The homie Nappy B said it best: Geography is destiny.
The First Consul of the French Republic and Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine was talking about the besieging of Russia, not the explosion of wood-fired artisan pizza, but the lessons are the same.
Portland has seen a huge boom in the number of high-end artisanal pizzerias in the past two years. By my count, the number has doubled—just look at the map:
Artisan Pizza in Portland
2. Ken’s Artisan (304 SE 28th Ave.)
3. P.R.E.A.M. (2131 SE 11th Ave.)
4. Oven & Shaker (1134 NW Everett St.)
5. Firehouse (711 NE Dekum St.)
6. Handsome (1603 NE Killingsworth St.)
7. Nostrana (1401 SE Morrison St.)
8. Lovely’s 50/50 (4039 N Mississippi Ave.)
9. Life of Pie (3632 N Williams Ave.)
10. Cibo 3539 (SE Division St.)
11. Pizzeria Otto (6708 NE Sandy Blvd.)
12. Renata (626 SE Main St.)
13. East Glisan Pizza Lounge (8001 NE Glisan St.)
14. Fire + Stone (3707 NE Fremont St.)
15. Tastebud (7783 SW Capitol Highway)
16. Pizzeria Contadino (8218 N Lombard St.)
17. Pyro I (1204 SE Hawthorne Blvd.)
18. Paper Bag Pizza (2880 SE Division St.)
19. Ash (3121 SW Moody Ave.)
20. Pizza Box (910 E Burnside St.)
21. Red Sauce Pizza (4935 NE 42nd Ave.)
22. Pizza Jerk (5028 NE 42nd Ave.)
23. Kerns Kitchen (2935 NE Glisan St.)
The new Tastebud in Southwest Portland is poised to shine. Not only because of the pies—pleasantly tart dough topped with combinations that play fresh herbal notes off rich meats and cheeses—but due to location. Tastebud shuttered its former eatery off Southeast Powell Boulevard three years ago, and this year became the most exciting new restaurant Multnomah Village has seen in a generation. Maybe two. It's easy to see why the place was packed on both of my weekday visits.
Meanwhile, not far from Tastebud's old location, one of the city's best new pizzerias met its Waterloo in November. That was the Neapolitan Pizza Maria, operated by Sean Coyne, former baker for Thomas Keller's famed New York restaurant Per Se, on dining-dense Southeast Division Street, right by P.R.E.A.M. and the second outpost of Pyro, not to mention Scottie's, Atlas and Cibo.
Tastebud's smart decisions aren't limited to location. The wine list is solid, there are a few well-chosen taps, and the cocktails show a nice touch. We were especially impressed with a hot toddy ($9) with caramelized oranges soaked in rum, and a well-made Old Fashioned ($10) with Buffalo Trace bourbon and Angostura bitters over an oversized ice cube. Both were balanced, restrained and a few bucks cheaper than what we've become accustomed to in this town.
You'll want a plate of the house's crusty bread with grassy green olive oil ($2) and the mixed olive bowl ($4). Salads are seasonal, but the winter selections tend toward the colorful and bitter. An opening course of endive, hazelnuts, apples and a light apple vinegar dressing ($7) precedes the pizza especially well.
The pies are the same form Tastebud has been perfecting for 15 years, with a poster-board-thin bottom and a distinctive, puffy handle on the outer rim. The combinations are thoughtfully built and a far better bargain than building the classic ($14). My favorite was the Nausicaä, with marble-sized crumbles of pork sausage and about half a bulb of lightly sweet fennel.
The pizzas will serve two, and I'd stick with them over the other dishes baked in the wood-fired oven. Our whole chicken ($23) was tasty but more the size of an overgrown game hen. The bird's juices did provide a nice gravy for the roasted parsnips and kale sprouts on the plate below it; these were otherwise lightly seasoned and unmemorable.
Then again, maybe those dishes are sops to pepperoni-allergic glutenphobes sharing a table with pizza enthusiasts. If so, I doubt they're complaining.
Thanks to Tastebud's move to Southwest, very few people in Portland have to drive more than 10 minutes for great pizza.
Stay strong, Centennial—your time will come.
Order this: Bread, salad, Nausicaä pie, hot toddy.
Best deal: Bread ($2), hot toddy ($9).
I'll pass: Wood-fired meats, including the chicken.
EAT: Tastebud, 7783 SW Capitol Highway, 234-0330, tastebudpdx.com. 4-10 pm daily.