Compared to most trendy New York and Los Angeles restaurants, Portland is deathly quiet.
Yes, the noise level at some newer Portland restaurants already has some fussier folks on edge. But, listen: It's going to get louder.
Don't blame P.R.E.A.M. Yes, the hip-hop-themed pizzeria from Nicholas Ford and Brandon Gomez can be one of the louder restaurants in town at 9 pm on a Saturday night. But it's not like they bump stunna shade-era Kanye at all times—after spending hours to carefully craft their playlists, they work the room like DJs.
"We like to get the space dark by 7 pm and feel the energy, feel the vibe," says Ford, 26. "When there are 10 people in the restaurant, we want a low-tempo beat. As more people come in, we want to up the energy."
The streetwear-styled P.R.E.A.M is distinctly Newer Portland from the moment you walk past a cord of wood to enter the former Tennessee Red's barbecue. While most restaurants in town are decidedly Kinfolkian—perhaps most especially Ned Ludd, where this project was born as a Monday night pop-up—this spot looks like it popped off a Complex slideshow. You sit on red velvet bar stools or slide into a banquette covered in faux black ostrich leather and prop your elbows up on polished concrete and epoxy tables as the Fugees boom from the gold-painted speakers.
If you're there at 7 pm, listen for Krystal Karrington's "Camp Lo." If it's more like 8 pm, expect Freddie Gibbs. "When we worked at Ned Ludd, Brandon and I would go home after work and sit until 2 or 3 in the morning and make playlist after playlist on Spotify," Ford says.
None of that would matter if the pizza wasn't on point. But P.R.E.A.M. has vaulted into the discussion of the best pies in town. It'll land in the top five on any list that matters, and in the top two on mine.
Its classically soft Neapolitan crust is made with double zero flour, proofed for 72 hours and baked at about 900 degrees in an Acunto Gianni oven. There's a paper-thin sheet of crispness below a soft, stretchy foundation that tears like tissue paper. Each pie is served with a saucer bearing the tricolor of crushed red pepper, salty Parmesan and dried oregano, served on the stem.
Topping-wise, P.R.E.A.M. is more A Tribe Called Quest than Eazy-E. There's a basic margherita ($14), but you want to look into the more exotic options, which use seasonal ingredients in an approach inspired by Ford's time at Ned Ludd and his training at New York's French Culinary Institute.
"The way that I view pizza as a whole: It needs sauce, it needs a protein, it needs all of these composed aspects to it," Ford says. "Working at a hyper-seasonal restaurant, I got a real appreciation for seasonal cooking—getting local ingredients at their peak. What better vehicle than a bubbly hot piece of crust?"
The toppings are always shifting, but focused. During the summer, Ford briefly became "bechamel obsessed" ("I calmed it down, we're half and half now"). During my most recent visit, for a Willamette Week event that paired cannabis with pizza, the sausage was topped with wonderfully spicy late-season herbs.
And in an era when restaurant noise is a hot topic—in Philly, a group of "active older adults" held a meeting to discuss the loudness of new restaurants, while The New York Times recently filed a trend piece about the merging of bars and restaurants—P.R.E.A.M.'s motto might as well be "Turn Down for What?"
"There are a lot of places that are just sorta quiet," Ford says. "They have the beautiful space, but they don't have the whole atmosphere and vibe that surrounds it. Old Portland, they like their old-school Portland restaurants with their old-school Portland food. There's nothing wrong with that. I have found that some places lack the overall energy that a major city provides… We're not trying to be this cheesy place that plays only hip-hop, and blah, blah. Yes, music has been a huge part of our past, but we want to become a place where the energy is high, the vibe is cool and the food amazing. A bustling 'big city' restaurant tucked away on Southeast 11th."
GO: 2131 SE 11th Ave., 231-2809, preampizza.com. 5-10 pm Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday, 5 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday.