Lonesome's Pizza was too weird to fail. Of course Portlanders fell for the quirky, late-night pizzeria like a nebbish male lead playing opposite Zooey Deschanel. Toppings include edible glitter, one owner is an original member of Mini Kiss, there's a discount for sexy talk on Tuesdays, boxes sometimes include burned Fela Kuti music samplers, and pies have names like "Lee Majors vs. a barracuda with a bowie knife."
Two years ago, a WW writer put it on a list of great pizzas in town before he'd tried it; another wrote that it has "such an attractive and multifaceted shtick going on that its pizza could suck and Iâd still order it now and then.â
A few months ago, the owners closed their humble Northeast location and moved to prime real estate, the pizza window at Dante's on West Burnside Street, behind the hallowed "Keep Portland Weird" wall. The menu has expanded into sandwiches, wings, salads, breadsticks and ice cream. It hasn't been seamless, but Lonesome's seems to be breaking the barrier between being Portland's most Portlandy pizzeria and a formidable force for good in our pizzasphere, with pies as memorable as the boxes. It's become the pizza equivalent of Voodoo Doughnut—minus the various commendations, honorary degrees, et cetera.
The pizza is almost always very good. Occasionally, it's amazing. After being spoiled by a particularly stellar "Burt Reynolds & the girl that stole my cd collection vs. a pride of badgers, " an out-of-town guest with no knowledge of what passes for blasphemy in these parts shunned an Apizza Scholls pie. "Why are we eating this?" he asked. "Is Lonesome's not open yet?"
That $21 Burt—names change, but it's always No. 6—will make you a believer. Like all of Lonesome's pies, it begins with a moderately thick crust that's double the heft of the Nostrana pies you snip with shears, yet still crispy and charred. Like the best Lonesome's pies, its soul is the best pizza sauce in town, a bright and very herbal marinara. Pools of milky mozzarella, hot salami, banana pepper rings and crumbles of fried shallot finish it off.
For an untraditional pie, go with "Tesla the inventor vs. Dokken the band" ($23, No. 13 on the menu), which is built from a brown, mildly spiced Ethiopian sauce and topped with big chunks of braised leg of lamb and big dollops of goat cheese. It's best piping hot, though, so be careful about when you order it. (At busy times, you might wait two hours for delivery.)
A trio of greens-heavy salads (all $7) balances things a bit. The Papa Smurf is a very faithful Michigan salad, a bed of spinach with thin slices of crisp pear, small but potent crumbles of Gorgonzola, walnut, cranberries and a garlic scallion dressing that's more like chimichurri. The Mini-Marilyn Manson is almost the same, but instead is topped with small slivers of pecorino and a generous pile of prosciutto.
The wings and sandwiches are not so good. The "wings" are actually huge, meaty chicken drumsticks more like ren faire turkey legs, with dark, sinewy meat. That might work with a thicker, stronger sauce, but two different orders of habanero apple wings were spritzed with peppered water. Priced at $7 for "more than a pound" (it might be two), they're at least cheap. Two sandwiches—"meat" and "veggie," both $7—come on a nice, soft hoagie roll but aren't executed as well as the pies. The problem, in short: The meat is way too meaty and the veggie is too veggie-y. Both should be rejiggered for a better balance.
I expect Lonesome's to figure those out, too. Then, give 'em a zany name and watch the money roll in.
- Order this: âBurt Reynolds & the girl that stole my cd collection vs. a pride of badgersâ ($21).
- Best deal: A slice from the window at Danteâs ($3 cheese, $4 special).
- Iâll pass: Sandwiches or wings.
EAT: Lonesome's Pizza, 350 W Burnside St., 274-9570, lonesomespizza.com. 11 am-3 am Sun.-Wed., 11 am-4 am Thurs.-Sat. $$.