Flying Squirrel Pizza Company: Former Starbucks Employee Treats Seattle Right
Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time in Seattle. —The Mgmt.
Flying Squirrel Pizza Co.
4920 S. Genesee Street, Seattle WA 98118 (map); 206-721-7620; flyingsquirrelpizza.com
Pizza Style: Thin crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Former Starbucks employee follows passion and Seattle gets some great pizza
Price: Pies start at $14
One of my favorite things about the current pizza boom that is sweeping the country is hearing stories of self-made pizzaioli opening up neighborhood places that serve up heartfelt and delicious pizzas. On my recent trip to Seattle, I made my way to the increasingly hip Columbia City neighborhood where, for less than a year, Bill Coury has been turning out excellent pies featuring a lot of local flavor and some deliciously unique topping combinations. Coury, a former sound engineer at Starbucks, used to bake pizzas for friends once a month. With their encouragement, he took the plunge and opened the doors to Flying Squirrel Pizza Company late last October.
That the Flying Squirrel is very much a labor of love is made clear in a couple of ways. First, Coury very much makes the place his own by incorporating his love of music (before Starbucks he was a bassist with the local band Visqueen) into the heart of the restaurant, most notably through Flying Squirrel’s offer regarding mixtapes. People who bring in a mixtape (cassettes only) get 10 percent off their total order. If your tape is deemed good enough, it may even get played at the restaurant. Second, and more important in that it deals with the pizza, Coury clearly put a lot of thought into selecting suppliers, placing particular attention not just to making sure ingredients are high quality, but also by embracing local and near-local businesses. Among the excellent companies whose products can be sampled at Flying Squirrel are Zoe’s Meats, Salumi, Stumptown Coffee, Molly Moon’s , and Trixie Bakes. Coury also tries to use locally farmed vegetables as much as possible.
I had a particularly difficult time selecting a pizza to order on my visit to Flying Squirrel. I went with one friend and neither of us was particularly hungry, which meant we would only be getting one pie. In addition to the very enticing build-your-own options, Flying Squirrel has 19 permanent specialty pizzas and 3 current special pies. I was particularly intrigued by the one they advertise as the local favorite, which has garlic roasted pulled pork, cilantro, red onion, cotija cheese, fresh lime. I was ready to order that one when I saw one of the specials, The Figure 8, which comes with black mission figs, sweet balsamic reduction, mozzarella, Laura Chenel goat cheese and Zoe’s prosciutto, all of which is topped with fresh arugula after it comes out of the oven. The problem with both of those early favorites was that unlike most of their pizzas, those two cannot be split half and half, and with all of the mouth-watering choices available, I knew I could not limit myself to just one combination of toppings.
After careful deliberation, I settled on a pie that was half one of their specials and half my creation. The first half was the Boston Spaceships, which has dario salami from Salumi, caramelized onions, mozzarella and red sauce. It was a special they’d carried in the Spring and was back for a limited time thanks to the surprise availability of more of Salumi’s dario salami. The other half of the pizza had sausage, mushroom and Mama’s Lil’ Peppers, pickled Hungarian Goathorn peppers. I’m not sure how good my initial choices would have turned out, but the two I settled on were both excellent.
The Boston Spaceships, named after the band of the same name, was, thanks to the nutmeg seasoning in the salami, a very unique pie. In addition to the nutmeg, there was some added sweetness from the caramelized onions, but not so much that it overpowered the salt from the salami or any of the flavors from the crust, sauce and cheese.
As good as the Boston Spaceships was, I actually thought my creation was better. That has nothing to do with my creativity and everything to do with the sensational Mama Lil’s Peppers. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about the delicious tang the peppers provide. The sausage, unfortunately, was not very good, which almost hurt my feelings given how much I liked everything else about the place and how much I love sausage. The flavor was fine – there was a lot of what I assume was fennel, but tasted more like anise, but the meat was way too dry. Fat is key to good sausage and Flying Squirrel’s either does not have enough from the start or else they cooked too much out of it. The mushrooms, which were abundant and fresh, were a nice touch that rounded out a truly delicious pizza.
I thought the crust was good, but not great. There were nice bubbles in the corncicione and the outside of the crust was nice and crisp. But I thought the inside of the crust was a little dense, something that was confirmed by the small hole structure. The flavor in the crust, which came from the light charring on top and the corn meal underneath, was subtle, but definitely added to the pizza-eating experience. At the end of the day however, while every component of the pizza was good, the variety, quality and creativity of the toppings definitely stole the show. I’m not sure when I’m going to make it back to Seattle, but when I do, a visit to Flying Squirrel will definitely be in order. Only next time, I will bring a mix tape to add some quality 80s music to their collection and a large group of people so I can try a lot more than two pizzas.