I need to be honest about something: Lately, I’ve been losing my faith in pizza.
When I was younger, I used to be able—thrilled even—to polish off a whole pie by myself. I’ve even written (rapturously) about my love of local pizza spots Escape From New York and Tartuca for this publication. But for some reason this winter, I feel plagued by pizza’s sameness, and eating what is possibly the world’s most loved food has become somewhat of a chewy chore. Is this what food burnout feels like while living in such a great pizza city? A psychosomatic symptom as a result of watching that one Abbott Elementary episode about pizza hating? Unclear. What is clear is how Wild Child, the new takeout window on Northeast Alberta Street, completely reinvigorated and cured me.
Founded by Nate Higgins and Nick Armour (co-founders of Kure Juice Bar) and Marcus Harvey (Portland Gear founder), Wild Child opened with a bang in early November, serving free slices on its opening day, causing lines to form down the street. The exterior, painted by skateboarder Sebo Walker, and the pizza boxes, covered in doodles of palm trees and smiley faces that evoke Venice Beach, Calif., are both Nickelodeon orange. The pizza itself is “Detroit-inspired”—that means square and thick with a 72-hour-fermented sourdough crust and sauce added atop the pie after baking. All the classic toppings you’d expect are available daily, while special combinations (like pineapple with bacon and jalapeño, or tater tots with spicy mayo and bonito) rotate in and out. So, it’s Detroit-inspired with L.A. vibes in one of Portland’s most iconic neighborhoods, and the pizza is made by health food guys. Why not?!
The best thing about nostalgic food is when the person preparing it takes the flavors you remember loving, then utilizes intelligence and technique to make their take even better than what you remember. The result is not a return to what you know, but an evolution. That’s what’s going on with the supreme pizza ($29) at Wild Child. The first thing I noted about it: It’s heavy. Big and heavy. The onions and peppers are uniformly diced rather than haphazardly sliced in a way that will inevitably pull them off after one bite. The mushrooms are so thin, they’ve become slightly crisp, pepperoni cups gently curl, and sweet Italian sausage is fennel heavy and not dry. The marinara is spicier and less salty than the sauce at most Portland joints: starting sweet, then slowly building with a tingly kick.
Then there’s that crust. My God. It’s not only the best crust I’ve had in Portland, but perhaps the best bread altogether. The bottom is burnished and oily, the sides crunch with brown charred cheese, the interior is airy and steamy and impossibly undoughy. This crust exists somewhere at the intersection of focaccia and doughnut, and is an infallible foundation for any topping. This is pizza as architecture.
The special of the moment is a smoky and cumin-forward harissa pizza ($27) topped with butternut squash that’s tender, but not so soft as to lose its integrity, plus melty leeks and leaves of near-blackened kale that have almost gone chip mode. This is where you notice the “health food guys’” influence on the pizza, and it totally works. The spice level of this pie makes it great for dipping in tangy and very dilly ranch for a cooldown, which (like all sauces and dressings here) is made in house. If even more heat is what’s desired, a Sriracha ranch option is available to amp it up.
The classic pizza parlor sides are here, and they’re solid as you’d expect: The green salad ($9.49) is green, but the vegan green goddess dressing is not—twist! It’s still tasty, though, with a sweet and nutty flavor, and I found myself dipping the herb-brushed garlic breadsticks ($6.99) into it more than the cup of marinara they were served with. The sourdough croutons on the Caesar salad ($9.49) were glossy and salty. I would eat a bag.
Pizzeria dessert is something that always seems to leave one…wanting. Usually, it’s some sort of dry-cookie situation, or, at worst, a sweet breadstick. Not so at Wild Child, where I was surprised once again by how ridiculously good a brownie could be from a pizza window. The pan brownie ($4.49) is enormous, crispy-edged, chewy and fudgy-centered, loaded with chocolate chips, and dusted with powdered sugar. I felt like a kid again while eating it, with the curse of my pizza boredom finally lifted. Notes while eating this brownie included: “Why is this so perfect?” and “This is, like, the best,” along with “I’m smilin’!!!”
As I write this, I’m still smilin’ like the doodled orange smiley faces on the pizza boxes. I can’t wait to order again.
EAT: Wild Child Pizza, 2032 NE Alberta St., 503-719-7328, wildchild.pizza. 3-9 pm daily.