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[Photographs: Derek Arent]

Tastebud Farm Dining Room

3220 SE Milwaukie Avenue, Portland OR 97202 (map); 503-234-0330; tastebudfarm.com
Oven Type: Wood-fired
Price: $15 for all-you-can-eat every Sunday

Mention Tastebud to a Portlander, and they'll likely think of Tastebud's Saturday Farmers' Market stand, where they sell schmeared bagel sandwiches, pitas stuffed with lamb, and reheated, parbaked slices of pizza. Very few people know that Tastebud's pizza is available fresh from an actual bricks-and-mortar establishment, and even fewer know that you can eat as much as your belly will allow every Sunday night for fifteen dollars. My experiences with Tastebud's pizza at the farmer's market gave me hope and a desire to eat their wares direct from the wood-fired oven.

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The all-you-can-eat deal included two limitless salad options: a Caesar with bagel croutons and an arugula salad with fennel and lemon oil. They appeared fresh and inviting, but would only have interfered with the task at hand. A menu of the night's five rotating pizzas was found at each table, and the 'help yourself' strategy was unspoken yet clear.

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House pork sausage with broccoli raab brought me back to the farmers' market with its use of seasonal produce. The sausage had a resilient spring and a healthy kick of black pepper. The raab was perfectly cooked, retaining a bit of crispness. The hefty serving of cheese, along with pork fat from the sausage and olive oil from the raab came together in the way only three rich fats could.

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The market vibe continued with the pea tendril and leek slice, which offered the off-kilter base of pesto sauce and goat cheese. Intensely herbal flavors dominated, and this slice was a real showcase for top-shelf goat cheese. You might not want flavors this strong on a whole pie, but that's the beauty of a buffet setup.

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The bacon and cauliflower pizza with Mama Lil's peppers (pictured at right above) delivered some brilliant smokiness. The dank wood-tinged smoke absorbed by the cauliflower and the sweet char smoke intrinsic to the bacon brought a beautiful balance to vinegar-tinged pickled peppers. This pie benefited greatly from exposure to a wood oven, and may have otherwise been dominated by those little red pepper bombs. As it is, the aroma wafting from the slice reminded us a little of the scent of buffalo wing sauce.

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But the winner for aroma was the three cheese (mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan) slice with asparagus. This pie featured another example of properly-cooked, fresh, seasonal produce which added a much-needed bright element. A bit of acidity would have helped the overall harmony of this offering, but the richness and depth of flavor was quite forgiving.

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There was plenty of the old reliable (tomato and mozzarella) to go around, although it was a bit too dense for my tastes. The tomato 'sauce' was tasty, though, fresh and herbal with proper salt, and lacked any overcooked pasty sweetness.

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The crust of all these pies had a pleasant density (necessary to hold up the liberally applied toppings), and an exterior crispness on all edges. On the more cheese-heavy pies, the weight of each slice becomes more noticeable.
20110501_tbud_7.jpgThe outer crusts were developed and nicely charred without burn. A cautious hand was obviously responsible for baking these pies. Generally, they didn't have the most picturesque undercarriage, perhaps the result of a slightly overfloured work surface.

The Sunday night feast at Tastebud was delicious, and a smashing value. My capacity for buffet-style indulgence is moderate, and I was easily able to take down nine slices (with beer). Quick math shows the per-slice cost to be $1.66, which is especially awesome when you're getting fantastically fresh ingredients on well-crafted pies. Skip the farmers' market stand and head directly to the Tastebud Farm restaurant for a hedonistic spread with a variety guaranteed to please the pizza soul.

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