When I visit a city for the first time in over a decade, there’s a 100% chance I will spend all of my waking hours visiting as many pizzerias as humanly possible. This is exactly what went down when I hit Seattle last month for a grand total of ~60 hours. Time was tight but my hit list was packed, so I shot the flare gun and rallied some folks in the neighborhood for some serious Mission: Impizzable action. This is our story in chronological order of visit with as much detail as I can remember.
Day 1 began with a stop at Pagliacci Pizza, which is pretty much THE delivery pizza in Seattle. My pizza spirit guide Dan (pizza tour alum, July 2015) told me they opened in the 1970s, so not exactly the first in town but certainly among, if not THE, the longest running pizza purveyor. The pizza was much better than I anticipated. Sorry, Seattle, but I had pretty low expectations for you. You can tell I was hungry because I took several bites of each before photographing, so keep that in mind. The cheese-to-sauce ratio (CSR) was nice and tight, on a crust that had nice foldability and a slightly sweet aroma. Very cool that this is so widely available in town.
Next up was Tutta Bella. I’ve heard a ton about is place so it was great to finally try it out. They have several locations and I actually hit two on this trip, but my first stop was on Stone Way and boasts a pair of beautiful Wood Stone ovens. These suckers have a pretty wide mouth, so the oven doesn’t exactly get to the temps needed to do serious Neapolitan pizza. You’ll notice the even bake on the crust here, as well as the dry look to the mozzarella on the right. Not a bad pizza at all, but my second Tutta Bella experience was definitely more on point. More on that one later.
Dan and I continued toward a meet-up with some other SPT alumni when he pointed out a slice shop we were about to pass. We had a whole 10 minutes to spare, so figured it was worth squeezing in a stop at Zeek’s. This was more along the lines of what I expected from Seattle. It’s also what I’d expect from a shopping mall. Let’s move on.
Veraci was next on the list and *SPOILER ALERT* it was my favorite of day 1. These folks are known for their mobile wood fired ovens at local farmers’ markets but we hit the brick and mortar location. The wood fired oven is unusual in that it’s made of clay and has a fire directly in the back instead of what most Neapolitan pizzerias do, push it to the side. Veraci’s pizza box claims that they’re serving Neapolitan pizza but this is an entirely different style. Not a complaint about the pizza, but either the branding is off or the execution is wrong. I like the pizza, so my vote is to strike the Neapolitan tag altogether. YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT, VERACI! BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!
Thanks to Dan’s unbelievable familiarity with Seattle and his free time due to being on summer break from his teaching gig, we managed to get way ahead of schedule. We attempted to find a pizza trailer in a parking lot somewhere I can’t remember, but that’s didn’t happen. Instead, we used our free time to check out MOD Pizza, a fast casual concept I’ve heard a lot about but had yet to try. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This place isn’t Seattle’s fault. Sure, it was founded in Seattle but it’s not something I’d link with Seattle pizza culture at all.] These kinds of places are totally based on the customer getting what they want for a good price, and I can’t argue with that. You select the size base you want, then choose your toppings, then they fire it for you. All I can say is that there isn’t any soul in an assembly line. There is no intention behind this food. It tastes the way you’d expect a widget to taste.
We planned our final stop of the night to be The Northlake Tavern & Pizza House. When I asked my Seattle-based friends what single pizzeria embodied the history and spirit of the city’s pizza culture, this was their answer. Sometimes you step inside a place and your first thought is “I get it.” This is exactly that place and I’m glad I went. It looks the way an old tavern should look and the service is exactly how you expect it to be. This is not a destination pizzeria, it’s a bar that serves pizza and has done so for so long as to create the benchmark for what’s expected of pizza by its patrons.
I’ll say it simply: this is not my kind of pizza. The crust is tough and course, with no air or flexibility. It’s piled, not topped, in such a way that it’s hard to discern exactly what you’re eating. My table (mostly locals) got into an argument about which pizza was which. “THIS is the one with the chicken and jalapeños!” “NO THIS is the one with the chicken, but I don’t think those are jalapeños!” Too funny.
They were kind enough to let me back into the kitchen, where I witnessed the pizza maker putting all of his weight into his hands to push a mountain of toppings into a dough-lined pan. It was a bit traumatizing for me the way the Queen of England would be taken aback by people spitting in the streets of Shanghai, but this is the local culture and you have to respect it as long as it’s not hurting anybody.
I didn’t eat too much of the pizza at Northlake and managed to convince a good portion of our crew to join me for a nightcap slice at Via Tribunali. There are a bunch of these in Seattle and we used to take pizza tours to the Lower East Side location in NYC, but it closed a few months ago. So sad. It was nice to see one of the original spots, which has a fantastic dark look to it. The place feels somewhat Medieval, with tall wooden booths and iron-encased lighting fixtures. The oven is an Acunto from Napoli, which excels at baking a pie in under two minutes with a high edge and gentle char. We went here at the end of the night and the oven didn’t have a full flame, so it wasn’t the greatest execution of a Neapolitan pizza I’d ever seen. Still, it’s a cool place and I’m sure they are capable of putting out solid pies. It’s just too bad we didn’t get one of them.
After day 1 (yes, that was all just one day), day 2 seems pretty wimpy as far as number of pizzerias visited, but statistically we had a better track record this time around. Dan joined me again (he’s the Einstein-looking fella in the photo above), starting at a slice shop called Big Mario’s Apizza.
We’ve got an identity crisis on our hands. The term apizza is most often associated with pizzerias in New Haven, CT, yet this place calls itself New York Style. WHAT GIVES? I had a slice and it’s clearly New York style, most closely resembling Patsy’s in East Harlem. This slice is undercooked for my liking, but shows promise! Apparently Big Mario is related to a bunch of NYC pizza families, so he has some heritage there. The only trouble is, he isn’t actually the owner. Rumor has it they’re just using his name and likeness because he’s a big character (the box has an amazing photo of him from the disco era, but I’m leaving it out of this post because it’s already long enough) and his name fit on that awesome sign.
See what I mean? Solid slice, but a little too light on the crust. Still, I could easily make this my nightly spot if I lived in the neighborhood. So many Seattle folks didn’t know about this place, but the good news is they have expansion plans in mind. So look out!
Our next spot was at the top of my Seattle hit list. Serious Pie is a pizza concept from Seattle’s premier restauranteur, Tom Douglas. They currently have three locations, one of which serves awesome biscuit sandwiches during the day! I went to the original pizzeria on Virginia Street. We got there during happy hour, when they offer smaller pizzas and drink deals, but I opted for the regular size pizzas so we could get a true assessment.
The pizza was very good. The crust has a nice outer crunch and toppings are sparse enough to leave enough space for the taste buds to process everything. I definitely enjoyed it but it just didn’t send me to another dimension the way I had expected. Maybe it was unfair of me to set the sights to high. Bottom line – this is very good pizza but I’m not obsessed with it. I won’t tell you to run there. I will tell you to check it out and get there for the happy hour deal.
I went directly from Serious Pie to the final pizzeria of the night: Tutta Bella at Crossroads. Why hit two Tutta Bellas??? The crossroads location has a completely different oven from the other spots, a pair of Acuntos from Napoli. These suckers are true beasts, built precisely for this pizza. The difference between Stone Way’s Wood Stone and Crossroads’ Acunto was crystal clear. This pizza had a puffier edge, a more delicately charred rim. and a swifter bite. It was awesome.
The night we went, Tutta Bella Crossroads was hosting an event for Barb’s Beer, a nonprofit that raises money for lung cancer research. Barb’s Been was founded by Tom Murphy, whose wife Barbara passed away in 2013 after a battle with lung cancer. Every keg of the beer that gets sold supports an organization called Cancer Grace. Very cool to see pizza helping people in this way. A great way to end Day 2.
My third and final day of Seattle pizza adventuring started with a bummer. A former tour guest emailed me about a pizzeria he’d been working at called Ballard Pizza Co. I got all the way out there, met up with some other pizza buddies, then realized it isn’t open until 5pm. This is a great reminder to ALWAYS CHECK SCHEDULES so you don’t waste time on a pizza crawl. I can’t beat myself up too much because this was the only snafu in the entire trip, but it still hurts.
We ended up down the street at a place called Zayda Buddy’s. I had no idea what to expect but we looked at the menu and I instantly perked up. This place serves Minnesota Style Pizza! Keep in mind I don’t really like Minnesota style pizza (aka Midwestern thin crust) but it’s just so dang exciting to see some regional pride! The pizza is cheesy and a bit too soft for me, but the kicker is that it’s cut into squares. People tell me all kinds of explanations for this, like it’s easier for kids to eat or it’s easier to eat at a bar. None of this makes sense to me. A slice is the perfect way to consumer pizza. Not just the best way, it’s perfect. Oh well, we had fun eating it and that’s what counts.
Moving right along, we arrived about twenty minutes before open time for one of the most anticipated pizzerias of the entire trip: Delancey. I didn’t know much about this place, only that I had to go there. Let’s not waste time here, this was absolutely in my top three pizzas of the entire trip (including stops in Portland and Reno). The pizza was incredible. We ordered The Brooklyn, which is a Difara tribute pie. They mix fresh and low moisture mozzarella with some grana padano cheese on top. It’s absolutely delicious. And the place itself is open and airy and easy going and I am just in love with it. You absolutely must go there. If you don’t love it, I’m not sure we can be friends.
Just enough time for one more pizzeria before heading to Portland (recap of that leg of the trip coming soon) and we managed to squeeze in my cousin Jill’s favorite place, Bar Del Corso. This is another beautiful place, located in the lovely Beacon Hill neighborhood. It’s big and spacious with a nice backyard. Our posse of about a dozen shared six or so pies. It was really great, but I wish it wasn’t the last place we hit. By this point, I was pretty overwhelmed and a good Neapolitan pizza like this wasn’t enough to stand out for me. That being said, it was a very well executed Neapolitan pizza. Perfect proportions and great bake. Definitely a must-visit spot next time I’m in town.
That’s it for Seattle. I’m sure I missed some great spots but I’ll get back as soon as I can. There was even another pizzeria we hit but it’s not open yet so I’ll save it for another post. Stay tuned!