Flying Squirrel Pizza Co. vs. Serious Pie
Get a pizzaiolo talking about his craft and you’re going to get an earful about correct proofing times and proper firing temps. Some are so bound to the strictures of their tradition they even get their pies certified (see New World Neapolitan ).
Then there are those who favor a more innovative approach. “We went in with no preconceptions besides making really good pizza,” recalls Eric Tanaka, who as executive chef and partner at Tom Douglas Restaurants was one of the visionaries consulted when Douglas decided to open Serious Pie in 2007.
“For four months we drove our baker insane,” Tanaka chuckles. Tanaka and Douglas asked Dahlia Bakery ’s Gwen LeBlanc to come up with a more breadlike pizza crust than they were seeing around town; she produced three versions and the chefs nixed them all. “We wanted crispier, with a little bit of crumb to it,” he explains. So she lightened the dough with a softer flour. Too cakey. She tossed in semolina for texture and wound up with too gritty a crunch.
They went back to the original three—and through trial and error (“and a lot of Gwen shouting at us to get our act together!”) they discovered that the meaningful variable was fermentation. Too little, and the dough would lose flavor; too much, and it would smell too yeasty. The formula had to change whenever the weather did. “Crust is much more art than science,” Tanaka says.
They tinkered with their huge 1,000—degree Wood Stone oven, finally settling on six minutes at 650 degrees, with potatoes going on at the beginning, cheese in the last two minutes (“scorched cheese equals greasy pizza,” says Tanaka), and lighter charcuterie closer to the end. They made investigative pilgrimages to the country’s best pizzerias, from Oakland’s Pizzaiolo (“where we learned to finish pies with salt,”) to the legendary Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.
Serious Pie, the stylishly dim and perpetually packed little joint downtown, is Seattle’s Pizzeria Bianco. All that bakery back-and-forth shows: Crusts are golden and toothsome, chewy within and crispy without, burnished with delectable bits of char. On top go A-list ingredients dictated by flavor and seasonality rather than tradition—hence our category name, the Seattle-style pie. One favorite is shingled with thin-sliced Yukon Golds, fragrant with rosemary and Pecorino Romano; another is dotted with sweet fennel sausage and cherry bomb peppers. Much attention is paid to cheese—which Douglas’s chefs intended to make themselves but learned on about their fourth slammed hour of their first slammed day that would be improbable at best. Like all toppings here, purslane to chanterelles to delicata squash, cheeses are ferociously seasonal—perhaps an Italian truffle variant, perhaps a tart sheep’s milk. The result is simply a masterpiece.
That fiercely local identity marks South End newcomer Flying Squirrel as a Seattle-style innovator too, crafting its own exuberant combos from mostly organic toppings. One pie features local asparagus, goat cheese, and pine nuts; another—the Washington—stars ham from local charcuterie Zoe’s Meats, with caramelized onions and Granny Smiths. Owner Bill Coury is as irreverent about the rules as Douglas, claiming that he wasn’t setting out to be authentically anything; he just wanted to make a classic American “everybody pizza” with the best-tasting stuff on top. And—judging from the crowds of hipsters and families that throng the friendly, Mexican coke–and–Olympia Beer sort of Seward Park storefront every night—that he has done.
BOTTOM LINE: Flying Squirrel offers pristine toppings on a bumpy landscape of highly flavorful crust, which nevertheless lacks the moisture and chewy satisfaction of Serious Pie’s serious triumph.