10003 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle WA 98178 (map); 206-772-6861; pulcinellapizza.com
Pizza style: Neapolitan
Oven type: Wood
The skinny: Exactly what you would expect from a VPN-certified pizzeria, with the exception of the calzone
Price: 12-inch pizzas, $10 to $14.50
After Tutta Bella, Via Tribunali, and Ristorante Picolinos, Pulcinella is Seattle's fourth VPN-certified pizzeria. And like its three competitors, the pizza served here is almost entirely by-the-book Neapolitan. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as that's what you're looking for.
Pulcinella's quirks begin with its location. Sitting in the middle of nowhere on a long lakeside stretch of Rainier Avenue South that most Seattleites have little reason to be driving down, it's hard to imagine they get much in the way of impulse diners (and indeed, only one other person occupied a table on a recent Sunday lunch). Hanging from the side of the building is an upside-down Neapolitan Pizza sign, with a second on the wall near their gargantuan Mugnaini oven.
The quirkiness continues with Pulcinella's calzone (pictured at top.) I admit, I have never seen one served this way before. Instead of the pizza-folded-in-half style of the calzone we're all familiar with, the crust is only folded halfway across, leaving the other half flat like a normal pie. Slits are cut into the top of the folded-over crust for ventilation, providing windows to the ricotta-and-mozzarella-stuffed interior. The ricotta is very good, but there's an awful lot of it crammed in there, without enough pepperoni to cut the richness. The flat half of the calzone is just a Margherita, basil and all, adorned with thick slices of pecorino. It's a bit bizarre.
But the idiosyncrasies of Pulcinella end there, and with the pizzas they comfortably tread the well-worn path of every VPN-certified pizzeria I've ever visited. You'll find a Margherita like this at any authentic Neapolitan pizzeria in the country, which isn't a knock on the pie at all, just a caveat. The crust is nicely puffy and crisp on the outside, with the charred bits offering up the most flavor.
The sauce is the requisite crushed San Marzanos, minimally seasoned. The fresh mozzarella is more flavorful than many varieties, though it wasn't quite as melted as it should have been. And just as it is at almost every VPN pizzeria, the basil seems to be a mere afterthought. A decent pizza all around, but nearly indistinguishable from one served at any of the above-mentioned establishments.
The special for the day, a pizza with Sausage and Roasted Green and Red Peppers, was a definite success. The fennel sausage is well-spiced and salty, and the peppers are flavorful and perfectly roasted, avoiding the undercooked bite that so often accompanies them as pizza toppings. You could taste those peppers in every bite. The one downside to this pizza? The sausage is too heavy for the razor-thin sag-prone Neapolitan crust, so expect to make use of your fork and knife.
Some aspects of the Forcella worked for me, while others did not. The pepperoncini bring a welcome bite of brine and moderate heat to the standard crust and red sauce, but the meats don't hold up their end of the bargain. The pepperoni is timid and just too thick, and the ham, well...the less said of it, the better. I've yet to see plain ol' lunchmeat ham like this used properly on a pizza, because it always comes out rubbery. Better to use something like speck or guanciale.
Except for the peculiar calzone, I didn't see anything unexpected at Pulcinella. Like other pizzerias of its ilk, Pulcinella is for people who have fallen head over heels in love with the VPN style. If that's what you're seeking, you'll leave Pulcinella satisfied.
About the author: Adam Lindsley is a Seattle-based novelist and the author of the pizza blog, This Is Pizza. As a contributor for both Slice and A Hamburger Today, he is contractually obligated to say he loves pizza and burgers in equal amounts. Which is to say he is a polygamist.