A Hamburger Today
Zayda Buddy's Brings the Midwest to Seattle
5405 Leary Ave. NW, Seattle, WA 98107 (map); 206-783-7777; zaydabuddyspizza.com
Pizza style: Minnesota-style, which is pretty much Chicago thin crust-style
Oven type: Gas
The skinny: Tasty party-cut pies make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Price: 8- to 16-inch pizzas ranging from $8.49 to $26.99
Prior to eating at Zayda Buddy's, I wasn't aware of the term "Minnesota-style" as it applies to pizza. I figured it was probably something akin to Midwest-style pizza, which really got me excited after reading Adam Kuban's review of Maria's in Milwaukee. With its pastry-like crust and slices cut in a grid pattern, my estimation of this kind of pizza was right on the money, and like the Kubanator and his Maria's, I'm haunted by it, even if I'm just a little ashamed to admit that.
Owner Joel Radin (a co-founder of Top Pot Doughnuts) named the pizzeria and bar after his Lithuanian grandfather Zayda, who moved to Minnesota in the 1920s. It's a cool spot, all brick and dark wood and beer memorabilia, stocked with good microbrews right alongside blue collar staples like Hamm's and Blatz. And what's more inviting than an ode to tater tots scrawled on the sign outside?
I usually pass on pizza taken to such excess, but The Ballard Bridge pie won me over from the first bite. It's loaded with pepperoni, Italian sausage, and ground beef tucked under a gooey layer of mozzarella, then topped with black olives and white onions. The first sensation that hits you is the liberal application of salt in everything from the cured meats to the Wisconsin cheese to the heavily seasoned, slightly sweet red sauce. What's astounding is that while sodium is clearly the dominant attribute, it manages not to be too salty. It's like the guys in the kitchen know exactly how much salt crosses the line, and then they construct their pizzas with this in mind, skillfully keeping the pizzas just under the "unacceptable" mark.
Which isn't to say there's no salt in the crust, because there surely is. Like the Midwest pies it's emulating, the crust is thin, tender, and flaky. My first thought taking a bite into it was, This is like a Totino's frozen pizza...except fifty times better. That's no knock on Zayda Buddy's; I adore the trashiness of Totino's frozen pizza, and the fact that I can get a higher-quality version of it here that doesn't leave me with the guilt of having scarfed down something that for all intents and purposes was generated in a laboratory makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
It sounds completely wrong, but apparently "Mexican" pizza is a common menu item in Midwest pizza parlors, so I had to try the Minnesota Mexican for the full experience. And you know what? They're on to something. This pizza is just as salty as the Ballard Bridge, but you can definitely taste the beef infused with taco seasoning under the mozzarella and cheddar. The diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce provide interesting taco-esque texture, if not much in the way of flavor, but the olives and onions help. The red sauce isn't intrusive here at all; instead it's a firm reminder that this fusion food is still, in fact, pizza.
The Olaf Tryggvasson, aptly christened for the ruthless Norse king of the same name, was the one miss for me. Along with sausage, it's normally served with Canadian bacon, but as they had run out, the Canadian bacon was swapped out for dry salami. No complaints there. The problem lay in the sliced banana peppers. They gave off the sharp, pungent odor of mustard and were no less potent in the mouth, overpowering everything else on the pizza. That's saying something, given that capers (and plenty of 'em) made an appearance. Not even those little salt-bombs could stand out with those peppers calling the shots.
Since this is my first experience with Chicago/Midwest-style thin crust pizza, I don't have anything to compare it to, and could not in good conscience speculate whether or not it stacks up to that region's favorites. What I can say is that while it took me some time to fully appreciate Zayda Buddy's pizza, I've come to one inevitable conclusion: I'm totally hooked.
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.