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February 24th, 2010 12:00 am CHRIS STAMM | Food Reviews & Stories

Isn’t She Lovely?

Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty isn’t Lovely Hula Hands. And that’s quite all right.

SERIOUS PIE: Monterey Bay squid pizza at Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty.
IMAGE: chrisryanphoto.com

As it neared the end of its six-year run as one of Portland’s best restaurants, Lovely Hula Hands coasted to its closing as yet another sentimental favorite with a killer burger and decent cocktails. Which, by most standards, would have been just dandy. But to dine at Hula Hands in its final months was to pine for the early days in the pink house on North Cook Street, to yearn for a return to a time before passion became a pose.

Conceived by Hula Hands owners Sarah and Jane Minnick as a pizza-slinging sister restaurant, Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty opened last month next door to the shuttered space that made it all possible, and upon entering Fifty-Fifty for the first time, the bright dining room—antithesis to Hula’s romantic cloister—lands a sharp slap to your Hula Hands memories. It’s a pointed upgrade, akin to your father shacking up with his young girlfriend in the house across the street from your lovelorn mother.

Until the table is cleared for the main course, all signs point to a rebound relationship destined for early burnout. Starters fall into two categories: ill-conceived collisions or middlingly predictable. The endive with grapefruit and olives ($8) is the food equivalent of a battle of the bands where all the bands play at once, and while the roasted broccoli with chile flakes and breadcrumbs ($6), and roasted brussels sprouts with Parmesan and lemon ($6), are perfectly satisfying charred morsels, a nagging question lingers: They closed Lovely Hula Hands for this?

But all is forgiven when the pizza arrives. Fifty-Fifty’s wood-fired pies are thin-crust miracles with faultlessly salty and chewy centers. With the exception of the Margherita ($12) and a four-cheese number ($13), the cast of characters changes regularly, but the creations are consistently impressive. In fact, pleasure here is proportional to the menu’s daring. The squid-and-olive pizza ($14), accented with Calabrian chiles and aioli, might seem like the height of foolhardy overreaching, but the subtle tinge of Monterey Bay wildlife is enlivening.

The menu also offers arugula ($3) and farm egg ($2) additions; confer with your server for an appropriate pairing, and brace yourself for bliss. The egg is ideal for the pancetta and fingerling-potato pie ($14), which, after you spread the viscous yolk around, becomes the loveliest breakfast you will ever have for dinner. Fifty-Fifty’s housemade ice cream ($3.50) is assuredly worth saving room for, but resisting that last slice of near-perfect pizza might be impossible.

  • Order this: Squid pizza with black olives, Calabrian chiles and aioli.

  • Best deal: Plop an egg on the pancetta-and-potato pizza ($16) and skip breakfast tomorrow.

  • I’ll pass: The belgian endive with grapefruit, picholine olives and lemon cream is like punishment for anticipating the pleasure of pizza.

EAT: Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty, 4039 N Mississippi Ave., Suite 101, 281-4060, lovelysfiftyfifty.com. Dinner 5-10 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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