Every menu at Ken's Artisan Pizza lets you know the tables and bar were fashioned out of Doug fir salvaged from Portland's former "Million Dollar Playground," the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park. That fun fact should prime you for the thrills of the sometimes unexpected flavor combinations coming out of dough master Ken Forkish's Le Panyol oven. While it's easy to go straight for the pies with their charred and chewy crusts, start with seasonal vegetables ($12) that also get a turn in the wood-fired dome for a quick singe before they're lightly dressed.
For those who prefer pizzas plain with cheese, the handmade ($15) is about as close as you'll get, but the fennel seeds add a surprise to the familiar mozzarella and tomato sauce creation. The fresh corn ($15) made us ask: Is this even pizza? The combination of sweet kernels, tomatillo salsa and pickled jalapeños evoked the dry American Southwest more than the southern coast of Italy. But it was the mushroom ($18) that won the day as the most satisfying slice, combining delicately fried leeks with the sharp bite of pecorino and thyme. The only place where Ken's disappointed was dessert, where a butterscotch pie ($9) hit one overly sweet note. A seasonal peach cobbler topped with blackberry swirl ice cream ($9) was more balanced.
Pro tip: The restaurant fills quickly and waits can be brutally long for a table. There are typically open seats at the bar for one or two, and the person slinging drinks will be more than happy to recommend a glass of wine to go with an offbeat pizza.