A low-key slice shop now packs serious culinary bona fides.

Any time Seattle Met updates its official best-of list for all things pizza, I brace myself for ire. Few foods evoke a pizza-level emotional response; any journalistic foray into this topic quickly becomes a Twitter thrashing on the merits of thick crusts versus floppy, Pagliacci versus Zeeks, or whether kale (or pineapple) has any business as a topping.

But this I didn’t expect.

“For my money,” one reader scolded me after the last go-round, “Post Alley Pizza is one of the top five in town.” Worth noting: The individual who slid into my DMs with this opinion owns another pizza restaurant in town.

Huh? I knew Post Alley Pizza, a compartment of a New York–style slice shop hidden in the rear of a parking garage down on Western Avenue. Seattle Met’s offices used to be across the street; I’d consumed plenty of quick lunches here, on beat-up black-and-chrome stools in a dining area not much larger than a compact sedan. The giant, greasy slices fired in ancient deck ovens behind the counter would fuel you through the workday—or offset the beer you planned to drink once you arrived at a Mariners game. But to say that pizza ranked among the best in the city is like giving an Academy Award to the Paw Patrol movie.

A few weeks later, the pizza plot thickened. Post Alley announced on Instagram a french bread pizza collaboration with Ben Campbell of Ben’s Breads, one of the town’s most precise practitioners of the dough-driven arts. The pizzeria’s minimalist website offered no information on its history, its owners, or any recent sea changes. But the menu lent a few clues that things had indeed evolved since the perfunctory lunchtime slices of years past. Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes in the sauce; housemade sausage and castelvetrano olives on the sausage, olive, and mushroom pie. A pair of salads unexpectedly rich in chicories.

The website also listed business hours that were limited, even by 2021 pandemic and staffing shortage standards. Which deepened the mystery, but also the challenge. Because clearly I needed to go for a slice.

 

Bread guru Michael Sanders devised the dough that chef Andrew Gregory (above) now works daily. The former London Plane chef has embraced dough's daily rhythms.

Image: Amber Fouts

The pizzeria is still all but invisible from the street, on the butt of a decidedly 1980s parking garage. By the time you spot the sign (which says, simply, “pizza”) or read the lettering on the window, you’ve already decided to walk through the door. The inside looks slightly different than it used to, but not nicer, exactly: The counter was reconfigured; a few framed Phish posters punctuate the wall. Stacks of napkin boxes and Virgil’s Root Beer cases fill one end of the room. The menu’s 10 pies stick to pizza parlor staples. Most come as 16- or 18-inch behemoths, but a board hanging over the counter displays by-the-slice options: cheese, pepperoni, daily meat and vegetarian specials.

“What do you have today?” asks the guy ahead of me in line, studying this portion of the menu board as if it were the fresh sheet at a seasonal bistro. Behind me, construction workers in muddy pants and orange sweatshirts wait to order. From the way they hover after I sit down at the pizzeria’s lone table, it’s clear I’ve taken their preferred spot.

Post Alley’s slices don’t fold as a proper New York specimen should. But the crust could hold its own in the sort of restaurant with wine lists and a bread program. It’s slender but sturdy, with a subtle tang that isn’t assertive like sourdough. It holds infinitely more character than the insipid cotton ball nature of some all-purpose flour pizza recipes. On top, just enough cheese and toppings dealt with savvy restraint. Bacon and onion on that first visit. Later, a white pie with a mouthwatering amount of roasted garlic. A sauceless “Italian Stallion” special with pepperoncini cutting through the coppa, smoked ham, and salami. Sometimes just a slice of pepperoni, curled into perfect cups.

Post Alley Pizza isn’t fancier than it used to be. But the pizza got a hell of a lot better.

 

Andrew and Ruel Gregory gave Post Alley Pizza a new identity: family business.

Image: Amber Fouts

This quiet transformation came together over a show at the Moore. Andrew Gregory had earned acclaim at Portland’s Woodsman Tavern before coming to Seattle in 2017 to be co-chef at London Plane in Pioneer Square. The restaurant’s co-owner, Yasuaki Saito, was an old friend from St. Louis; London Plane’s gracefully entwined salads and surprisingly accomplished grain bowls suited Gregory’s career in upscale kitchens.

A year later, he still loved the cooking but was severely over the rest of it, ground down by the hours and managing cooks in an industry with few economic upsides. Gregory and Saito and another friend went to the occasional Phish show with a mutual acquaintance who happened to own a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop. One night, before seeing Phish bassist Mike Gordon, he mentioned Post Alley’s pizzamaker was leaving, and maybe it was time to sell the place.

“I had never made pizza,” Gregory recalled, outside of the occasional staff meal or dinner for his wife and three young kids. “I didn’t have any understanding or knowledge of dough at all.” But by then he’d left London Plane with no plan. The price was reasonable for the group; he and wife Ruel could run it. “We bought it, and just kind of opened it.”

“Post Alley” summons images of Pike Place Market, but a few blocks south, it’s a quiet passageway reacquainting itself with sunlight and waterfront proximity after decades in the shadow of the Viaduct. The highway still loomed overhead when Post Alley opened in the late ’90s, the creation of a New York native and former corporate chef at Duke’s. Over two decades it passed through proprietors, who mostly made pizza the way the previous owner taught them.

Saito brought in Michael Sanders, then London Plane’s bread guru, to overhaul the dough; he bequeathed them a 24-hour leavened situation that uses local flour and commercial yeast, so it packs some intrigue, but doesn’t present a new personality each time you visit. With all that combined culinary experience, Post Alley Pizza’s new owners couldn’t help but upgrade their ingredients, swapping in whole milk cheese from Wisconsin and the vaunted ’roni cups, aka pepperoni from Ezzo Sausage that curls up into tiny grease chalices while it bakes.

Yasuaki Saito is also a partner at London Plane and Saint Bread.

Image: Amber Fouts

After some initial bumps, “We found ourselves making this hybrid,” says Saito. “Part chef-driven, part “old-school, not-fucked-with legacy thing.”

Gregory found satisfaction in the daily calibrations of working with dough. He makes his own sausage and bacon and spicy honey; his kids sit and color while he preps in the morning. His student days on the East Coast makes him an effective steward of its by-the-slice culture in a city more familiar with personal-size pies. The tiny kitchen was at capacity until a new oven opened things up.

The biggest mystery of Post Alley Pizza might be how this transition didn’t generate more fanfare outside industry word-of-mouth. Especially given the know-how in the kitchen and this town’s fervor for pizza. Maybe it was the construction, says Gregory, or the pandemic emptying out the surrounding offices once his cramped kitchen found its mojo. Also, he admits, “I am a terrible self-promoter.”

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