4741 Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland OR 97215 (at SE 47th Avenue; map); 503-233-1286; apizzascholls.com
Pizza Style: Neapolitan-American
Oven Type: Electric Bakers Pride
Price: Apizza ‘Margo’rita, $20; Bacon Bianca, $22; sausage, $20
In my pizza book, A Slice of Heaven, the last chapter was devoted to the "Keepers of the Flame," people whose dedication and single-minded devotion to making great pizza made them worthy of inclusion in what could have been called the Pizzaiolo Hall of Fame.
I still get excited when I'm in the presence of pizza greatness. So I was psyched to be in Portland, Oregon, eating at Apizza Scholls. Even the pie that owner and pizzaiolo Brian Spangler had reluctantly FedExed to me was pretty delicious. (Even after reheating it at a pizzeria near Serious Eats headquarters.)
When we drove up to Apizza Scholls, the line was snaking down the block, but we got to his place early enough to snag the last table. Brian's warm, friendly, and smart-as-a-whip wife, Kim Nyland, greeted us and escorted me into the kitchen.
Spangler and his crew were in full pizza-making regalia and mode because the dining room was already full of the people who had been waiting in line for an hour and 15 minutes. I wasn't ready for what happened next.
Brian pulled out a gun.
Not a violence-inducing, havoc-wreaking pistol. It was one of those guns I had seen my friend Jeffrey Steingarten use in his hilarious treatise on making great pizza at home, a noncontact infrared thermometer gun. Spangler uses it to monitor the temperature of his completely conventional electrically heated Baker's Pride pizza oven.
"I've made pizza with wood-burning ovens, but here's what I've finally decided," Spanger said. "It's all about the BTUs. This oven makes pizza at 700°F, and that's plenty hot enough to bake my pies quickly and throughly and get my crust as crisp and airy as I want it."
Spangler uses his gun to make sure the varying DC current in his pizzeria doesn't wreak havoc with the temperature.
Spangler and I have had many conversations about pizza over the phone and via email, so without even asking, he had put in an order for us of a half-plain, half-sausage pie. He knew that's what I order as a litmus test when I go to a pizzeria I haven't been to before.
The pizza arrived at our table a few minutes later. Once I got a close look at it, I knew our pizza was going to be at the very least great. There were bubbles all around the rim of the pie, the sauce-to-cheese ratio was perfect for this kind of pizza, the cheese was a burnished golden brown, and there was plenty of char on top and bottom.
For non-fancy-pants Neapolitan-American pizza made with good ingredients, Spangler's pizza was paradigmatic. The crust has a crunchy exterior which gives way to tender bread dough. The cheese combination (Grande fior di latte and aged mozzarella) gave the pie just the right blend of creaminess and tang. When I took my first bite of this pizza I knew I was in the presence of pizza greatness.
I only wish I had gotten to try one of Spangler's Bacon Bianca pizzas (above). Who knows, maybe he'll FedEx another pie to us (for a birthday, perhaps).
Welcome, Brian Spangler, to the realm of the Keepers of the Flame. May you always put this much passion, this much heart and soul, and this much know-how in every pizza you make.