Restaurants & Bars

[pdx] a jaunt in the 'burbs: pizza and ice cream

Kate | Apr 10, 200511:14 PM     4

Seeing as I live a whopping ten minutes – by bicycle – from Sellwood, I decided this weekend that it was high time to explore a couple of the recently-talked-about places in SE: Sellwood Public House, and the Breyer’s ice cream parlor on SE Milwaukie (which I guess technically is in Westmoreland). Had it not been raining, this would have been the sort of idyllic afternoon of which suburban youngsters’ dreams are made. This is not a bad thing, and it does not mean chowhounds should overlook these places.

First, the Public House. The venue itself just makes me happy. It’s housed on the second floor of one of the buildings along the main drag of the “Sellwood Commercial District” (aka how many antique shops can one town handle?), right around Tacoma and 13th. You ascend a broad flight of CARPETED stairs, which smells exactly like the church basement thrift shop where your grandmother volunteered – you know the one. The smell, the carpeting, all made me feel so at home before I’d even gotten to the eatery proper. The dining room is nice, in the way neighborhood pizza joint/bars are nice. There are televisions mounted in the corners, yes, but there are also really nice windows and a fairly high ceiling; it feels airy inside instead of skuzzy. The tables are what I called “tuxedo tables” as a kid: black linen tablecloth underneath with a sheet of fresh white butcher paper on top. The bar is dark polished wood, and there’s a nice chalkboard diagram behind it of “The Perfect NY Pie”. It was quiet, but early (5:00ish): one group at a table, one couple (sounded like regulars) having wine and dinner at the bar, and one guy drinking PBR and watching the Blazers. All very mellow.

Oh yes, the food. This is the sort of pizza I would have rolled over and died for as a kid. First of all, you can have slices of any of their pies (they have a set selection – some thin crust with fewer toppings, and some “gourmet style” thick crust options). And this was a good fresh slice (thin crust plain cheese), simultaneously soft and crisp – definitely didn’t feel reheated or like it had been sitting too long. These are good straightforward no-nonsense pies. The sauce is great, a bit herbier than Scholl’s. I’m thinking (correct me if I’m wrong) Scholl’s doesn’t actually put any basil/garlic/etc IN the sauce – it’s straight tomato – which is why we all love the margherita so. Honestly, I prefer the Sellwood sauce – not quite as sweet, just tastes more “right” to me. Also, Sellwood’s basic pie is topped exclusively with whole milk mozzarella – no parmigiano. Now, I have an aversion to parmesan of any sort on my pizza. Again, it just doesn’t taste “right”. I would love it if Scholl’s offered a non-parmigiano option (maybe they would; I haven’t asked). I love the cheeses at Scholl’s in their own right, but they don’t really come together and shout “perfect pizza” for me. The mozz on its own does a better job. I like the fact that Sellwood has a light hand with their sauce, but they could stand to ease up on the cheese a little. It’s not so cheesy that it hurts the texture, but it does drown out the sauce just slightly. As a child, this was one of my requirements for a good pizza: I always wanted, essentially, bread and cheese with a little sliver of tomato sauce in between – like mustard on a sandwich. Plus, Sellwood conscientiously brings the cheese farther up the crust than the sauce – another of my requisites as a young picky-eater; I’ve never liked when you get that little cheeseless gap where the sauce gets all weird and overcooked… Now, though, I would prefer to let the tomato sing a little more. If I were to order a whole pie, I’d like to see how it would come out if I ordered “light cheese”.

Last , but certainly not least, THE CRUST. This is the important part (so I do hope you’re still awake ). The crust at Sellwood is GREAT, but it is not AT ALL Scholl’s, nor is it trying to be. This is not an “artisan” crust. What it is, is a shining example of good American Italian bread (Italian-American bread?), recalling the days before “ciabatta” became a household name. The flavor is mild, creamy, very white flour but very NOT WonderBread. Tastes like bread, not cake. And it’s lovely with the mozz. And, what’s more, it has structural integrity. No floppage. Also, I really appreciate that the crust is decidedly not-greasy. I came away with very minimal oil, and a light dusting of flour, on my fingers – a clean pizza is very good thing in my book – although there are New Yorkers who would argue otherwise. Anyway, one of the “cleanest” pizzas I’ve found in Portland. This crust makes me happy. It’s real down-home crust, real comfort food, like the gorgeous fragrant golden loaves of bread your grandmother baked. It’s brick-oven-crunchy on the bottom, and chewy, not cracker-thin, a mellow gold color, not intensely charred. This pizza isn’t an event, an occasion, the way Scholl’s is. You can just sit down and have your pizza, and it feels like eating pizza, which is a lovely thing.

There is also a dessert menu. Cheesecake, tiramisu, mousse, cannoli. They make their own cannoli shells and filling. They fill to order. If anyone’s tried em, do let us know! They also do salads, apps, and some standard entrée stuff – burgers, chicken stuff, mac and cheese, pastas. For me at least, though, the pizza’s where it’s at. I am intrigued by the desserts…

OK, and now, real quick, the Breyer’s place. I didn’t order anything – I’ve had Breyer’s before, so the question here isn't really ice cream style or quality. and it definitely was not an ice cream day. But here’s the scoop (pun somewhat intended): all the good old flavors, they do cones, milkshakes (and malt!), they have the full array of toppings, and they have a classic sundae menu – everything from clown faces to knickerbocker glories. And the classic tin shed. So there you go. Ice cream sundaes in Portland – good ice cream, but probably not very exciting fudge sauce (standard gummy corn syrup based kind, I expect.) Oh, and for cone devotees, they also bake big fresh waffle cones, in addition to sugar and cake cups.

So, pizza and ice cream, that’s what suburbs are for! Sorry to be so long, but I’m too lazy to edit.

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