In many restaurants with open kitchens, the diners surround the kitchen. At Lovely's Fifty-Fifty, the kitchen surrounds you. And at its epicenter is that screamin' hot wood oven spewing forth quality pie after quality pie.
Light starters and ice cream play second fiddle to the stars of Lovely's seasonally-inspired menu: seven ever-changing pizzas with creative yet complementary topping choices. They gave me the option to play a little; egg, anchovies, chiles, coppa, and arugula were available to add on to any pizza.
The roasted potato with caramelized onions and gorgonzola dolce pizza ($13) blew up the spot like a true starch bomb should. The delicately softened cubes of salty potato (with crispy skin intact) were boss here, and the onions and cheese sweetened things up without tipping the balance too far. The perfect bite included a bit of each ingredient and reminded us of sopping up Indian food with delicious, crackly naan bread.
The crusts of all these pies were browned without excessive char and sported an excellent pillowy cornicone. The end of each slice was reminiscent of good ciabatta bread. My only complaint was a bit of a heavy hand with the parsley. Such missteps bring to mind the herbally-abused face of sad baked seafood.
The Salumi finocchiona with Mama Lil's peppers and cured black olives ($15) was aromatically porky like a pig pen (in the best possible way.) Salumi brings a next-level quality to this pizza with their artfully crafted, pepper-studded meat, which fries atop the pizza in its own farmy fat.
The sweetness and juiciness of the peppers pulled the balance of this pie off a bit, and the olives lacked that bitter saltiness that I was looking for to restore zen. This was the only slice to buckle under the weight of its ingredients, which was understandable and wholly forgivable.
Best in show was the wild nettle pizza with Fontina, Taleggio, and pancetta ($15), which showcased Portland's produce-of-the-moment. The nettles presented a fantastic texture, salty and brittle like nori, without the overabundance of sea flavor. Twirled strips of pancetta brought the essence of pork to this pie; they were crackly, crunchy, and not too salty, which harmonized well with the nettles. The Taleggio and Fontina added creaminess and kept their melty texture throughout the meal, bringing a comfort level rivaled only by a good grilled cheese.
The meal ended with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream ($3.50), accompanied by a house-made sugar wafer cone. The dessert was rich with depth from the flavor of burnt sugar and accented appropriately by sea salt's savory touch.
Lovely's Fifty-Fifty's artisan-style pies rival some of Portland's best, including those at Ken's Artisan Pizza. (Extreme style differences make me hesitant to compare it to Apizza Scholls.) Lovely's Fifty-Fifty has attitude, excitement, and warmth that will draw me back time and time again. If their use and understanding of seasonal ingredients continue over time, Fifty-Fifty will never cease to stimulate the senses.