The year 2016 was a big one for poke and pizza, and it looks like neither trend is going anywhere soon. Now, even one of the city’s most venerable chefs, John Sundstrom of Lark and SLAB, has opened his own Naples-style, wood-fired pizza place, Southpaw (926 12th Ave., 323-5278), in the old Lark space on 12th Avenue.
As you might expect, his pizzas are anything but ordinary; a quick perusal of the menu clearly shows his refined edge as regards toppings. There are pies with Romanesco, Taleggio, pine-nut tahini, parsley, and tomato sauce; with sugar pumpkin, goat cheese, pumpkin seed, maple, and white cheese; with padron peppers, cojita cheese, chorizo, and guajillo purée. And as if that weren’t gourmet enough, there are add-ons like anchovy, crispy chicken skin, burrata, truffled pecorino cheese, and red-wine oxtail. It’s a pizza reboot unlike any you may have ever come across, but if you’re looking for something simpler, there are a couple of no-frills options.
As for the crust, it’s less ambitious—the Neapolitan type that we have plenty of here in Seattle—though Sundstrom does use an in-house blend of wheat from local farms, which adds a bit of heft to the thin crust and helps keep all those toppings from caving in.
Whole pies are $22. Since they are so specialized, you can’t order half and half here. However, you can get quarter slices with a rotating selection of toppings. For instance, on one of my trips, they were offering quarter slices of the Title Fight pizza. For my daughter, we ordered the basic Left Hook (mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil), but added to our order a quarter of the Title Fight with its wild mushrooms, lardo, roasted garlic, thyme, arugula and tomato sauce. It was a mild but tasty slice; I wish the mushrooms had been more robust, though. Fortunately, we had added the red-wine oxtail as well, which was beautifully braised and decadent. Also, “The Contender,” with chickpea pesto, feta, cumin, and caramelized onions, carries its weight in the flavor department. Juxtaposed against the thin crust, and with those toppings, it feels more akin to a Middle Eastern flatbread.
Also nice about Southpaw is how much the menu extends beyond pizza. There’s not just that one requisite salad, but about a dozen small bites, salads, and sides. A sugar pie pumpkin salad with pecans, blue cheese, dates, arugula, and sherry vinegar is composed perfectly—just enough bites of every ingredient. We also tried the Romanesco (the ingredient du jour), served simply with anchovy garlic chili oil and a smattering of pine nuts. There’s a cheese board, a salumi board, and braised pork cheeks with baked polenta and garlicky kale. No one’s leaving hungry here.
Or thirsty. Southpaw has a well-curated list of beers and wine, and batched cocktails on tap, including a Negroni and a Manhattan. Or, go with straight vodka and add a shrub flavor for a dollar. The shrubs can also be added to soda water for kids. My daughter loved her hibiscus shrub on one visit, quince on another. Speaking of kids, they’ll likely love the zeppola donuts doused in cinnamon sugar with a side of blackberry jam for dessert, or housemade soft-serve ice cream, the flavors of which are never ordinary; you might find pumpkin mascarpone cheesecake or Oaxacan chocolate. And for an extra buck, the toppings are as unusual as those on the pizzas; duck fat or hazelnut brittle, for instance. I admit I did not have the stomach to add duck fat to ice cream, and that’s my cross to bear.
The room has plenty of space for families, and even a corner filled with board games, some nostalgic, like Connect 4. Parents will appreciate the boxing prints, a large TV always with a game on, and piles of logs for stoking the wood-fired oven (technology juxtaposed with the great outdoors: so very Seattle). The spot has been largely empty when we’ve visited, but that might be because we’ve gone on Sunday afternoons. Either that, or word just hasn’t gotten out yet. At any rate, it’s worth checking out. Those who like their pizza without much fuss, good and greasy, may not become converts, but anyone who appreciates boundary-bending will likely feel quite at home.