Pizza Thief Is the Place to Be on Mondays, When You Can Find Brewer-Made Pies as Part of a New Collaboration Series

Meet the Maker Monday began when co-owner and chef Darby Aldaco decided he wanted to get to know the people who craft his favorite beverage.

Mondays are slow at most bars and restaurants, but not at Slabtown’s Pizza Thief and Bandit Bar. During its de facto service-industry night, you’ll find a growing number of brewers, distillers and cidermakers who’ve made this spot their regular hangout. And they’re not just there to drink. Pizza Thief has found a way to tap into our city’s vast fermentation labor force and put members to work in their off hours creating pies and pouring beers.

It all began when Pizza Thief co-owner and chef Darby Aldaco, a self-described “beer slut,” decided he wanted to get to know more of the people who crafted his favorite beverage and make Mondays at the shop a little more exciting. Friend and Pizza Thief director of operations Gemma Fanelli loves to bring people together, and with her past experience as bartender-manager at Culmination Brewing and Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, she had a lot of connections with people she hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic. So, with Aldaco’s suggestion of making Monday a Sicilian-style-only pie night, Fanelli started calling up her friends to invite them to reconnect over a doughy, square-shaped meal.

“Those of us in the bev industry here were used to seeing each other regularly, and things like tap takeovers were a normal part of life, but all of that ended,” says Fanelli. “When things opened up, we were all craving connection. A lot of us who worked in taprooms moved to other job pursuits, and then we started coming back, and we were ready for gathering like we used to.”

One way to reconnect has been with Monday gatherings at Pizza Thief, only the brewers didn’t just eat the pies; they started creating the recipes and serving the finished products to curious customers, launching a collaboration series named Meet the Maker Monday.

It’s no secret that pizza and socializing go hand in hand. Brewers and bakers feel similarly when it comes to collaboration—there’s something about having a passion for fermenting beer and creating the perfect dough that stems from the same creative space.

“Both are flavor creators,” Aldaco says. “Some of the brewers even worked professionally as chefs, and most are very avid, skilled home cooks. Recipe creation and flavor-pairing expertise abound in both worlds. So it was a very collaborative and easeful creative exercise.”

“I often say ‘Makers gonna make,’” says Breakside Brewery research and development brewer Natalie Baldwin, who was one of the first to take part in the series. “Brewers are most definitely people who are practiced in assembling complex and beautiful flavor profiles. Personally, I love learning from people who are excellent at their craft—starting off by throwing ideas back and forth, sampling cheese, and meeting up at the farmers market to find seasonal ingredients that felt unique and was a great opportunity. We are always putting little bits of our heart into our work, and this was no exception.”

And just like with the participating brewers’ personalities, each pizza they create is unique. With some, you can tell that adventurous toppings were a top priority, like with Little Beast Brewing’s pie, which featured potato confit, green garlic gremolata, and morels sourced from the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University. Others focus on the traditional tastes they grew up with, like Grains of Wrath’s Mike Hunsaker, who put giardiniera and sausage on his pizza—a nod to the Chicago native’s roots.

A common theme among all, though, is to lean into local, seasonal produce in order to play off of the spicy-sweet notes of a pizza, flavors that are difficult to pull off in beer. The variety of combos have even challenged Aldaco to try new things, like making his first beef birria pie with Sam Zermeño of Great Notion Brewing.

An East Coast-inspired seafood pizza has been the only point of contention between brewer and pizza maker so far. A clam pie inspired by the Frank Pepe original made by Annie Aviles from SteepleJack Brewing ended up a surprise bestseller, even though Aldaco was skeptical, but he did nix shrimp as a topping from another pizza.

“They shall not be named who requested this,” Aldaco says. “We thought there might be a food-safety issue since the squares are held in the slice case until heated.”

The collaboration series has been a hit, and not just creatively. Sales are up on Mondays, and foodies are showing up each week to see what new creations the brewers have come up with in a similar way that beer geeks flock to their pub’s latest keg tapping or can release. Brewers who participated in the past are also becoming regulars.

“Brewers are sold on the fact that they get to create their own pizza,” Fanelli says, “as though they were the pizzaiolo.”

“Plus, an excuse to gather and share time with folks we respect and enjoy isn’t taken lightly these days,” Breakside’s Baldwin adds. “I’m so happy to meet up with friends for a slice and a beer.”

Pizza Thief plans to keep things fresh by collaborating with winemakers, and there are already cider producers and distillers in the lineup. Aldaco may also get to see his own concept reverse-engineered in the future.

“Darby has always been interested in beer, so we dream about turning the tables and Darby making beer collabs with brewers,” Fanelli says. “The brewer and the baker series.”

EAT: Pizza Thief, 2610 NW Vaughn St., 503-719-7778, Noon-9 pm Wednesday-Monday. Meet the Maker Monday takes place 6-9 pm.