Category Archives: Noteworthy Bites

Final stop on the Vegetarian Pizza Quest train for Pizza Week; DeNicola’s Restaurant, “The Italian Flavor You Remember”

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DeNicola’s turned out to be the perfect finale to Portland Mercury’s Pizza Week. I chose this as my final stop because this restaurant is a Portland institution for its home-style Italian cooking, and has been serving customers for 38 years. Additionally, I was drawn to the delicious, beautifully colored vegetarian pizza they crafted specifically for Pizza Week, “The Best of Italy.”

DeNicolas-Restaurant-02I have fond memories of eating their thick crust pizza during the home remodeling years when my kitchen was a bathtub, hot plate, and a wok. Though this was my particular craving at that time, it was before the big “pizza craze.” However, DeNicola’s was already well-known the city wide for its thick crusted pizzas with the homemade sauce, delicious spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna… and well, the list goes on. Always putting their customer’s desires at the forefront, their menu has evolved with Portland’s changing palate. They offer 25 vegetarian options, as well as gluten free pizza and pasta.

DeNicolas-Restaurant-03DeNicola’s is a family-owned business started by immigrants, Giovanni and Rosina DeNicola. They passed on twelve years ago and the legacy is being continued by daughter, Donna, brother Nick, and her sons, Patrick and Johnny. While I waited for my pizza, Donna, sat down with me in their comfortable booths to talk pizza. She has worked here since the restaurant opened, 38 years ago. Donna still loves her job, the hours, and the longtime staff, who are like family. She believes that you have to provide a good working environment if you want your employees to stay. It appears she does just that – for once someone is hired they almost never leave, which is a good thing in her opinion.

DeNicolas-Restaurant-04For pizza week, the restaurant came up with many ideas, but scrapped them all and decided to go with “what they do best.” While they don’t usually offer pizza by the slice, they decided to give it a try during Pizza Week to meet a whole new set of fans. Their “Best of Italy” starts with a crust that has the perfect amount of crispiness topped with their hearty housemade marinara that looks and tastes like someone’s Italian Grandmother would have made. Topping that in a circular design was the mozzarella, ricotta, and basil pesto, finished off with a carefully drizzled balsamic reduction. The colors of this pizza match the colors in the Italian flag. Each stripe of color offers another pleasant flavor; the creamy goodness of cheese, followed by a burst of marinara that tastes like it’s been simmering all day, the sweet tang of the balsamic reduction that marries well with the thin line of pesto, all balanced by the crunch in the crust. This pizza has been so popular that they will be adding it to their menu.

DeNicolas-Restaurant-01At first I thought I’d take a couple bites then take the rest home, but the pizza tasted so good and I couldn’t resist staying to finish it because sitting in that booth, lace curtains on the windows, maps of Italy on the tabletops, with music from another era playing in the background, you really felt the history of the DeNicola family. As Donna told me, once “they” (her customers) walk through that door, we’ve got them, and we’ll take good care of them. And that is exactly what you’ll get at this Portland landmark. I hadn’t originally planned where my last stop would be, but I couldn’t have picked a more perfect place to end Portland Pizza Week.

DeNicola’s Italian Dining, 3520 SE Powell, http://www.denicolasitaliandining.com/, open 7 days a week, 4-9 p.m. and til 10 on Friday and Saturday.

Vegetarian Pizza Quest; Blackbird Pizza, stop #4

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One thing I discovered about trying to sample as many vegetarian slices as possible during last week’s Portland Mercury Pizza Week: fitting 14 pizza parlors in all corners of the city into an already packed schedule is next to impossible. So halfway through the week, I went easy on myself, lowered my numbers expectations, and just let the week unfold. What resulted were some great unplanned stops with many centrally located to my inner SE neighborhood. Going to Blackbird Pizza was not in the original plan, but I’m glad I went!

Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Blackbird-Pizza-05Blackbird Pizza is located on 19th and SE Hawthorne, a quick walk from my house. Because the weather ended up being rainy, and I wanted to try to hit two spots Saturday evening (one with vegan offering) I grabbed the umbrella, and to Blackbird’s I went. This pizza parlor is on the corner of a very busy Hawthorne Street intersection. The space is large, with a separate, full bar space – and they even have a whole wall of old pinball machines (yes they work!) in the small, more secluded upstairs area. While waiting for my pizza, I chatted with Cory, one of the owners.

Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Blackbird-Pizza-04A little over one year ago, Cory and his partners purchased the location that formerly housed Vincente’s Gourmet Pizza. Business has been great ever since! For pizza week, it was a bit of a struggle to find “the one.” They tried 4-5 ideas but nothing grabbed them until someone suggested making a Reuben sandwich, pizza style. Ingredients were purchased, the pizza was made, hands-down approval was given at first taste, and the “Reubenesque” was born. According to Cory, you will love this pizza even if you’re not particularly fond of sauerkraut. It had all the ingredients you know fondly from the sandwich: tangy sauerkraut, thin-sliced pastrami, swiss and mozzarella cheeses, hints of mustard ‘n’ caraway, and a lot of garlic and olive oil. Instead of the traditional Russian dressing, they used a Thousand Island, piped across the sauerkraut in a pleasing orangey-hued zigzag. To keep the sauerkraut from cooking and getting too soggy, it is added once the pizza comes out of the oven.

Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Blackbird-Pizza-03By the second day of pizza week they pondered making a vegan version by consulting kitchen manager, Jo, who happens to be a vegan. She played around with some of the ingredients and came up with the “Vegan Ruben Slice.” This is the one I tried and took home to my vegan daughter. To make it vegan, they used Daiya cheese, marinated Portobello mushrooms, and “Follow Your Heart” Thousand Island along with the sauerkraut, mustard, olive oil, and garlic. At first bite, I had to agree, they had a hit on their hands. There are many flavors with each bite yet none overpower the other. You get the tanginess of the mustard and sauerkraut, the sweet, creamy flavor of Thousand Island (I would never have guessed it was a vegan version), bits of the meat-like Portobello on the perfect thinness of the crisp crust. I’m not one in the sauerkraut camp but I can tell you, Cory was right; you don’t have to like it to love this pizza.

Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Blackbird-Pizza-02Pizza Week was such a hit at Blackbird’s that they had to bring out the red rope to make a queue for all the people. The staff have worked extra hours to accommodate the increase in business, and their special pizzas were such a hit that they are planning to add them to the regular menu. Blackbird does a great job of offering something for everyone, a full bar, plenty of booth and table seating, two somewhat secluded sitting areas that house the games, and a full menu to please the meat lover, vegetarian, and vegan alike. Next time you’re in the Hawthorne area, salivating for some pizza, go to Blackbird’s and stay awhile.

Blackbird Pizza, 1935 SE Hawthorne St., http://www.blackbirdpizzapdx.com. Sun-Sat 12 pm-2 am. Dine-in or take-out.

Pizza Week – Vegetarian Quest Stop #3

The-Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Stop-FITrying to find parking on the rare occasion that the car was taken out was not a success in the limited amount of time allowed. Therefore, Pizza Week’s vegetarian pizza quest #3 switched locations to the east side within a nice walk’s distance from home to Scottie’s Pizza Parlor on SE Division St. What a gem of a place this turned out to be!

The-Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Stop-02Scottie’s obsession with pizza started as a 14 year old when he worked as a busboy at Luigi’s (similar to Portland’s, DeNicola’s Restaurant) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Short-staffed one night, Luigi took Scottie into the kitchen, taught him how to make pizza, and the rest is history. However, it wasn’t until about three years ago that his work took him back to those roots. On weekends, perhaps as a form of stress relief from his job at the time, he would make pizza. It gave him such joy that his wife convinced him to take up that line of work. After doing so, he quickly realized that he wanted his own pizza parlor and spent about two years studying and developing a business plan. One of the two places he worked during this time was East Glisan Pizza Lounge. Inspired by the podcast, “Car Talk,” he and co-worker, Val, created their own called, “Pie Talk” and a Facebook page by the same name, https://www.facebook.com/pietalkpdx. It only lasted two episodes, but gives you a sense of the sunny disposition that Scottie brings to his work, and his love for all things pizza.

The-Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Stop-01Founded less than one year ago, Scottie has created a formula for success that seems innovative in the food industry, especially when it comes to pizza houses. Having spent most of his working life in the food service industry he has experienced environments that were stressful, with managers that treated their employees badly, and long hours at subpar wages. When he was putting together his business plan for this pizza parlor, he vowed to pay his employees no less than $15 an hour, plus tips, and if he couldn’t make it a success by doing so, he wouldn’t open a restaurant. He believes that your employees deserve a job they can live off of and in an environment that makes them happy to do their job. Watching the interaction between Scottie and his employees, you get a sense that they all enjoy their work and each other; there is a lot of playful banter between them that carries over into how they treat their customers. They all have a shared fondness for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which can be seen in the cape worn by one, to the backpack belonging to another, to pictures on the walls. Mikey, also tie dyes his own shirts, and designed one that resembles pepperoni on a pizza which he and another wore when I was there. The kitchen space is quite small with pizzas coming in and out of the oven continually, dishes being carried forward or back, and food delivered to the patrons every moment, yet it all happens in this small space like a perfectly choreographed dance.

The-Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Stop-03For Pizza Week, they decided to impart some nostalgia by taking it back to the Pizza Hut days of the stuffed crust pizza. With that in mind, they decided to stick with the standard pepperoni and a veggie “just” cheese offering. The crust is no ordinary one mind you, but is from a sourdough starter affectionately named “Audrey II” after Little Shop of Horrors. They also make their own ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. How was the pizza you are probably wondering by now? Well, the cheese pizza had just the right amount of sauce, with plenty of cheese in every mouth-watering bite. The crust was crispy enough to keep the cheese from making it soggy and had a very nice flavor. The stuffed crust really did take one back to the time of Pizza Hut only Scottie’s pizza has a much better flavor (However, the stuffed crust is only available this week). Business was brisk on this Friday night, with a line out the door while I was there. Ever mindful of keeping a fun atmosphere, there is a Ms. Pac-Man table if you’re so inclined and there’s even a disco ball for what he jokingly calls, “Scottie’s after dark.” Scottie, and his pizza parlor, will make you feel welcomed and part of the family from the moment you walk through their doors. You will be taken care of, fed well, and leave with a smile on your face. It was an unexpected turn of events that led me to Scottie’s this night but it will certainly not be my last.

Scottie’s Pizza Parlor, 2128 SE Division http://scottiespizzaparlor.com
Be sure to check out my photos.

The Vegetarian Pizza Quest, second stop, Pizzicato Fremont

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What started as an ambitious plan to try most of the vegetarian offerings during the Portland Mercury’s inaugural Pizza Week, has been modified as the tasty week comes to an end on April 24th. Thursday night it was a quick stop at Pizzicato Fremont before heading to McMenamins Kennedy School to hear a favorite local band, The Druthers.

The-Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Part-2-01Nestled in a little strip mall on 42nd and Fremont, this small Pizzicato is clearly the neighborhood pizza joint with families both inside and out. What drew me to this one was the name, “Mama’s Lil’ Secret” and the Arugula. I have a love affair with arugula, its scissored edges, bright medium green hue, and spicy kick have accompanied many a vegetable dish at my house. According to those in the know, this pizza is the one the staff eats behind the scenes (hence the “secret”) so Corporate decided it should be introduced to the public during Pizza Week. While you might not think so few ingredients could make a good pizza, you would be wrong. As noted in the Mercury, “if cheese, salad, and hot sauce were in a band together, they would have an album that sounded like this pizza.” The peppers give the slice a tangy, somewhat sweet bite, while the arugula gives it a fresh, tart bite, and the cheese is the glue that blends the two together.

The-Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Part-2-02I spoke with Kaya, the Shift Supervisor, who told me that there had been a sharp increase in business this week. This store, as do many during Pizza Week, has a Beer and a Slice special that has been quite popular, with Widmer’s Hefeweizen being offered just for Pizza Week. There are only hours left to partake of all the specialty crafted pizzas, so don’t delay, this is one indulgence you will have wished you gave in to.

The-Vegetarian-Pizza-Quest-Part-2-03Pizzicato Fremont, 4217 NE Fremont, pizzicatopizza.com. Pizzicato’s Pizza Week slice available April 18-24. Dine-in and take-out, limit two per customer, whole pies not available.

I took several pictures of my adventure which you might enjoy.

Portland Notes takes to the streets of Belmont for Portland Pizza Week

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Monday’s gorgeous weather called for a walk in the neighborhood to fulfill the quest for the best vegetarian offering to be found at this week’s Portland Pizza Week. Because Burger Week has been so popular, the folks at Portland Mercury decided to give pizza a try. The idea is, “One Week. Thirty-One Pizzas. Let’s Do This.” With new pizza places opening right and left, it is anticipated it will be a great success.

Portland-Pizza-Week-2016-03Pizza. The name alone conjures up many images: family, friends, comfort, quick, filling, inexpensive or gourmet, late night party food, work party nourishment, home remodeling when your kitchen was a hot plate and a bathtub doubling as the kitchen sink, birthday parties, and so much more. Pizza is not something this author eats a lot of anymore but once upon a time, it was a regular menu item for all of the reasons listed above. That’s not to say it no longer tastes good, or is desired, just that healthier ways of eating, i.e., less cheese, less carbs, have become the norm. However, finding out about Pizza Week just sparked a need to indulge. Being a vegetarian helps tame the indulgence because many of the 31 pizzas are off limits. At quick count, there are approximately 13 vegetarian options and the jury’s out how many of those will be tried before pizza week ends on April 24th.

Portland-Pizza-Week-2016-01My dining companion and her seven month old decided to take a walk in the neighborhood to sample the first pizza at Straight from New York, Belmont’s. Because she’s a vegan, there was something for the both of us. For pizza week, they are offering “The Spanish Bomb.” It is an attractive pizza with its red and white stripes dotted with sliced green onion. It is a white pie, with caramelized onions, and stripes of romesco (a nuts and red pepper sauce originating in Catalonia). No flavor is overwhelming yet each bite gives a hint of something different, and the romesco lends a very slight smoky flavor. The crust, while soft on the bottom, was not soggy. Always a fan of pizza crust, this one didn’t disappoint. I spoke to Lisa, the Store Manager of the Belmont Location, and asked how they picked “The Spanish Bomb.” She said they had a different version of this pie on the menu a few years ago, but with its caramelized onion white sauce, found it to be too expensive and labor intensive for pizza week, so they changed things up and this was the result. She was excited to be part of the Mercury’s Pizza Week, and hopes it continues beyond this year. As an aside, the vegan pizza was also tasty. It had a red sauce, vegan cheese, topped with red onion, spinach, pineapple, and cranberries. Taking our pizza to a nearby park, it was the perfect picnic item, especially considering the attention span of an adorable seven month. It’s not known where this pizza quest will take me, but stay tuned for the next edition.

Portland-Pizza-Week-2016-02Straight from New York Belmont, 3330 SE Belmont, sfnypizza.com. Straight from New York Belmont’s Pizza Week slice available April 18-24, Sun-Thurs 11 am-midnight, Fri-Sat 11 am-2 am. Limit one per customer, dine-in and take-out, whole pies not available. Check out my photo album if you don’t mind getting a little hungry!