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!
Blackbird 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.
A 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.
By 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.
Pizza 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.