I also want to thank Jason, the manager of the Pagliacci's on the Ave, for treating me to a couple slices and a delicious Gorgonzola salad this afternoon. Jason says that from now until March 20 the Primo slices will be the same price as a plain cheese slice ($2.09) and whole 13" and 17" pizza will be 30% off (one discounted pizza per order, available for dine in, take out, or delivery). His generosity inspired this post.

Transplanted people from NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other places in the North East say Seattle, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, does not have any decent places for pizza. As someone who doesn't know any better, I disagree.

I have been eating pizza now for about 40 years. My earliest memories are of going to Shakey's, often for a friend's birthday party, after a Cub Scout meeting or Little League game (only after we won a game. If we lost we were lucky of we got orange sherbet). This was back when Shakey's was really good and, I think, the only national pizza chain at the time. Back then, the earle '70s, Shakey's used to show Bugs Bunny cartoons and Buster Keaton movies on the wall and they had a player piano in the corner (this was a few years before the likes of Space Invaders). The kids would watch the cartoons and movies while the parents were in the "Adults Only" part drinking pitcher's of Lucky Lager or Olympia Dark.

Back then, if I had my druthers, I preferred to go to Luigi's Pizzeria in Lacey, a long ago, out of business Italian restaurant that, for me, is still the standard barer when it comes to great pizza. I remember the crust being thin and crispy (but not cracker-like) with the occasional air bubble. The mozzarella was bone white and gooey and when taking a slice, a long string of cheese would cling to the rest of the pie, but the toppings never slid off. The pepperoni had curly edges with a little pool of delicious grease in each bowl-shaped slice. Back then I wasn't as picky as I am now about what kind of pizza I ate or where it came from. I even liked the pre-frozen, pre-delivery pizza that Chef Boyardee kit in the box.

Around the time I turned ten (1974), frozen pizza started showing up at our local supermarkets. Back then the best was Tony's pizza, before it was "improved" so many times that it finally tasted as bad as Gino's or Totinos pizza. A few years later, I think I was fifteen when Lacey got its first delivery place, a Pizza Haven (there is still one left in Seattle). I remember their pickup trucks with the ovens in the back that kept the pies warm. Then we got other chains (Pizza Hut, Dominoes, and the locally owned Brewery City Pizza, where I worked for six months and learned how to toss a pie when I was 20). Except for Brewery City, I thought all the chains, including Round Table, Little Ceasar's, and Godfathers were crap.

I gave up eating crap pizza when I moved to Seattle almost nineteen years ago. Correction, I stopped paying for crap pizza almost nineteen years ago. If someone else wanted to pay for crap pizza and offered me a slice, I would gladly accept it. I also still buy the occasional frozen Red Baron or Tombstone Pizza (though I often add my own extra toppings). Lately I have been buying the My Brother's Pizza brand Four Cheese Chicago Style pizza from the QFC deli department, and dress it up with toppings like Canadian Bacon and Pineapple, or Italian Sausage, Pepperoni, and Mushroom. I like to top it off with balls of fresh mozzarella. I do this when I am too lazy to go buy pizza-by-the-slice, but too broke to order delivery.

I find that all I need these days to be sated are two, sometimes three slices. of pizza. Since I have been in the home, I have thrown more pizza away than eaten it because I when I have ordered out for pizza, after a couple slices, the remaining pizza will sit in the nurse's station refrigerator for a week before I finally tell them to toss it. (With my condition I cannot count on having an appetite on any given day. That could be remedied if I was legally allowed to smoke weed).

Until I moved to Seattle, I had never heard of places outside of New York City where you could buy pizza-by-the-slice. I grew up in and around Olympia and the closest we had to pizza-by-the-slice was the personal pizzas at the 4th Avenue Tavern (a damned fine pizza it was). When I moved to Seattle, specifically Capitol Hill, there were four places within my neighborhood that I could get pizza by the slice (there are other places in other neighborhoods, but somehow Capitol Hill had the best).

Rocket Pizza (the best at the time, in my opinion), went out of business about ten years ago (the The Stranger says that it has reopened in Ballard and calls itself Crash Landing Pizza). They were unique in that they had slices of pepperoni, I swear, the size of sliced bologna ,and often they had odd (to me) toppings like asparagus and red potatoes. They would also sell me large balls of uncooked dough for $1.50 each, which I would take home and toss my own pizzas.

Another long gone place was Abruzzi's Pizza, which was torn down around 1992 to make room for a Nike Town. It was one of the last places where you could stand on the sidewalk and watch them hand toss the pizza in the window. I can't remember if the pizza was any good, but the place had atmosphere. It was probably the closest thing we had to Sal's Pizza, the pizzeria in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. According to Nancy Leson, the restaurant reviewer for the Seattle Times, the former owners of Abruzzi's have returned after a fifteen year absence to open a new Abruzzi's somewhere in distant South Seattle.

Hot Mama's Pizza, almost literally a hole in the wall, opened up just before I moved out of the neighnorhood. Its pros were that it was right around the corner from my apartment and was open until at least two in the morning, so it was a good place to go after a night of drinking (but so was Dick's and Taco Bell). Its cons was that it was kitty corner from Bill's Off Broadway, which was about 150 feet closer to my apartment and a much better place to eat or get take out (plus if I wrote a check it could take days for them to cash it, so I could often eat up to a week before payday, if I timed it right).

Finally there was/is Pagliacci's Pizza. Pizza-by-the-slice is available on Broadway on Capitol Hill, The Ave in the U-District, lower Queen Anne, Bellevue, and two places on the University of Wshington campus and they deliver to almost everywhere in "Greater Seattle" incliding the Eastside.

Though, I admit there are a couple pizza places I'd rather go for a sit down with a whole pie (sorry Jason), if I want a pizza delivered or just want to get ppizza-by-the-slice, Pagliacci's is the best I have tried. In the nineteen years I have been eating their pizza (I figure I have eaten Pagliacci's pizza either as delivery or by the slice over 300 times and have spent maybe $4,000 over the years) they have always been consistent. In all those times they might have screwed up one pizza, but were quick to rectify the issue.

I've had delivery from Zeek's, Mad Pizza and Amante's but still prefer Pagliacci's.

My two favorite pizza places in Seattle are Pazzo's and The Wallingford Pizza House. Both remind me of Luigi's. The Wallingford Pizza House, besides having an amazing thin crust pizza, they sell a great Chicago-style deep dish pizza (similiar to My Brothers Pizza and the long closed Testa Rosa) and have a unique item called "The Dome." Sort of an inverted pot pie or bottomless calzone. The WPH puts the "toppings" of your choice in a bowl, cover it with a pizza dough and bake it till done. When they serve it they flip it upside down so you can get at the toppings.

I have had pizza-by-the-slice in other neighborhoods, none of which are as good as Pagliacci. Pudge Brothers in Wallingford, Pizza Brava in the University District, and A New York Pizza Place in Maple Leaf all have servicable, but unremarkable slices.

A recent trend in Seattle has been the explosion of "authentic" Neapolitan pizzerias that are sanctioned by the city of Naples, Italy. La Vita E Bella in Belltown is the best of these that I have been. Tutta Bella, in Wallingford and Columbia City are OK, but I find the crust too chewy )ditto the Hi-Life in Ballard. I am still hoping to try Via Tribunali, another "authentic" Neapolitan pizzeria on Capitol Hill. Why can't we get an authentic Sicilian pizzeria?).

I like the pizza at the Garage Pool Hall and Bowling Alley, and the extremely thin-crust pizza at Palomino. Piecora's on Capitol Hill and Pete's Pizza in the U-District were, and may still be good, but I haven't been to either in over 15 years. I actually went to Pete's for the first time in 1982, (Holy Shit! That was 27 years ago!!) when I came to up to Seattle to see The Who play at the King Dome. At Pete's I was introduced to shrimp as a topping (yummy!)

When I lived in Wedgewood, actually closer to Lake City, I'd sometimes order from Romio's, which is more of a Greek-style pizza (there are several locations around the city). It's OK but I usually order their sandwiches, which are really good, because, though I love their toppings, I hate Greek-Style pizza crusts (they tend to be greasier and chewier than Italian-style pizza). I've also eaten t the Greek-style Olympia's Pizza in Wallingford and on Capitol Hill, and Olympic Pizza on Roosevelt. Again, they are allright, but if I go to any of them I'd rather order the pasta.

The Northlake Tavern, located between the U-District and Fremont makes a pretty decent pizza. The crust is just O.K., but if you like toppings they give you a ton.

The only bad pizza I have had since moving to Seattle is Madame K's Pizza, which the critics love but I think is dreadful. The one time I ate there it tasted like crap (the mushrooms were from a can and I think they dumped the can, water and all, on top of the pizza after it came out of the oven). Actually, Jet City Pizza was pretty bad too but I can't remember why (it was delivered, so they either screwed up the order or overcooked the pie).

Other places of note that I have been: Dirty Dave's in Lacey tasted just like Shakey's but was pretty much a biker bar and a good place to be drunk (as long you have a designated driver). Serrano's Pizza in San Francisco's Mission District is very good for a slice or a whole pie, and the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory in both Dublin, Ireland and Paris, France were great when I went there in 1990.

There are still pizza places I want to go, not just in Seattle (too many to mention), but one of these days I would like to go to New York City (Grimaldi's, Lombardi's, Totonno's, and Ray's) and Chicago (Gino's East, Uno Chicago Grill, and Giordano's).

I have eaten so much pizza in my life and must have spent about $10,000 on it and it is only about third or fourth on my list of favorite foods (#1 Steak/Prime Rib/Pork Chops. #2 Sushi, #3 Pizza or Hamburgers).


Jason L. Cheung said...

I am so there with you on favorite foods...Steak. And More Steak. Rib Eyes, of course.

Thanks for the shout out, Larry!


Larry Davenport said...

No problem. Thanks for the pizza. The salad was great.