Another West Coast dispatch from our man in Oregon, Jim Bonomo. Take it away, Jim! —The Editors
Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom
Hood River, Oregon is a strange multi-faceted microcosm. I'm sure people live there, but it's mainly wayward traveling ski bums, windsurfers, kiteboarders, and yuppie families on daycations that inhabit its retail spaces. Tourists drive terribly and wander its streets aimlessly spending money on handcrafted jewelry, new ski boots, and native pottery. This vibe is primarily what keeps me from visiting more often than I do, despite the allure of small-batch beers and the promise of a New Haven-style pizza. That's right, the cozy Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom set into the Hood River hillside says they're churning out New Haven-style pizzas alongside their decidedly Oregon-style brews. Since I grew up in Connecticut, I had to check it out.
Double Mountain's menu declares: "We make our pizza pretty much the same way they do it in New Haven, Connecticut, the pizza capital of the world. We run our ovens at close to 700 degrees F, cooking the pizzas super-fast and creating spots of superficial char on the crust. It creates great flavor...but if you think you'd like less char, please inform us ahead of time."
I can only imagine the expression on the face of the New Haven pizzaolo who is asked to put less char on a pizza.
The space itself is quite cozy, all dark wood and leather. Exotic plants pepper the windowsills and local artists' wares hang randomly between time-worn tchochkes. Service is laid back with all business handled in self-motivated trips to the bar. If you take too long to decide on pizza or beer, the bartender will reluctantly approach. Those in the know seem to beeline for the bar, where all the action is on a snowy Sunday afternoon. Sandwiches and salads are offered, but all I see emerging from the kitchen are pizzas.
The Mountain boldly offers only seven pre-designed pies without an advertised option to pick your own toppings. There's some standard fare, including a basic cheese, a Margherita, a sausage pie, and a pepperoni pie. On the more esoteric side, they offer a Greek-inspired pie with goat cheese, an Italian-themed pie with hot capicola and pickled peppers, and a white truffle pie with portobello mushrooms and green onions. As a former New Havenite, my first thought is that strong psychedelics were probably required to draw this sort of inspiration from the hardnosed tradition of Connecticut pizza.
The first pizza to hit our table was the Margherita ($17). Immediately, I noticed a pleasant yellow/white contrast to the surface indicating a liberal use of fior di latte alongside a more conventional aged mootz. An initial bite confirmed this, and the cheese provided a milky foil to a pleasantly fresh, tangy, and plentiful tomato base which was zippy with a hit of red chili. The hand was also heavy with fresh cut basil, a welcome addition to any Margherita. The crust, despite being on the thinner side, possessed an excellent seesaw of exterior crisp and interior chew. The cornicone tasted buttery and begged for a bit more saltiness and contrasting depth. Still, the slice was flavorful and well-crafted.
Next up was the Jersey Pie ($18). It's a red pie topped with hot capicola, provolone, and pickled goathorn peppers. This pizza was pretty much the antithesis of its more delicate predecessor: beefy, messy, and heavy. The slice definitely sagged under its own weight and required some folding expertise to eat. The vinegar from the peppers and the heat from the spiced ham dueled atop a thick coating of cheese. The dairy component was listed as provolone but is most certainly not aged piccante; I'd guess that they use a young provolone/mozzarella blend. Sizeable tomato chunks dotted the landscape and salt level was surprisingly spot-on despite the overabundance of thick-cut cured meat and pickled veg. Lack of refinement aside, the Jersey seeks to satiate the soul and succeeds.
It would be criminal not to mention the beer produced on site which provides the most perfect sidecar to Double Mountain's pizza. Their sudsy offerings range from the quaffable, refreshing German-style Kolsch, to the bracingly bitter Hop Lava IPA. Double Mountain even produces a sour Belgian-inspired Kriek made with cherries from the brewer's own orchard. Creative seasonal offerings included a black lager and hoppy Christmas amber.
Fat and happy, I allowed my aggravation over the menu's cocky New Haven reference to wash away. Truth is, I'm actually finding more similarities between Double Mountain pizza and the fabled pies of Wooster Street than this former Connecticut resident cares to admit: gas-fired brick oven, distinct char flavor on the crust, vibrant tangy tomato base. It's just presented in a different sort of package. The overall impression I got from my meal at Double Mountain is one of dedication to a craft. These pies come from a respect for tradition, just not a real urge to imitate it.
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