Pizza Rash, Part II: Pie-litically Correct

Rhetoric and taste vie for the upper hand at three new establishments.

As we noted a couple of weeks ago, Seattle is in the midst of a pizza glut. There's been a particular outbreak in Ballard. (In addition to the three I reviewed in our December 3 issue, two more are on the way.) But there's lots of action south of the cut, too. I don't know what this says about you northerners, but three of them are marketing themselves based on their stance on the issues.'ZawThe pitch: Take-and-bake pizzas with organic crusts made from Bob's Red Mill flour, organic tomato sauce, and organic/sustainable or local toppings. Plus local wines, beers, and sodas. Delivery via bicycle.If you're questioning the appeal of the bake-at-home pizza, just look at the success of Papa Murphy's. It's now the fifth largest pizza chain in America, with 30 stores in King County alone. There are a lot of people who apparently don't like waiting for the delivery person to bring them a half-cooled pie. And that's a slice of the market that 'Zaw wants to capture. Greg Scott and Greg Waring's burgeoning chain opened its 15th Avenue East store in late September and a South Lake Union store a month later, with a Ballard store in the works.While the concept's nifty, 'Zaw's price point doesn't quite match its pitch. Eighteen bucks for a pizza that serves two costs far more than a pie at Via Tribunali, putting the food firmly in the yuppie-takeout stratum. Yet the chain floods customers with as much marketspeak as a T.G.I. Friday's. There's the acronymed mission (the 'zaw has "SOUL—seasonal, organic, unique, local"); overbranded language that makes you stutter things like "I'd like that in the appeti'zaw size" when you're calling in your order; cutesy pie names like "The Ari'zawna" and "The Marg & Rita"; and copies of Michael Pollan books for sale next to the beer cooler. A tip for the Gregs: The NPR listener loves classy understatement. It's why we bore everyone else.I tried three 'zaws on two different occasions, picking up the pies on the way home from work. The procedure: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Then unwrap the plastic and slide the pizza, laid out on a piece of parchment paper, off its stiff cardboard base onto a rack, wait until the crust is brown and the cheese is bubbly, and then pull it out.'Zaw's whole-wheat crust doesn't quite firm up, but the white crust gets crackly just at the point the toppings are cooked. The trick, when picking a 'zaw, is to avoid all innovation. A "Savory Savary" combined Italian sausage with maple-syrup-caramelized red onion and huge sage leaves, the latter two ingredients uniting in weird synchronicity to create a cloying combination that had me throwing away the last few slices rather than saving them for breakfast the next day. The Marg & Rita, with roasted garlic, slivered basil, and cherry tomatoes, was much better (it would be better still with tinier cherry tomatoes, which would cook down in the oven and not burst with hot juices when you bit them). And the best of the lot was a Chicago Deli covered in bacon, prosciutto, and salami—all of which crisped up in the oven—with chunks of pickled pepperoncini placed here and there to cut the fat.Pizza FusionThe pitch: Mostly certified-organic vegetables in the sauce and toppings; antibiotic- and preservative-free meats; vegan cheese and gluten-free crusts available; organic beer and wine. Delivered via hybrid cars.Pizza Fusion is a national franchise founded in 2006 by Vaughn Lazar and Michael Gordon that now has close to a dozen company stores and 75 licensees. Its tagline is "Saving the world, one pizza at a time." Kevin York and Casey Seremek opened Washington state's first location in the 12th Avenue East Trace Lofts last month, and their commitment to green building includes installing low-flow faucets, decorating with salvaged furniture, and purchasing green energy offsets for their power consumption.Needless to say, the chain's rhetoric is just as heady as 'Zaw's, lighter on the cuteness and heavier on the official certifications and commitments. Nevertheless, they've set up an impressive amount of hoops to jump through, and their effort does come through in the prices: $17.95 to $25.95 for specialty pies and $13.95 for a plain cheese.On the two occasions I ate Pizza Fusion's pies, I wished the owners put the same amount of effort into making the pizza as they do saving the world. The meat "personal" pizza I ordered for one lunch came on flabby crust with equally flabby cheese—it needed a hotter oven or longer baking time. Some friends and I also ordered a couple of the specialty pizzas. Long and rectangular, in boxes to match, the pies had a thin crust with sauce and cheese spread out to the very edges, leaving little room for the edges to puff or crisp. The sausage and sliced bell peppers on one were decent—not quite to Piecora's standard, but fast disappearing nonetheless—but the cheese-and-topping cap on a Greek pizza (tomato sauce, olive oil and garlic, fresh tomatoes, olives, feta, and artichokes) overburdened the fragile frame on which it slumped.And while the service in the restaurant was solicitous, we had problems with the home delivery. Neither the delivery person nor the telephone operator had any record of the salad we'd ordered; instead, they charged us $5 for eight stubby scraps of dough, aka "breadsticks," which the restaurant's flyer had said would come free with each order. And the check revealed that on top of the 20 percent tip we'd handed the guy, we'd been assessed a $2 delivery charge. There's still work to do.Flying Squirrel Pizza Co.The pitch: Some organic ingredients, local suppliers such as Zoe's Meats, Stumptown Coffee, and Molly Moon ice cream.It's a whole lot easier to get a pizza in Rainier Valley than it used to be, thanks in part to Tutta Bella and the newish Pizza Hut on Rainier and South 33rd, but if any area could be considered undersaturated in mozzarella and pepperoni terms, it'd be the 98118. Bill Coury, a bass player and the lead singer for Thee Sgt. Major III, quit his job at Microsoft to follow his other passion, one he'd been practicing obsessively at home the year before. There's as much salvaged furniture in the six-week-old pizzeria as in Pizza Fusion, including the "MSG Free" neon sign Coury kept from the previous tenant, a Chinese restaurant. And the restaurant looks like it was lifted straight from the Ave, with walls painted harlot red, thrift-store abstracts, and a guitar-heavy soundtrack.Add to the mix kids. For five years, Columbia City and Mount Baker have been the place to move if you are planning to give birth, and every store and restaurant has been turned into an impromptu parents' support group. The results of the South End baby boom show in a child-to-adult ratio of 2:3. Hell, I brought a few of my own to Flying Squirrel, and the music, the spectacle of other kids, and the pizza provided enough stimulation to keep them at mild squirm for a good hour. Around the room, I spotted several fathers requesting second or third pints.Coury's 15-inch pizzas are priced comparatively to the other two places, with cheese pizzas at $14 and specialty pies selling for up to $19.50. The pie that most of the neighbors have been talking about is covered in big chunks of carnitas-like roasted pork interspersed with sliced red onions and a few flecks of cilantro; it was a little one-dimensional for my friends and me, that dimension being pork. But the other pies, the ones with tomato sauce, a thin coating of melted, brown-spotted cheese, and saucer-sized pepperoni, or the more froufrou ones with goat cheese, zucchini, and roasted red peppers, are thoroughly enjoyable, for one reason. Coury knows that toppings are disposable. The crust is king.And he's got a good one: If you're a pizza groupie of sorts, I'd call it a cross between All-Purpose's crust and Serious Pie's. It's solid enough to support sauce and a few toppings without caving at the center, solid enough to crease and crack when you pick up a wedge, and still bubbly and airy around the lip, so you don't feel like you're biting into a matzo board. The crust may not be made with organic wheat, and you might have to drive your SUV to get to it, but at least it stands or folds on its own merits.jkauffman@seattleweekly.com

 
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