We are excited to dedicate this entire edition of the Feast Portland newsletter to what is arguably the most democratically approachable, globally adored, and universally craved foods on the Earth. We are talking about pizza. There may be great food all over the globe, but visit any notable culinary capital on any continent, from Tokyo to New York City to Beijing, Lagos, Detroit, Dubai or our own Portland, and you’ll find good pizza, too.
Why now? Well, timing is everything. Today, Chef’s Table drops an entire season on Netflix featuring some of the world’s most inspired pizza makers, and among them is Portland’s own Sarah Minnick of Lovely’s Fifty Fifty.
This is a big deal—for Sarah and for Portland. Chef’s Table is a globally-aired show that has, since 2015, featured and celebrated some of the most inspiring culinary minds around. No chef from Portland, nor the Pacific Northwest, has ever been featured on Chef’s Table. This is a huge and well-deserved honor. And in the food media attention economy of today, Chef’s Table is unique in that it trusts its viewers can be deeply obsessed with food and food culture without needing a competition to increase its appeal.
So for that reason, we are celebrating Portland’s incredible pizza community in our newsletter and on our social media for the next couple of weeks.
Mike Thelin, Co-Founder
AN INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN MCGINN OF CHEF’S TABLE Brian McGinn is an executive producer of Chef’s Table and also directed two episodes of the new pizza season (Franco Pepe and Gabriele Bonci). Follow Brian’s inspiring global food adventures @brimcgi on Instagram.
Team Feast: Why pizza? Why now? Where did the idea come from?
Brian McGinn: Team Chef’s Table, like everyone else on the planet, loves pizza. And then there are those of us—I’d count myself as part of that group—who worship pizza on a nearly spiritual level. For example, when I first moved to LA in my early 20’s, I used to save up to eat at Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza, and then go home and try to recreate her dough, baking pies in my beat-up electric oven. That was my idea of fun. Today I’ve graduated to a wood-fired oven in my backyard, but my dedication to pizza is the same. With that said, as we started making themed seasons of Chef’s Table, it was inevitable to me that we’d eventually do a pizza season—it was just a matter of when. And that time is now! I’d add that pizza is such a fun food to do a season of TV about because inherently, every pie is a blank canvas—when a chef puts toppings on, they’re putting their spin on pizza, and suddenly the pie comes alive. In that way, making pizza is a perfect way to try to do something new, to experiment and reinvent and try to perfect—all the kinds of things we find fascinating in our subjects, and love to explore on the show.
The last season of Chef’s Table was BBQ. This season was pizza. Tell us about the decision to adopt themes for each season. Was this always in the plan? Will it continue?
We never thought we’d be doing themed seasons when we started making the show. But as time passed, we realized we wanted to explore and reflect the richness and diversity within individual “genres” of cooking—be it BBQ, pizza, or others! It might be hard to feature multiple chefs cooking in one style in a more “traditional” Chef’s Table season, but in our themed seasons we can show off, for example, four different styles of cooking with smoke and fire. We love it, and hopefully we’ll get to explore more themes in the future.
There is a lot of great pizza in the world, and you guys had to narrow it down to just a few episodes. Are there other places that you would have loved to include?
Oh man, of course. Researching chefs for a pizza season is like opening Pandora’s box. There are infinitely more deserving and amazing people that we’d love to feature than we end up having room for in six episodes. It’s no secret we didn’t set foot in NY this season. We could obviously do a whole season just in New York and New Jersey. We didn’t feature a Tokyo-style pizza-maker either. Same for Chicago and Detroit and New Haven styles of pies. And gosh, the variety of pizza-adjacent flatbreads around the world, in places like Lebanon and Turkey and Georgia. Or all the other insanely awesome styles of pizza in Italy. It’s crazy. Six episodes really isn’t enough to capture the giant, awesome world of pizza making in any definitive way. My hope is we’ll get to do additional seasons of both BBQ and Pizza. I have lots of ideas already.
Portland’s Lovely’s Fifty Fifty is featured in an episode, and everyone here could not be more excited. Tell us why you and your team love Lovely’s.
I’ve been following Sarah for years now, and finally got the chance to visit before the pandemic. I love how fresh and vibrant her pizzas are, how she’s channeling Portland’s DIY aesthetic, and the incredible farm-to-table culture you guys have up there, and then bringing all that to bear on pizza, making pies that are super unique and surprising. It says a lot that when you eat at Lovely’s, it feels like you’re being actively encouraged to avoid the margherita. Not many places like that. Sarah wants you to try the funky, offbeat stuff, and I love that.
You were recently in Portland—where did you eat, and what did you love?
I was lucky enough to head out to McMinnville and eat at Okta, Matt Lightner’s new place. It was great. So was Kann, Gregory Gaudet’s new Haitian restaurant. As always when I visit Portland, I swung by Eem a few times. Had my first Nong’s experience for breakfast one day. Would happily eat that plate of food every day for the rest of my life. Managed to snag an end-of-the-season slice of marionberry pie at Lauretta Jean’s. Also had a good meal at Magna, swung by Lovely’s a few times, downed a bowl at Rose VL, and closed off the trip with a visit to one of the food carts we featured on (our other Netflix show) Street Food, Matt’s BBQ Tacos. Portland is an amazing food city, and I’m now on a strict diet.
Sarah Minnick at Lovely’s Fifty Fifty. Courtesy of Chef’s Table.
WHERE ARE WE GETTING PIZZA TONIGHT?
In a moment that dovetails with a very 21st century obsession over the performance of pizza minutiae on social media, national voices are increasingly looking to Portland’s pizza restaurants and deeming them notably excellent. Sometimes, the national press is able to see us better than we see ourselves, but they’re also quite capable of getting things hilariously wrong. More than anything else, the ongoing press moment for Portland Pizza feels like a game of catch-up. Over the last decade, pizza in Portland has blossomed into something like a municipal obsession, and now our city is home to a fully realized, ever-expanding full-on Pizza Scene, by far the most varied and excellent on the West Coast.
Before you call me crazy or accuse me of some Myhrvoldian influence, let me frame this for you with something like earned reporting, personal experience, real undercover gumshoe work. I feel like I’ve been having this conversation on loop for the last ten years or so, but throughout late August, I started asking everyone I knew about pizza, in advance of writing this essay. And from this evidence gathering I’m here to report that everyone in the city of Portland is obsessed with pizza, and I mean everyone—all of us who work on the Feast newsletter, everyone I know as a professional acquaintance or from hanging out in the coffee shops, my wife, my kid, my business partner, his boyfriend, their friends, your neighbors. The entire city has a pizza opinion, a piping hot pie of a hot take, on who does the best pies, which way, and why.
This is a sure sign of a mature scene, like visiting a beach town in Mexico and taking your pick of twenty different spots making marlin tacos, or taking in the vast panoply of barbecue styles and executions available on a visit to somewhere like Kansas City. In a lot of ways Portland reminds me of Kansas City, in the sense that we do not necessarily have our own locally codified “style” of pizza. Instead, we are home to faithful re-creations of just about every style you can name, in a competitive environment that prizes quality and ingenuity, with an informed eating public driving the city’s pizzaiolos to bigger and better heights.
Ask 20 Portlanders (as I did) about their favorite pizza joint and you’ll get 20 different answers (as I did), each equally valid and worth checking out, or revisiting as the case may be. Kayt thinks the nonna pie at Scottie’s Pizza (The Delfino) is probably the best pizza in town; Mike thinks the clam pie at Dimo’s (The Tribute) is perfect, but you have to eat it immediately—don’t take it to go. My business partner and my five-year-old are both loudly loyal to Baby Doll Pizza, an achingly simple and classic pizzeria slice that splits the difference between PNW punk rock pizza and the classic New York fold-and-walk. I asked my wife multiple times before she finally reported back to me that her favorite pizza is from Apizza Scholls, “probably,” but the pizza at Red Sauce on Fremont is also very good, as is the occasional trip over to NW 23rd for a slice at Escape From New York.
On a recent visit to the city, a food writer I respect out of New York had only one stop on his pizza list—Ken’s Artisan—and I couldn’t really argue with him. (Our fresh tomato pie was extraordinary.) In the course of writing this story I made my way to a couple of new-to-me spots, including Gracie’s Apizza and Pizza Kat, and was impressed by both. (The red pie at Gracie’s is the bomb, the outdoor patio at Pizza Kat is perfect for lounging over a chanterelle & sweet onion slice.)
That, I think, is the real crux of Portland pizza: you could eat at a different joint every night and have a different style of pizza served to you each day of the week, all at an admirably high level. And within each place there’s often sub-divisions of styles and expressions: the Defino at Scottie’s is good, but a classic pep and cheese from there is no slouch, neither; Baby Doll has a sneakily great Sicilian style with vegan cheese, perfect after a night out; Apizza Scholls makes what I think is the best vegan slice in the city, a red pie layered with spicy arugula, but there’s also great 100% vegan dedicated pizza to be found at Secret Pizza Society (get the taco pie). And that’s before we dive into the wider degree of variation that can be found with a little more exploring, like the beautifully traditional Detroit-style cheese crust pie at East Glisan Pizza Lounge, or the singularly unique cornmeal crust, farmers market pies at Dove Vivi, whose pizza I crave roughly four times a year, corresponding exactly to the change in seasons (BLT pizza in the summer, vegan corn pie with caramelized onions in the fall, and so forth).
Or maybe I want a very thin, very fresh, very cheffy bar pie and a glass of wine from Cathy Whims at Nostrana? Or what if we checked out the Bay Area by way of India fusion pie happening out in Beaverton at Bombay Pizza and Curry? Or got sourdough slices from Pizza Thief, or maybe went wild maximalist square pie with extra dunking sauce at Ranch, or checked out a slightly more refined version of the same concept at Pop Pizza, or checked back in on that Bon Appétit award and grabbed a kinda iconic spicy hot honey pie at Pizza Jerk… And that’s before we even get into the literal work of art pizzas that they put out each night at Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, so very deserving of its moment of television exaltation here in 2022, in that it has been quietly excellent now for more than a decade, and served (alongside Apizza Scholls and a few others) as a beacon for other pizza lovers to try their hand at Portland pizza for a Portland audience—done totally without preconceived notions or rules or artifice, in a very Portland style. You can’t get pizza like this in New York or Chicago; we’re doing our own thing, and I like that.
Portland pizza is characterized by its wild variety of expressions and options. My favorite kind of pizza is Portland pizza, which is to say—it’s a different pie, from a different joint, in a different style every single time, driven only by what sounds good on that particular day, as personal and micro-seasonal and fun as it gets. I don’t really like one place over another, but I’m dying to hear which place you think is the best. Truth is, I like the conversation most of all, and I think it’s become a quintessential one here in 21st century Portland, a kind of portal into the municipal soul of what it means to live here right now.
Pies at Scottie’s Pizza. Photo by Marielle Gibbons.
WHERE CHEFS EAT: THE PIZZA EDITION
Welcome to the latest edition of Where Chefs Eat, where we asked a few of our chef and food world friends where they go for pizza, which pizza they routinely order, and what is their go-to side.
Luna Contreras, Chef/Owner, Chelo
The Restaurant: Boxcar Pizza
The Order: The Green Supreme (Mozzarella, red sauce, kale, roasted tomatoes, red onions, ricotta, Mama Lil’s peppers. 100% vegan)
Essential Side: Cheese Garlic Bread and Vegan Wings
Gabriel Rucker, Chef/Owner, Le Pigeon and Canard
The Restaurant: Milwaukie Pizza Company
The Order: Pepperoni, cause I’m a simple man
Essential Side: Caesar salad is my go to app
Justin Woodward Chef/Owner, OK Omens
The Restaurant: Scottie’s Pizza Parlor
The Order: The #1 (Tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, pecorino romano, fresh basil, shaved parmesan and & good olive oil)
Essential Side: Creamy herb dip
Thuy Pham, Chef/Owner, Mama Dut
The Restaurant: Boxcar Pizza
The Order: Bacon jalapeño cheesy bread (Mozzarella, ricotta, sliced garlic, grated parm, Italian seasoning, sea Salt. Comes with a side of ranch and red sauce. 100% vegan)
Essential side: Extra ranch and Mama Lil’s peppers and a kale Caesar salad
Earl Ninsom, Chef/Owner, PaaDee, Langbaan, Hat Yai, Eem and Phuket Cafe
The Restaurant: We did family meal delivery from our neighbors at Ranch Pizza for Phuket Cafe many times in the early days
The Order: Simple sausage or pepperoni. Solid spongy pie, delicious and filling.
Essential Side: That garlicky dipping sauce.
Bonus: For dine-in: When we get a chance, we go to Lovely’s Fifty Fifty for the wild mushroom pie with chanterelles, etc., and the essential sunnyside farm egg. Her pizza and commitment to local seasonal ingredients deserves all the success. I’m very happy and can’t wait to see this episode air
Nori De Vega, Food Enthusiast, @nomnom_nori
The Restaurant: Assembly Brewing
The Order: Detroit-style pepperoni
Essential Side: A Caesar salad, a side of red sauce and a side of their house-made ranch
Bill Oakley, Food Enthusiast, @thatbilloakley
The Restaurant: Apizza Scholls
The Order: Meatball & onion pizza
Essential Side: It’s-It ice cream sandwich
The Restaurant: Pizza Jerk
The Order: It’s Always Sunny in Cully (Pepperoni, pineapple, Bunk hot peppers, basil honey)
Essential Side: Bobbie’s Boat Sauce
Carlo LaMagna, Chef/Owner, Magna Kusina
Pizza Restaurant: Red Sauce
The Order: Hot Nancy (Ricotta, red onion, Shardell’s spicy honey, sea salt)
Essential Side: Rice crispy treat