Moon Pizza deploys seeds, citrus, and yogurt dippers to create exceptional seasonal pies.
In campy old movies, when the end of the world seems imminent, characters throw propriety out the window, grab their secret love, and succumb to their deepest-held desires. Last March, when the pandemic descended, that’s pretty much what happened to Marie Rutherford and Kit and Jesse Schumann. Except with pizza.
They’d discussed, even researched the idea in various forms for years. Rutherford was previously chef de cuisine at Willmott’s Ghost, Renee Erickson’s Roman-style pizza restaurant (and, before that, the Whale Wins). The brothers Schumann own Sea Wolf Bakers. Three compatriots, lots of compatible know-how. Never enough time.
But when Covid imploded their industry, “in the most positive way, we said ‘fuck it, let’s go,’” Rutherford remembers. One Monday in June, they fired up the bakery’s ovens and began Moon Pizza, doling out preorder pies (a red and a white) one day a week. Kit and Jesse brought the full force of their baking brains to bear on a long-fermenting pizza dough made with flour from local phenom Cairnspring Mills. Something sturdy enough to be eaten cold the next morning, able to hold its own beneath uncommon combinations of toppings. Corn, coriander, lemon aioli, and sesame seeds dotted August’s white pizzas, a wedge of lime tucked in the corner of the box for a final topper. In January, the red pie sported kabocha squash, kale, seasoned sunflower seeds, and a dipping sidecar of sweet, spiced yogurt. A ton of cheese keeps things from getting precious.
Moon Pizza sells out its 90 pies each Monday before its owners get back to the business of running a bakery or, in Rutherford’s case, teaching classes at the Pantry. Pizza’s been a coping mechanism, says Kit Schumann. A form of self-help. He writes most of the narratives that accompany new menus on Instagram, tying each to a new moon or seasonal shift. In a world upended, “it’s nice to feel like you’re part of a cycle.” Rutherford finds solace in art, watercoloring the companion illustrations of pies and slices and Northwest flora.
The trio’s creative process around toppings selection even sounds a little bit like group therapy. They navigate personal preferences, examine foundational pizza experiences (Cheese Board in Berkeley for Rutherford; Round Table Pizza in Bellingham’s Sunset Square shopping center for the Schumanns), and expand upon one another’s ideas. Eventually, delicately, they arrive at consensus. Moon Pizza rules nothing out, except the combos they already know and love. As Jesse puts it, “the world already has lots of great pepperoni.”
Even more lately, thanks to some great pizza popups that proliferated across Seattle this past year. The act of creating laborious pies with distinct personalities brought comfort to their makers—not just to those of us who hunted them down to cart home and devour on the couch.
Forget delivery. Seattle might have a burgeoning pizza scene, but it’s happening in the smallest of batches. To procure pie from Dantini, a weekly popup at Harry’s Fine Foods, I set an alarm on my phone for 7pm on a Thursday, when the ordering window opened (Dantini has since moved to Batch 206 and set up a proper website). But I got distracted; by 7:35, just one pickup slot remained.
That Sunday at the appointed time, I followed some sidewalk sandwich boards around the side of the restaurant to retrieve my order from a window in Harry’s back garden, definitely my most pastoral pizza transaction to date. Holding the box, I could tell just from the aroma—a wave of spicy oil and cheese and heat—that the pepperoni inside was the sort that curls up into little cups. A spiral of roasted, pureed garlic rebooted those nostalgic flavors for mature audiences.
This new pizza landscape also rewards superb time management skills and ninja-level Instagram surveillance. Guerilla Pizza Kitchen, a relative elder statesman, and upstarts like Tiny Industries pop up at irregular intervals, announced on social media, while Romeo’s seasonally adorned pies take over Homer on Beacon Hill every Monday night. Corrie Strandjord of Good Luck Bread even takes orders for frozen pizzas that emerge from your own oven (thanks to detailed baking instructions) as covetable as a restaurant pie.
Previously, “craft pizza” in Seattle meant Neapolitan pizza—whisper-thin crusts made with sparkling white doppio zero flour from Italy and fired in a wood oven. Generally this new wave favors local grains and a long ferment. That’s what qualifies it as a craft product, says Jordan Koplowitz, who runs the weekly Blotto pizza popup. For him, the challenge of a sourdough crust is central to pizza’s allure; the more demanding process yields a superior texture, and crumb, and aroma. “I also just think that it tastes dope.”
He and business partner Caleb Hoffmann will turn Blotto into a full-on restaurant at 12th and Denny this spring, but in popup mode, customers claim every last preorder in the space of two hours. After a year of staying home, though, he wonders whether it’s actually about pizza. “Or if it’s about people being thirsty for a new experience when they’re not having any new experiences.” This past year, “Maybe pizza has filled that void.”