A 2,900-Mile Pizza Delivery


[Photograph: Adam Kuban]

I didn't know when the entreaties and pleading began, though I had an idea. I also didn't know how, exactly, Serious Eats founding overlord Ed Levine was going to manage bringing back to life a pizza shipped cross-country on dry ice. (Serious pizza eaters know the crust is at its best for only a minute or two out of the oven.) I do know that about two months after joining the Serious Eats crew, I received the following email:

So... Ed is calling me begging for a pizza. If I send one, are you going to eat some, since you are now a part of Team Serious Eats?

It was Brian Spangler, owner and pizzaiolo of Apizza Scholls in Portland, Oregon. Further email exchanges revealed that Ed had tried to include Spangler's wares in a roundup of the U.S.'s best pizzas he wrote for Details magazine but that Spangler was (understandably) worried about having his pie sampled under suboptimal conditions.

After kicking the matter back over to Ed, who made assurances and arrangements, word came that we should be expecting the UPS man to deliver a pie—half sausage, half plain—later in the week.

In the meantime, we worked and ... waited. And we pulled the Serious Eats–Slice dossier on Apizza Scholls. Spangler came to pizza as many of the greatest pizzamakers did—as a bread baker. He started Apizza Scholls (then called Scholls Public House and located in Scholls, Oregon, just west of Portland) after deciding he didn't want to "give another dollar to anyone again for mediocre pizza." [pizzamarketplace.com]

Despite my having lived in Portland before moving to New York, I had to learn about Spangler through Peter Reinhart's book American Pie. (Spangler went and opened the joint after I moved away.) Reinhart, a bread baker and baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University, held up Spangler's pizza as an example of the growing trend of artisanal pizzerias and noted that the crust at Scholls was exceptional—light, pliant, and possessing great hole structure.

As Spangler said in an MSNBC.com story on pizza, "That is 99 percent of the pizza. The toppings, in my opinion, are the easiest part of making pizza."

"Great," I said. "How are we going to glean any kind of idea of how great this pie is supposed to be, Ed?"

"Don't worry," he said. "I've gotten pies shipped to me before, and I have a trick for reheating them. The crust doesn't come back all the way, but you can still judge the hole structure and the flavor of the dough and get a look at the char on the bottom. And shipping doesn't change the balance among crust, sauce, and cheese."

I still don't know what Ed's trick is for reheating pies at home. That's because there's a pizzeria just next door to the Serious Eats office, and we hit upon the idea of pressing it into service.

20070322corkage.jpgCarrying the pie downstairs, I imagined Spangler becoming apoplectic at the idea—another man handling one of his creations, placing it in an oven of unknown provenance. Especially after we left it sit in the fridge over the weekend. And especially after the follow-ups we had gotten from him. An example:

OK... The pizza is on the way via UPS. We made it smaller for shipping logistics (we are an 18" pizza house), so I guessed on the amount of dough to use, and I think it came out a little too thin but looked great, so the balance of dough to sauce and cheese might be off. Let me know. Either way, you will get a sense of what our pizza is like, but you will have to come eat it here to fully understand what we do.

The pizza guy downstairs must have thought we were nuts. Wouldn't you? Two guys bringing their own pie for a reheat? He was nice enough, though, laughing at our explanation while popping it in to his run-of-the-mill gas-fired pizza oven.

After five minutes or so, he removed it, sliced it, put it back in the box, and we tipped him five bucks. The first-ever pizza corkage fee.

How was it? Cut to the video, please:

Spangler had no need to worry. If this is what his pizza tasted like after a 2,900-mile journey and three days in the fridge, it's not hard to understand why all my friends back in PDX keep raving about it to me in emails.

Apizza Scholls: The UpskirtThe sauce was fresh-tasting and bright; the sausage was spicy, juicy and distributed in nice large chunks; and the cheese (regular, whole-moisture mozzarella) was creamy and applied in a quantity just short of being a hair too much. The underside had a beautiful char to it (right), and Ed and I were surprised to learn that Spangler achieves it not in a coal- or wood-fired oven—not even in a gas oven—but in an electric one.

I've heard it's a long wait to get in to Apizza Scholls (indeed, the popularity and parking situation around the original location forced Spangler's move to Portland). That's something that just never happened with pizza when I lived in the Rose City. If Apizza Scholls existed when I lived there, I may never have moved away.

Apizza Scholls

4741 SE Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland OR 97215 503-233-1286; apizzascholls.com

Sources & Further Reading

American Pie [men.style.com]
The Rising Artisan Pizza Movement [Pizza Marketplace]
Pining for a Perfect Pizza [msnbc.com]
Brian Spangler on Legends of Pizza, Vol. 2 [pizzatherapy.com]