Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with Pizza Hut from Kansas, which joined the union on January 29, 1861.
The state: Kansas. The flatlands. The Sunflower State. The Wheat State. Where the freeway billboards alternate between religious messaging and ads for porn stores. Where the most passive-aggressive drivers in America live (sorry, Portland!), filled with duty-bound civic crusaders who will actually park themselves next to semi trucks in the left lane to keep cars behind them from speeding. Home to agriculture, home to epic skies they use nationwide on bible pamphlets because it quite literally looks like God's hand is about to extend from the firmament, and home to the dirty hippies of Lawrence, Kansas.
The food: Pizza Hut pizza, invented in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas. Why? Because Kansas has no cuisine of its own, but rather a means of producing it. Its southeastern corner's fried chicken is parasitical on the fried-chicken belt of the neighboring Mid-South. Kansas City barbecue was invented in Missouri, no matter how hard the suburb of Kansas City, Kansas, tries to claim it. But what Kansas did invent? Distribution, man. And it's something to be proud of. The first chain restaurant, Harvey House, came out of Topeka. Though you won't find a single White Castle in Kansas, the chain's burgers first came out of Wichita. But as for Pizza Hut's oily, stacked Supreme pies? Every time you call for delivery, you're actually calling Kansas. Kansas is delivering your middling pizza. Kansas? Are you there? Please bring extra peppers.
Other foods considered and rejected: Fried chicken, Fritz's style chili (spiced meat, ketchup on the side), K.C. barbecue, hamburger casserole. Povitica was a fantastic late suggestion, based the large Croatian population in Strawberry Hill, K.C., (and Strawberry Hill Povitica), but we were unable to find it in Portland on multiple attempts.
Get it from: Dial 503-292-2222 (the alternate phone number for every Pizza Hut in our area code) and order your pizza straight from a Kansas call center. But if you're truly old school, during lunchtime Monday through Friday, you can also visit the last Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat pizza buffet in the Portland area (according to their call center in Kansas, at least). It's located on 8335 Southwest Tonka Road in Tualatin, right down the road from Pine Shed Ribs, which serves the Kansas City-style ribs that will never, ever belong to Kansas. Kansas skies may be transcendent, but the ground is humble, and full of comforts. And a Pizza Hut pizza buffet offers the deep, deep comfort of mediocrity. It reaches right deep down into the soul of mass-produced American childhood. It's right up there with the fluorescent orange burn of Kraft Cheese and Macaroni. You gonna front on that?
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.