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Spokane, Washington: Trip to Bennidito's Is Piece of Crust Heaven

"Bennett's crust is so brilliant, it's almost a shame to cover it up."

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[Photograph: Leslie Kelly]

Bennidito's

1426 S. Lincoln Street, Spokane WA 99203 (at 14th Avenue; map) 509-455-7411; benniditos.com

9925 N. Indian Trail, Spokane WA 99208 (at W. Comanche Dr.; map); 509-466-2790

It's been a few years since I last visited Spokane, Washington, 280 miles east of Seattle, the city where I got my start as a restaurant critic.

After reading Adam Kuban's nostalgic call on Slice for reminisces about sentimental favorites, I felt compelled to head east on I-90 to Bennidito's Pizza. It was still comfortingly familiar even though the place on Spokane's South Hill has doubled in size, the menu has grown to include 22 specialty pies, and there are now ten beers on tap, including a rotating cask-conditioned ale. Local wines (Lone Canary, Townshend) are now featured.

Owner Chris Bennett, a former college football star, launched Bennedito's in 1996, breaking away from his buddies at David's Pizza.

Most of Bennidito's pies are hometown tributes to area high schools and city landmarks. I've never bothered asking why the LC Primo (named for Lewis and Clark High School) is heaped with whole roasted cloves of garlic, chunks of chicken, pesto, and whole milk mozzarella. I just ordered it... countless times.

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Bennidito's gets the pizza upskirt treatment.

While many of the topping combos deliver an over-the-top flavor wallop, I was always happiest when digging into a straight-up cheese pie. Why? Because Bennett's crust is so brilliant, it's almost a shame to cover it up.

He makes the dough from local high-gluten flour from Shepherd's Grain. The wheat is actually grown on the rolling hills of the Palouse, Washington's breadbasket, south of Spokane and milled in the city. The farmer who grows the wheat has come in to eat the pizza. Don't know many pizza joints that could make that kind of circle-of-life claim.

The dough proofs for 12 hours and is hand-tossed before hitting the deck. Bennett uses a classic four-deck oven heated to 450 degrees, which makes for a crust that's soft and breadlike in all the right places, where it's not covered in sauce and cheese. The lofty perimeter of the pie slopes dramatically down to a thin, super crisp crust that's surprisingly capable of bearing the weight of the generous toppings.

When dining in, the servers bring a knife and fork along with the mismatched plastic plates, but I'm strictly hands-on when it comes to eating pizza. That slightly sloppy, flat-out terrific LC Primo made for quite a savory homecoming.

About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been working in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She also blogs at LeslieKellyWhiningandDining.blogspot.com and recently launched a story-telling project for Northstar Winery following one wine from the vine to the table.

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