Hot Mama's vs. Snoose Junction
For a city so obsessed with food, we are notoriously bereft of kitchens that serve after 10pm. At least someone had the smarts to plant late-night pizzerias in two of the most hopping ’hoods. Of these, Hot Mama’s makes for a nice nightcap, but you don’t frequent these cramped Pine/Pike quarters for the pie. Sure, the New York–style, sloppy, big-as-your-plate slices (word to the wise—fold ’em or floor ’em) get the job done: With each bite the gloppy cheese covers your chin with a three-inch cobweb (yes, it’s that gooey), while the crunch of fresh-from-the-oven crust and slightly sweet pepperoni, toasted just a tad, punctures the early morning fog (even if the lackluster veggies won’t). But the real feast is the people. Here Seattle’s Jersey Shore kids spill over from Kurrent and mingle with glammed-out clubbers and buzzed, bearded hipsters. Throw in tattooed rockabillies and you’ve got one delicious scene, a true slice of today’s Cap Hill culture. Truth is, the morning after, it’s these characters, not the pizza, we (sorta) remember.
Not so with Snoose Junction, which whips up munchies of a higher pedigree. The crust—fluffy without losing firmness—cradles up to eight different cheeses and a zesty mound of gourmet toppings—and puddles of grease big enough to swim in. But who cares when it’s 2am? Once your belly greets a dripping mess of whole-milk mozzarella topped with Yukon Gold potatoes or CasCioppo Bros. Italian sausage, intoxication takes on new form. Added bonuses: elbow room, arcade games at the Ballard outpost, and music that keeps the party going.
BOTTOM LINE: Snoose Junction has us wanting more—whether the sun is still shining or just about to rise.
Zaw Artisan Bake At Home Pizza vs. Pizza Pi
We know, we know—the very idea of “healthy pizza” just smells like Seattle. But if the concept sounds preposterous, two Seattle joints defining “healthful” in very different ways manage to purify the pie without trading away its essential naughtiness. Zaw successfully does this in its three (soon-to-be four) stark and spotless urban locations, through a commitment to sustainability that extends to the pizza boxes (strictly verboten), the toppings (locally sourced, organic), and even the delivery method (within a mile—by bike).
The idea is artisan toppings on bake-at-home pies, as in the house favorite, the Tailgate—with organic ale-soaked onions, pepperoni, and chewy chunks of Hempler’s bacon, built on whole wheat, gluten-free, or white organic flour crusts. So what if the thin crust tends to go cardboardy after baking. And they ask you to bake multiple pies one at a time, to ensure even heating. And the first-rate toppings lack the supporting nuance—herbs, where are you?—to showcase them most flavorfully. This pizza is free of everything bad except calories and a price tag. Sort of a big one, come to think of it. Whaddya want already.
For those singing out “cruelty-free!” there’s Pizza Pi, a sweetly shabby storefront in the upper reaches of the Ave that supplies vegan and gluten-free pizzas to those who favor them. We are talking Teese Cheese (not-bad soy mozzarella), Field Roast (grain meat, and the best pie here), and a white garlic sauce that turns in a fair imitation of aioli.
“This is the best vegan crust I’ve ever had,” marveled one trusty vegan, hired as a pinch-nibbler for our team of unapologetic carnivores. “And not too much grease!”
BOTTOM LINE: When we asked ourselves which was the greater achievement—pricey pie for foodies or vegan pizza that was edible—there was no question. It’s Pizza Pi.
All-Purpose Pizza vs. Jet City Pizza
Among pizza perfectionists, a pie’s crustworthiness is typically judged against the gold standard of Naples or New York. In these parts, two pizzerias veer proudly off that radar, thanks to secret ingredients all their own. Leschi’s All-Purpose Pizza takes three days letting each golden crust ferment. A crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside marvel that not only achieves admirable heft and elasticity, it offers a gentle spank of sourdough in every bite. A heavily winey red sauce imports yet another layer of intrigue, adding up to a pie that will addict some palates and overwhelm others. (Kids tend to fall into the second camp, though they do love playing with dough at their own sawed-off tables in the airy, arty Jackson Street space.)
Across town and dotting the hinterlands is Jet City Pizza, a drive-by sort of franchise—takeout and delivery only—that traffics in similarly upmarket toppings. At Jet City, though, Thai peanut sauce with red onions and grilled chicken, or coconut, mandarin oranges, and Canadian bacon are piled on crusts fluffy with Redhook ale. You can also order your pie on a hand-thrown buttermilk crust tweaked with Parmesan—but why on earth would you, when the beer crust offers a yeast-puffed featherweight texture with a nearly caramelly malt flavor? Thin-crust aficionados won’t get it at all, and won’t care in the slightest how sublime gyro meat and tzatziki sauce taste on crusts as lush and tasty as bread sticks. That’s okay. More for us.
BOTTOM LINE: Jet City Pizza’s ethereally chewy beer crust is the underheralded sleeper of the year in this category.