Pizza Hunter

My friends and colleagues don't really like to bring up the subject of pizza in front of me. I have quite strong opinions when it comes to the topic, and some people might even think that I have a tendency to go off the deep end. Okay, well, most people. But truly, what is better than a perfect pizza? To me, when it's perfect, it is the perfect food.

A perfect pizza comes fresh out of the blistering heat of a wood- or coal-fired oven (often around 800F!) and should be eaten as soon as possible (while avoiding the burn!). I am partial to the Margherita pizza because I think it shows off the best qualities of a pizza: a crisp chewy crust, fresh tomato sauce, just the right amount of top-quality mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. Of course, housemade sausage, roasted peppers, and sometimes anchovies are all welcome on my pizza too, depending upon my mood.

Over a decade ago I discovered this perfect pizza on a trip to New York City. John's Pizza on Bleecker in the Village became my gold pizza standard. (It is how I have described the perfect pizza above, although covered with crispy-edged slices of meatballs.) Unfortunately I live on the west coast, where finding a good pizza, much less the perfect pizza, is painfully difficult. Yes, you can get a great thin-crust pizza at Oliveto and Chez Panisse, but I'm talking about the real deal pizza place. A pizzeria. (And I'm not talking about one of those by-the-slice places. As far as I'm concerned, only a place that sells whole pies, no slices, is serious about their pizza. More on that in another blog.)

When I first moved here, I started looking for pizza. This was back in 1994. The best pizza I found back then, and which I still love to this day (although it has been surpassed as my ultimate Bay Area pizza), was Tommaso's. Tommaso's is a family-run Italian restaurant in North Beach that has been around since 1935. It's a great, casual, old-school kind of place. In the last few years, 3 other fantastic restaurants have opened that offer pizza as the main draw: Pizzetta 211 (well-known by any pizza hunter worth their salt), A16 (true Napoli-style pizza at its finest), and Dopo (beautiful thin-crust Roman-style pizza). I could go on and on about each of these places, the different styles of their pizza, how I love all three but for very different reasons, but that's not what I'm getting at here. I still want a pizzeria. A real deal pizzeria, old-school pizzeria. Like you find in NY, New Haven, Rome, and Naples. Must I go to the east coast every time I want this experience? Fly to Italy?

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Oh no. As I discovered last weekend, you can remain on this coast and still find fantastic NY-style pizza perfection. Unfortunately, it is not in the Bay Area. Nor is it in California. No, my friend, you do have to get on a plane and fly to Portland. I know, I had my serious doubts too, but when my brother's girlfriend Amy (sister pizza hunter) started raving about this place, and became a weekly regular, I knew I had to try it.

Apizza Scholls started life in a small town outside of Portland as Scholls Public House. Recently (in January), due to a variety of reasons, the pizzeria relocated to SE Portland. The owners and pizzaiolos of Apizza Scholls take their pizza very seriously, as it should be. They strive to make the best pizza, using the best-quality freshest ingredients, and make only as many pizzas as they have dough. They even have rules: only 3 ingredients on one pie, and only 1 meat per pie. No meat-lovers pizza here. I love this place. And when this much love and determination goes into a pizza, everybody wins.

We ordered one of their amazing Caesar salads, 2 Margherita pies, and 1 sausage. Both pies had the ideal balance of crisp-chewy, thin-but-not-too-thin crust; fresh tomato sauce; and a blend of high-quality cheese, all topped with basil or housemade sausage. The pies come directly from the blistering 650F-900F oven and are so hot you will hurt yourself if you try to eat it immediately. Not that that stopped us. It was so amazing that it was hard to get the picture of it (above) before everyone was digging in.

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So, I've found my gold standard. I wish it was in the Bay Area. But until a pizzeria of this caliber comes to my town, I'll just have to start building up my frequent flyer miles.

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