June 24, 2005

Pizza in Portland -- The Bike Tour

Last Tuesday I went on a group bike ride touring 6 pizzerias in Portland (led by Shawn of Urban Adventure League). Between 24 riders, we sampled East Coast Style cheese pizzas all over town.

The ride stopped first at Tributes, a real New York style joint. The place is small and casual, with a big screen TV in one corner and a bus-your-own-plate policy. I was ravenous, but Tributes' pizza didn't hit me as all that wonderful. The crust was good, but the sauce was somewhat lacking and the cheese was on the bland side.

Moving on, we hit Escape from New York a few blocks away. They are reputed to offer the "most authentic" New York-style pizza in Portland. To my palate, this pie tasted very good with a balance of flavors, but judgment may have been distracted by the rain and socializing with other cyclists.

Next was Hot Lips, my current favorite local joint. I'll spoil the rest of the story now by saying Hot Lips won my highest marks of all 6 pizzerias. The basil on the cheese pizza really stood out for me. Their cheese blend is also very flavorful, perhaps because they use all local, organic ingredients. The ride paused here for about half an hour to wait out a sudden downpour.

After that, we rode across the river to start our East Side tour. Pizza A-Go-Go on N. Williams seemed popular with the other riders, but the pizza crust was cardboard-like, and the seating layout was like a 1960s fast food joint. This may appeal to hip cafeteria-chic diners, but I found it a little distracting from my goal of enjoying a slice in good company. While we were eating, a car broke down across the street, so some of the group members ran out to help push the car into a safe parking spot. Bravo!

Bella Faccia, our next stop, made a much stronger showing. Besides a very pleasant lighting scheme and artistic decor, the pizza was well crafted. I think the cheese blend was a little spicier than the others we visited, and the crust and sauce were good competitors. Strongly in Bella Faccia's favor is the appetizing drink selection, which includes the excellent Laurelwood Free Range Red Ale.

Out of our original group, only 12 hardy souls stuck it out to the very end of the ride, at Stark Naked Pizza (SE 28th and Stark). Stark Naked is only a few months old. They don't serve beer, something of a drawback, and we got there near closing time, so all the chairs had been put away. The crust of this pie was pretty awful, with some spots that had gone beyond golden brown into blackened. I probably won't be back until they become more established.

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