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Portland, Oregon: Apizza Scholls

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Clockwise from top left: Apizza Scholl's just before 4 p.m. and there's only one person in line; the shop is decorated with pictures of famous pizzerias, including FAMOUS RAY'S!?!; the amatriciana, with pancetta and onion. [Photographs: Adam Kuban]

Apizza Scholls

4741 Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland OR 97215 (at SE 47th Avenue; map); 503-233-1286; apizzascholls.com
Pizza Style: Neapolitan-American—NOT Naples-Neapolitan
Oven Type: Electric(!) Bakers Pride
Notes: Expect long lines/wait time to get in. On the various blogs and boards, people grumble about this consistently. Is it worth the wait? I would say yes, but only you can decide. Tip: Round up a party of 8 to 12 and score the one group reservation Scholls offers each night; bonus is that you can then order a mess of pizzas to share and sample
Price: Apizza 'Margo'rita, $20

The next stop on my whirlwind pizza tour of the western U.S. was Apizza Scholls. Like Ken's the night before, this is one of Portland's top pizzerias, also with a notoriously long line. Fortunately, if you can rustle up a party of eight to 12, you might be able to score a reservation (only one slot available each night), which is what we did on a recent Sunday. And it's a good thing we did: Even though Scholls opens at 4 p.m. on Sundays, an hour I figured was too early for dinner for most folks, the place filled up in a flash shortly after starting service for the day.

Apizza Scholls serves what Ed Levine in his review last year called "Neapolitan-American" pizza, which is fairly accurate. Some people might call it "New York–style," others "Connecticut-style," but whatever you call it, it's instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with East Coast pizza. It has the same DNA as those pizzas made by Neapolitan immigrants as they started adapting their pizza to American tastes. So, yeah, "Neapolitan-American" works as well as anything.

Or, better yet, here's how Scholls owner-pizzamaker Brian Spangler describes it in an interview on Pizza Therapy:

The style of pizza that we do is more of your typical Neo-Neapolitan style pie that hails from the northeast region of the United States from Connecticut through New Jersey, a big 18-inch size pie, minimal topping, baked at extremely hot temperatures very quickly. So, it is the style of pizza that we do produce to have that apizza in our name. [Note: apizza is how folks from Connecticut spell pizza; it's pronounced "ah-beetz." —AK] We do have quite a few East Coast transplants out here and a lot of them even from New Haven, Connecticut. They love it. Essentially, it's the same as the old ma and pa pizza shop. You go in and get great pizza made by the same people every day. Pizza is very simple. Back there the crust was always excellent. It's just the style of pizza that I was essentially weaned on.

Anyway, my only experience with Scholls till this point had been with a pizza that Ed somehow convinced Spangler and his wife/co-owner, Kim Nyland, to make a 2,900-mile FedEx pizza delivery to the Serious Eats office.

Now it was time for me to make the 2,900-mile journey to try the pizza at the source. Here's what we had ...

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I found the Apizza 'Margo'rita (above, $20) exactly as Ed described it: "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."

Digression: The Apizza Scholls Back Story

The "tender bread dough" thing is due to Spangler's history as a bread-baker. He started out baking bread in a wood oven with his wife, Kim Nyland, in Hillsboro, Oregon, at Olive Mountain Baking Co. just outside the Portland city limits. While running Olive Mountain, Spangler told the website PortlandFood.org, he couldn't find pizza in the area that he loved, so he set out to recreate the pizzas in the vein of New York City coal-oven favorites Grimaldi's, Totonno's, and Patsy's.

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Brian Spangler takes aim with his infrared thermometer, which he uses to make sure his electric oven at Apizza Scholls is operating at optimum temperature. [Photograph: Ed Levine]

Those efforts in the bakery morphed into the Hillsboro wood-oven pizzeria Scholls Public House, in 2004. The place became popular enough that the town started complaining about traffic and parking problems associated with it, and Spangler moved the operation to Portland in 2007 January 2005, naming it Apizza Scholls (the name is a play on words: "A piece a Scholls"), where he now uses, amazingly, an electric oven. That's a bit unconventional among great pizzerias, but Spangler has said in the past that it's not the heat source but the heat. The Bakers Pride oven he uses, he says, does the job.

OK: Back to the Pizza

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The Sausage Pie ($20) was essentially the 'Margo'rita with delicious chunks of house-made fennel sausage.

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Apizza Scholls's 'Margo'rita comes in for its pizza upskirt shot. Can you believe that char comes from an electric oven? And here's a look at the hole structure:

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