Portland, Oregon: Great Wood-Fired Pizza at Firehouse Restaurant
Firehouse Restaurant is a relatively undiscovered Italian bistro in the Woodlawn section of Portland, a vibrant up-and-coming neighborhood that nurtures adventurous entrepreneurs (while at times making visitors feel unsure about leaving their car on the street). The restaurant's interior is warm and cozy, with an open kitchen focused around a hand-tiled wood-fired oven. Firehouse offers a full dinner menu as well as four different individual sized pizzas which are served to diners unsliced.
The not-quite-circular Pizza Margherita ($12, pictured at top) boasted beautiful bits of "leopard-spotting" around the puffed, chewy rim. A delicate paperlike char accentuated the lightly sour and spot-on salty flavors in the dough. The "sauce" existed here in the form of fuss-free tomato, minimally processed and seasoned. A delicate hand was acceptable in this instance; the tomatoes were sweet and robust on their own. A rich and milky fresh mozzarella melted perfectly with minimal burn, which in turn coated the pie with a luxuriousness that only expensive dairy could provide. A sharper cheese was present to provide balance and tang. The basil screamed freshness and remained springy thanks to an pre-bake olive oil bath. The flavors here were so appropriately and classically "Margherita" that my only complaint came from a bit of a crust-sag; a result of both a thin undercarriage and a liberal use of tomato and cheese.
The Pizza Sopressata ($15) was crafted as a showcase for monstrous slices of salty, spicy, porky goodness, only five of which fit on the pie. The meat was sprinkled with a generous helping of fresh chili flakes. This pizza certainly satisfied the craving for something savory, with the heat and salt building over the course of the meal. The richness from the cheese provided a perfect foil for cured pork and spice.
The Sausage pizza ($15) had both high and low points. The mounds of loose sausage were moist, with an almost-buttery flavor, but they lacked an essential fennel or pepper buzz that would have cut through the fat. The onions weren't quite as caramelized or charred in the wood oven as I'd hoped, but the crust was as excellent as it was on the other pies.
A crisp, hop-kissed Heater Allen Pilsner ($5) was the perfect accompaniment to Firehouse's pizzas. It's worth noting that Firehouse is one of very few places that this small-batch pilsner can be found on draft.
The pizzas at Firehouse are picturesque and delicious; they're a wonderful example of top-shelf ingredients cooked properly in a wood oven. If I had one wish, though, it would be for a longer list of pizzas on the menu. In a town with quite a few accomplished pizzamakers, Firehouse has the goods to go toe-to-toe with some of Portland's strongest pie shops.