The Independent Pizzeria
4235 East Madison Street, Seattle WA 98112 (map); 206-860-6110; theindiepizzeria.com
Pizza style: New York-style, with a strong Neapolitan influence
Oven type: Gas/Wood hybrid
The skinny: Crave-worthy New York/Neapolitan hybrid with a killer crust and well-chosen toppings
Price: 10-inch pizzas $8 to $12
Some of you may have found it hyperbolic when I deemed Delancey the best pizzeria in Seattle. What, then, do you think of the Seattle Weekly's claim that the very recent newcomer to the Emerald City pizza scene, The Independent, "easily makes...the best pizza in town"? I must not be the only one to find that statement provocative.
Located in swanky Madison Park near the shores of Lake Washington, The Independent sets you up for pretension before you walk in the door. One step inside and that all goes out the window. Mismatched cutlery and mismatched plates adorn the mismatched four-tops, beer is served in wide-mouthed Ball jars, and the walls are decorated with the emancipated covers of ancient hardbound textbooks. The tiny restaurant has a cozy, unfussy, down-home feel to it, one that lifts the guilt of entering dressed far more casually than the residents of the surrounding neighborhood.
Owner/pizzaiolo Tom Siegel, a former pastry chef and sommelier, gives his dough a 24-hour ferment, and it comes out of his domed Forno Bravo oven with a few random blisters, spotted char on the underside, and a dusting of semolina. At one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch, it's somewhat thicker than a Neapolitan crust—much more in line with what you'd find at slice shops in New York—and it holds whatever toppings Siegel throws on it without a hint of sag. Oh, and it tastes fantastic. Siegel keeps an oft-discarded endcrust in check by making it only as broad as it needs to be (i.e. wide enough to keep the sauce off your fingertips). What's there has an airy hole structure and good chewiness beneath the crackling crisp exterior.
For whatever reason, The Independent's version of the Margherita, the Queen, didn't quite come together. The crust was flawless, but the unseasoned red sauce was too thinly spread to really notice. The fresh mozzarella and basil were fine, if a little muted. The pie is finished with a dusting of dried herbs, which neither added to nor subtracted from the end product. The pizza wasn't bad by any means, but there was little worthwhile about it beyond the crust. I don't feel too bad about knocking Independent's boring Queen, though, because the rest of the pizzas I tried were outstanding.
At the top of the heap was the Stevedore, which hits you with a garlicky Genoa salami from Applegate Farms, thinly sliced red onions, and the increasingly ubiquitous Mama Lil's spicy goathorn peppers. A semi-sharp provolone finishes the pie, and I swear this cheese and Cheetos trigger the same casomormphins in my brain. The provolone provides a beautiful contrast to sweetness of the red onions. Siegel should seriously consider adding this cheese to the rest of his pies, because like an addict after the yayo's gone, I kept craving this stuff long after the last slice was inhaled. It's Independent's trump card.
The Pepperoni pie was simpler but no less mouth-watering pie. The cured meat's from Molinari and has a funkiness to it that I quite enjoyed. It's also less spicy than most other pepperonis, for what it's worth. It may not get crisp like I normally prefer it, but it more than makes up for it by being a more flavorful, higher quality product than what's usually doled out. You can swap it out for a vegetarian pepperoni if you're so inclined, but why on earth would you do a thing like that?
I wasn't expecting to like the Beta as much as I did, but the combination of garlic, chopped Swiss chard, and meaty Fra'Mani sausage was impossible not to devour at an almost comically rapid pace. That sausage is something else. It's sliced surprisingly thin, barely thicker than a disc of pepperoni, and cups in the heat of the oven, forming nice crispy edges around the rim. It's also has a strong flavor that cuts right through the bitterness of the chard.
In the end, what do I really think of the Seattle Weekly's bold assertion that The Independent serves the best pizza in Seattle? To quote The Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, your opinion, man. While I'd say Siegel's pizza isn't as sublime as Brandon Pettit's, it's still excellent, well executed, and highly addictive. The crack-like provolone alone is reason enough to bow down to its greatness and get your fix. It's a welcome addition to Seattle's expanding pizza portfolio, and a must-try for any aficionado in the area.