Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Ken's Artisan Pizza - Another Jewel in Portland's Craft Pizza Crown
If trend keeps up, Portland will soon be as well known for wood-fired pizza as it is for coffee and hipsters.
This past weekend, Fooditka and I had the pleasure of dining with two of her readers from back in Astoria who we've actually never met before. Clayton and his wife Liz were out here for the week, and reached out to see if we'd be interested in meeting up for dinner. The foodies settled on Ken's Artisan Pizza in what you might call the Laurelhurst section of Southeast. Like any blind date, the venue can make a lot of difference. Fortunately for the two couples, Ken's Artisan Pizza proved up to the challenge.
Located on SE 28th Avenue between Stark and Burnside, Ken's is perfectly situated among the myriad restaurants, sweet shops, and night-life that populate this lively neighborhood. They don't take reservations so we got there a bit early to put our names on the list. It was Saturday night, so the restaurant was that much more crowded, and we ended up waiting for about a 40 minutes before we got a table. We ordered some drinks and got used to the surroundings while we go to know our new pals.
The space is very nice, with the giant pizza oven front and center when you walk in. The fixtures are all crafted out of recycled wood and there is a lot of framed photography on the walls. In fact, one of the pictures is of the now defunct Jantzen Beach Big Dipper roller-coaster, the wood from which was refinished and used to make all of the tables. There is communal dining as well as smaller tables scattered throughout. The four of us sat at one of these larger tables.
Obviously, we were going to get pizza. However, on the way in, Fooditka spotted the calamari appetizer, and it looked legit, so we decided to start with that. We then ordered three pizzas for the four of us. The pizzas are 12" personal size, but big enough that you could share it unless you're starving to death, or have a bottomless pizza stomach. That's a real thing, by the way. It turned out that the three pies and the appetizer was the perfect amount of food, because it left just enough room for an ice-cream sundae.
Calamari - The calamari was grilled and tossed with a red sauce, rather than fried. It was o.k., but definitely not great. I wouldn't order it next time I go. But the reason one goes to Ken's Artisan Pizza isn't for the seafood apps. Lesson learned, next time we'll focus more on the house specialty.
Pizza - All of the pizza was cooked to perfection. The crust was marvelously blistered, and airy in the middle. It had a delightful texture, and wasn't too thick, which made it easier to eat a lot of it. There are eleven different varieties to choose from, and based on the three that we tasted, I'm sure they are all equally well done. Whatever your palette, you'll find one you like. Here are the ones we went with:
Arugula - This is essentially a margherita pizza with a mountain of arugula on it. It was delicious. Rather than the little bit of basil on the traditional margherita, the abundance of greens really added something to the experience. The freshness and texture complemented the melted mozzarella and sauce really well.
Soppressata - This was my favorite of the three. Also loaded with veggies, this one had radicchio on it to go along with the deliciously salty soppressata, which was just starting to curl and crisp up from the heat of the oven. The overall bite on this pie was perfection in my opinion, with just enough crunch left on the veggies mixing with the meat and cheese and crust. I'm hungry now just thinking about it. Fortunately, the one slice we did take home was this guy, and I got to eat him the next day for lunch.
Arrabiata - This was the spicy pie. Not overly so, but the peppers on this one definitely added something to it. In the same way the arugula tricked up the margherita in the first pie, the spicy peppers and sauce took that Neapolitan classic and kicked it in the pants. This one was Fooditka's favorite. I liked it also, but I think I only had one slice. Like I said, they're all nearly perfect, so it's just a question of your individual taste.
Apple Pie Sundae - The best way to wash down three pizzas is with a giant bowl of ice cream garnished with apples and a sugary cinnamon cookie, and then slathered with caramel sauce. The sundae tasted as good as you would think, but by the end, I was utterly stuffed. Sadly, the four of us were unable to finish it off, despite our best efforts.
Service and Cost:
Another high point for me was our waiter. I really thought he did a fantastic job all evening. In addition to serving us when we finally sat down, he was Johnny-on-the-spot with the drinks while we waited for a table. And after we'd finished our main course, I actually saw him making our dessert behind the bar. He was figuratively-literally everywhere, and he was exceptionally pleasant to boot. Bravo fella.
As far as cost, it wasn't too bad. For the amount of food we got, plus our drinks, we got out of there for around $60.00 per couple, including tip. Not exactly cheap, but not terrible for dinner out on a Saturday night.
Ken's Artisan Pizza - 304 SE 28th Avenue Portland, OR 97214