In high school, I would often flee campus and hightail it to Little Caesar’s for what I thought was good pizza. What I lacked in pizza IQ back then, I more than made up for in passion and commitment. Fortunately, those days are long gone and I now think of myself as somewhat of a pizza connoisseur. So, when two of Portland’s best-loved restaurateurs announced they were opening new pizza places, I bubbled with excitement.
Bruce Carey, who is the driving force behind such places as Bluehour, Clark Lewis and 23 Hoyt, and Cathy Whims of Nostrana fame (which, incidentally, has wonderful pizza) have opened Via Tribunali and Oven & Shaker, respectively, and I highly recommend them both. Both spots have amazing and creative traditional Italian pizzas: wood-fired; thin, crisp-but-chewy crust; and a less-is-more approach to toppings. They are also quite different.
Seattle-based Via Tribunali has lots of fans up north. They import most of their ingredients from Italy — down to the flour and the mozzarella di bufala, which I can’t seem to get out of my head. They even imported the materials and craftsmen to build their wood-fired oven which I’m told runs at a blistering 1200 degrees. Located in Old Town next to Voodoo Doughnut, the dark wood and brick interior adds to the Italian ambiance and warmth of the place.
Oven & Shaker brings the locavore mantra found in many of my favorite Portland restaurants to a chic new spot in the Pearl District. It’s a partnership between Whims and Ryan Magarian, one of the creators of the local Aviation Gin. Magarian is in charge of the O&S bar, which nearly runs the entire length of the restaurant. Here you’ll find Whims’ take on Italian pizza along with several other small plates, apps and salads.
If you’re looking for a bar scene I’d go with O&S; Via Tribunali is best for sitting down at a table with family and friends. Both restaurants are awesome additions to Portland’s dining scene and the city’s west side.