Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time Seattle. --The Mgmt.
316 Virginia St., Seattle, WA 98101 (map); (206) 838-7388; Website
Pizza Style: Artisanal
Oven Type: Wood-fired
The Skinny: The Restaurant King of Seattle turns out some top-quality pies with top-notch ingredients and an incredibly airy crust
Price: Pies range from $14 to $16. During happy hour, 3–5 p.m., M–F, half-sized pies are available for $5 each
After three fantastic days on Orcas Island, an exceptional locale that has been tragically marred by the loss if its sole pizzeria, I had 24 hours to spend in Seattle. I had already tried two of the Emerald City's pizzerias prior to heading offshore (reviews coming soon) and I still had to try the pizzeria widely hailed as city's best since it opened just three years ago, Tom Douglas's Serious Pie.
Douglas is the undisputed champion of the Seattle restaurant scene. The man has six restaurants, has won two James Beard awards and been nominated for three more. He has written multiple books, one of which, Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen, comes with an introduction by his friend and eating buddy, Ed Levine. He sells a specialty food line, designs kitchens, and has a radio show every Saturday afternoon. All of that is well and good, but the real question that matters is whether Tom Douglas can, in fact, cook up some serious pie. Actually, that's a trick question. The pizza at Serious Pie was primarily developed by head baker Gwen Grande. I have no idea who did what, but together they definitely came up with some seriously good pizza.
My initial plan was to head to Serious Pie during its pizza happy hour, when half-size pies are available for $5 each. Happy hour runs from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and I got there on Monday at 4:30. The restaurant seats about 40 people at six communal tables, and there at least 60 already there. It turns out I underestimated the number of people who would still be around late Labor Day afternoon, so there was no way I was going to get to partake in happy hour.
Depressed at the prospect of only being able to try one pizza rather than the three I'd planned on, I moped my way for three blocks over to Pike Place Market, where I made myself feel better with a bowl of salmon chowder from Pike Place Chowder (delicious), a nice strip of smoked salmon belly from one of the market's fishmongers (exquisite), and free samples of Beecher's cheddar cheese (outstanding) and chipotle dark chocolate–covered dried cherries from Chukar Cherries (stellar). After giving those goodies time to digest, I returned to Serious Pie at 7:30 p.m. and put down my name and cell phone number (they don't take reservations, but they will call you when your table is ready). About 45 minutes later, I was invited to return to the restaurant.
There were eight pizzas available the night of my visit, seven printed on the semi-permanent menu and a special featuring Brandywine tomatoes, a sheep's milk cheese, and pesto. Of the eight pizzas offered, only two had sauce, and none had the same type of cheese. While the variety was nice, it made ordering a pizza half with one topping combination and half with another impossible. After some discussion with a very patient and knowledgeable server, I opted for the Penn Cove clams, house pancetta, and lemon thyme pie.
I sat for a few short minutes with a great view of the busy open kitchen when my pizza arrived. The pies at Serious Pie are oval-shaped and about 11 inches long by 7 inches wide. Like at Mozza (reviewed here), the pizzas at Serious Pie have a high crust-to-toppings ratio. A couple of corner pieces, which were not small, had no toppings or cheese on them at all.
Also like Mozza, this place puts out a very unique crust that is also outstanding. The yeasty bread was unquestionably the airiest I've ever had. By no means do I necessarily equate fluffiness to quality, but the texture really worked on this one, particularly in the cornicione, which was crisp and chewy perfection.
The toppings and cheese on the pie were all excellent. The local clams had just the right amount of chew and took to the tangy pecorino cheese particularly well. The house cured pancetta had a strong peppery overtone, but was otherwise excellent with a strong porky flavor and a nice crisp and chewy texture. I did not notice the lemon thyme through the strong flavors from the pork and the cheese. The final ingredient on the pizza was olive oil, which is poured all over most pizzas at Serious Pie with a very heavy hand. The olive oil has great flavor but the amount of it quickly made a mess of the thinner center crust, though the corn meal on the bottom of the crust helped keep some texture. The dough was not falling apart, but it had none of the crispness of the cornicione.
One of the nice things about the lightness of the pizzas at Serious Pie is that it is easy to polish one off and still have plenty of room for dessert. That's particularly good news given Douglas' well-known dessert skills that are evident at Dahlia Bakery, which is in the same building as Serious Pie. I opted for the chocolate budino and fig mezzaluna, which turned out to be an outstanding selection.
The budino was a multilayered treat. On top of the cup was some very nice shaved dark chocolate. The next layer was made of the thick, sticky juice that comes out of a roasting fig. The bulk of the budino was the pudding itself, which was a malted chocolate flavor and had a very light texture that was almost a cross between traditional pudding and whipped cream, though closer to the former. Fig made a second appearance in the budino by showing up in thin strips buried in the creamy pudding. Finally, at the bottom of the cup, there were a few spoonfuls of decadent, thick chocolate with a caramel-like texture. The budino, with three types of chocolate and two versions of fig, was perfection in conception and execution. Not to be outdone, the fig mezzaluna was an outstanding finish to the dessert. It was so good that when I went to Dahlia Bakery the next morning for breakfast, I had no choice but to include a fig bar in my order.
After eating at Serious Pie, I have to think its pizza happy hour is among the best pizza deals on the planet. Between the outstanding crusts, the innovative and high-quality toppings, and masterful desserts, I can see why so many people include Serious Pie among their favorite pizzerias in the country. I loved my pizza there and could eat it every day, but it might not have even been my favorite in Seattle. Tune in next week to find out what upstart pizzeria made my pizza-eating day in Jet City. [Update: Here's the pizzeria that made my day.]
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