Kauffman Picks Seattle's Top 5 Places for Pizza

New York, Chicago, Neapolitan, sourdough, Indian, takeout, whatever. For some of us, pizza's not about pedigree. Hell, it's not about the toppings (well, mostly not about the toppings).

The reason I eat more pizza than a man in his 30s should is because it's basically bread fresh out of the oven. The best pizzas in Seattle** are great precisely because of their crusts. These pies are baked in ultra-hot ovens, often with woodsmoke circling inside, which perfumes the dough as it puffs, stiffens, and yes, chars here and there.

No puffy Wonder-bread sofa cushions here. There should be bubbles. There should be a firm crack -- though not so firm that you're eating Saltines -- and a lightness to the crust that belies its carrying capacity. With a good pizza, sometimes you find yourself demolishing the outer rim first and must force yourself to circle back to the point of the triangle so you leave something to hold that's not coated in scalding sauce. The following five pizzas do that. Admirably.

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5. Flying Squirrel Pizza Co., 4920 S. Genessee, 721-7620, flyingsquirrelpizza.com. Bill Coury's got the kind of pizza skills that you'd expect would come from years of baking experience, but instead, the man perfected his recipe while working at Starbucks. His pies are solid on the outside, hollow on the inside of the lip, and topped with great products from local purveyors. On the "Sofia Coppola" pictured, for instance, roasted red peppers weave around artichokes and crinkly rounds of Salumi coppa. Not only do thousands of Columbia City and Seward Park families appreciate what they've got, the bar's always packed with dads who left home early to pick up their pie so they could down a pint while they wait.

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4. Giannoni's Pizzeria, 2600 S.W. Barton St., 935-1800. Giannoni's makes Neapolitan claims for its pies, but they're actually some of the best New York style pizzas in town, with a poofed-up rim that is 99 percent air. You can get your pies loaded up with eggplant, spinach, and other fripperies, but Giannoni's best pizzas feature only one or two ingredients, letting the mozzarella spread out thinly over top, the red sauce appearing through a thousand pin-prick holes.

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3. Veraci Pizza, 500 N.W. Market St., 525-1813, veracipizza.com. Speaking of light, Veraci Pizza's crust is the most gossamer of them all, a structural marvel, no more than a crackle and a rush of hot air. Half of the charm of dining in at the Ballard spot is watching the cooks whip the pies into the clay oven, logs and coals glowing at the back, and then whisk them out a few minutes later, all blistery and steaming. Eat quickly: When Veraci's pizza is good, it's the best in town; when it's reheated or sits around too long, it wilts and slumps, despondent that it has been so badly treated.

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2. Hot Mama's, 700 E. Pine St., myspace.com/hotmamaspizza. Now if there's any pizzeria in town that delivers the pizza by the slice, it's Hot Mama's, where the thin-crust pies are only at the best when they're reheated (something about the double-cooking gives the floury crusts an extra snap). They're so good that no one minds the grease that drips onto their plates, covering the paper with orange dots. Sadly, too few Seattleites have eaten Hot Mama's when sober enough to give the Pine Street corner store its due. The place makes my number two slot not just for the pies but the late-night scenery. Over the years, 1 a.m. eavesdropping has yielded slurred quotes about anal sex, true love, and "speaking gay" that friends and I have savored, over and over again.

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1. Serious Pie, 316 Virginia St., 838-7388, tomdouglas.com. Tom Douglas's pizza attracts a lot of haters. Too expensive, whine some. It's not pizza, say other fools. So Serious Pie isn't a place you take your three kids. Fine. One pie between two people, a salad to start, a couple glasses of wine, and you've had a lovely sit-down meal for $45. What's best about Serious Pie is that the crust was created by Tom's bread baker, Gwen Grande, who tossed out fixed notions what pizza's supposed to be and came up with her own notions of the perfect crust. The bubbles in her oval pies are so inflated you're surprised the pizza's not hovering an inch off the plate, and you can taste the stone and smoke of the hearth on its crisp surface. Douglas's cooks have taken the same approach with the toppings, dabbling here and there in red sauce but also coming up with this great pie, where arugula leaves wilt into the creamy yolk of an egg cracked across the dough before baking, and shavings of aged cheese and cubes of guanciale (cured pork jowl) electrify with salty shocks.

Excluded from consideration: Filiberto's, a longtime favorite of mine that should reopen in Burien soon, and Delancey, because it's still too soon to judge.

(**In my opinion, of course. Coming next week: Bottomfeeder's Top 5 Pizzas.)

 
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