Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Apizza Scholls, Portland, OR


"Oh hey, you're going to Portland? You have to check out my buddy's pizza shop, Apizza Scholls," said Buddha, bar-back at Lucky 13.

Weeks later, "hey you're going to Portland? Check out..."

"...Apizza Scholls?" I cut off Prez.

"Have you been?" Prez asked me.

"Not yet, but Buddha recommended it. And when two dudes from Michigan get this excited about pizza on the West Coast, it's probably worth checking out," I said.

It's true, pizza is not the West Coast's forte. For a region that can do so many great foods, I've always been disappointed when the West takes on classic Northeast favorites like corned beef, bagels and pizza. Sure, there are occasional stand-outs but West Coast in general and California pizza specifically has been traditionally lacklustre.

(On the other hand, I tend to prefer the Los Angeles hot dog with it's signature snap and pantheon of topping choices - although I am always and forever a kraut, onions and mustard man. Sorry, Coney Island.)

To the apologists and the defensive, I will say this: even Manhattan has terrible pizza - in fact, most of the pizza in Manhattan is terrible as anyone who lives there will tell you. However the best of the best in Queens, Brooklyn or Manhattan can be a transformative experience, a near-religious epiphany.

Antipasti
Saying that this is the best pizza I have ever eaten on the West Coast is not hyperbole. I consider myself to be a pizza afficionado and this is some of the best pizza I've ever had.

Reading over their extensive FAQ one gleans why: owners Brian Spangler and Kim Nyland are pizza snobs of the highest order (and that's a good thing).

Their dough is a slow-rising loose dough (like a ciabatta) and they make a limited quantity. The demand for highest quality for each pie that goes out is a constraining factor. The total unwillingness to give any quarter - not a yard, not an inch - shows.

The pie has a crispy crust and a soft and chewy crumb that was nicely charred on the bottom. The sauce was perfect: a deep, satisfying concentration of tomato.

Take out is available, but the effect is diminished if the pizza is allowed to steam and cool in a to-go box.

It would appear that Apizza Scholls are Giants fans. Chowbacca! approves.
We went on a Sunday night, grabbing a table via OpenTable.com. Lou Reed had just shuffled this mortal coil and in his honor Venus in Furs floated from the house sound system as we checked in with the hostess.

The restaurant is bifurcated with a stairwell that leads to apartments upstairs - customers have to leave the waiting area, go back out onto the street then re-enter the dining area. This peculiar arrangement also means that Apizza Scholls closes earlier than many restaurants. Given that running out of dough means a hard stop for the night anyway, this isn't too much of a problem.

The upshot is this: arrive early if you are unable to get a reservation and know how many pizzas you plan to order ahead of time. All pizzas are the same size - about a 14" diameter that is enough to feed four people. The menu has a few specials, which we highly recommend. There is a "build-your-own" option but you will be limited on the number of toppings: the architecture of the dough prohibits the "culinary clown car" approach that lesser pizza makers embrace.


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Apizza Scholls
4741 Southeast Hawthorne Blvd
Portland, OR 97215