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August 8th, 2007 Mike Thelin | z-Eat Me
 

Crust Matters

New pie-in-the sky favorites.

     
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DOVE VIVI'S Gavin Blackstock and Delane Hamik.
IMAGE: Matt DAnnunzio

This column was inspired by a recent email to WW: "Hello, my name is Tony. As a pizza freak, I always defended Apizza Scholls as the best in Portland. Last night I ate at a new restaurant called Wildfire. Have you heard of them? They are equal to Apizza Scholls...maybe better. I feel like I just had an affair."

Dear Tony: In the realm of appetite, there's no infidelity—only variety. I too have enjoyed Wildfire's wood-fired pizza. Wildfire is a cheaper date and expects less of me.

I adore pizza, but enjoying it at Apizza Scholls (4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 233-1286) means devoting an entire evening to its pursuit. Ample thumb-twiddling precedes these perfect pies: queuing for a table, waiting for a drink and, once seated, waiting for the pizza itself. Here, we're told pizza eating is an event.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. The uniquely thin yet airy crust has a cushiony crunch. It gives just ever so slightly before shattering to pieces, releasing a smoky complexity no other dough has. The sauce has bite and each quality ingredient has character.

In no category does Wildfire (3935 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 546-3111) top Scholls, but it has filled an important niche. Here, Kevin Hutchinson, the owner of the long-gone Sellwood Public House, serves wood-fired pie for less dough, planting better-than-average artisan 'za on MLK.

The crust lacks the subtleties of Apizza Scholls' and the sauce packs less pizzazz, but the 12-inch pies are good and barely top $10. Stellar homemade sausage and spicy sopressata impressed me, though a splash of truffle oil on the fungi ($12) didn't mask the dried-and-straight-from-the-package taste. Now that, Tony, is a sin.

Redemption came in the form of a pizza Margherita and a heavily dressed, liberally croutoned Caesar that fed two, barely burned $20 and left hours to spare.

Wildfire does to-go orders and doubles as a barbecue joint with fine brisket. When my wallet is nearly empty, I choose value. But in Portland's realm of artisan American pie, Apizza Scholls remains the big cheese.

Speaking of pizza: Dove Vivi (2727 NE Glisan St., 239-4444) fills another niche, bringing deep-dish cornmeal-crust pizza to Portland. Gavin Blackstock, 26, and Delane Hamik, 25, worked for a year at the famous L.A.-area pizzeria Zelo before debuting Dove Vivi—whose menu is identical to Zelo's—in June in the just-off-Northeast 28th Avenue space most recently home to Kustom Pizza.

Dove Vivi's pizza is a gooey, cheesy, knife-and-fork pie. The cornmeal crust packs acres of crunch, and combinations like housemade sausage, sweet peppers and onions on red sauce with mozzarella are pretty darn good ($20 whole, $10.50 half, $3.75 slice). Still, though the crust is memorable, the toppings hardly wow. Plus, salads—such as an insipid marriage of black beans and broccoli—felt lifted from the grunge era. I'll skip the salad, but I'll be back for the pie.

 
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