Image of Albee, Minnick, and baby Otto by Avila/EPDX
In a city filled with stellar pies, Sarah and Jane Minnick's Lovely's Fifty-Fifty has earned many an admirer with its distinct style — thick pillowy crusts, generously-heaped toppings, and extreme seasonality. Eater talked to both Sarah Minnick and chef Jimmy Albee about market-to-oven pies, letting Mom Minnick chop the wood, how to request the ice cream triple-mini-scooper with authority, and why they long to exile the margherita pizza.
On Lovely's market-to-oven philosophies:
While there are a couple of pizzas on Lovely's menu that remain constant, most are constantly rotating according to what produce is in season. "We do always have the pizza with our house-made fennel sausage and chard or kale, because chard and kale are usually the one constant you can get from farms even in the winter," Minnick says, revealing that Tuesday or Saturday is your best bet for catching the changing of the pizza guard. "Most of the farmers are just coming in once a week this time of year on Tuesdays, so the pizzas usually change then depending on what new things we get," she says.
Wood chopping: All in the family:
Lovely's keeps its wood-fired pizza oven at between 800-900 degrees, and to get it up to optimal temperature by the 5pm opening, the crew comes in at noon to rekindle the previous night's still-warm coals — with wood chopped by none other than the Minnicks' mother. "She really wanted to work here after she retired, and we said, 'Okay, if you really want to work here, here are a few things that we need, like the wood chopped,'" Minnick explains."So she started doing it, not really out of pure fun or anything, but to be helpful."
Albee — who honed his pizza-making skills as opening chef at San Francisco's acclaimed Gialina Pizzeria before heading north to work at Portland favorites like Clyde Common and Lovely Fifty-Fifty's beloved predecessor, Lovely Hula Hands — lets the pizza dough ferment for up to two days, and then proofs it for two hours before stretching it. Part of the secret to those gloriously plump signature pizza ends is a loving touch. "We have a pretty unique way of stretching out the dough, we try not to push out any of the air," he says. "Sometimes when people are making pizza, they stretch the dough by pushing down on it but we do the opposite — we pick it up and let it stretch itself, we try not to torture it or push any of the air out of it. We want to have those really dramatic crusts on it, those big end pieces. I personally think it's delicious that way, and it works for the amount of toppings we have."
The kitchen generally employs two kinds of sauce, a simple, just barely-simmered red sauce comprised of San Marzano tomatoes, crush California tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, and an olive oil base that most effectively showcases the bounty of seasonal toppings. "Sometimes in the summer we'll do a basil pesto base, but more olive oil because summer vegetables are better that way — the focus is more on the toppings and cheese than the sauce," Minnick explains. "Some people ask you which ones have red sauce and those are the only ones they'll order, and I'm thinking, 'you are so missing out!'"
When it comes to cheese, Lovely's turns to the experts. "We use a lot of Italian cheese, for sure," Minnick says."We love the stinky ones, like taleggio, young pecorino, fontina, and this new Northern Italian cheese we've started using, crucolo. And we love Bellwether Farms ricotta, we always have it on a pizza."
Since Lovely's relies so heavily on seasonal produce, summer really gets the kitchen's pulse racing. "We're all really excited right now because we've been stuck in winter for so long and now everything is just starting to come in," Albee says. "Nettles are the first thing that comes, then all the summer produce starts rolling in — right now we're into artichokes and asparagus. We let the farmers dictate what we're going to use and make pizza from that inspiration, so when raab comes in, it's like, 'what can we do with this raab?' instead of the other way round. It's interesting and fun for us in the kitchen, because we have to get creative on the fly." The most popular add-ons among customers? Sopressatta, arugula, and egg.
If you think the circle of pizza life ends when the pie emerges from its two-to-four minute stint in the oven, not quite. "There's a lot of finish work that has to happen when our pizzas come out of the oven," Albee says. "We're adding mozzarella so that it's just melted and not obliterated. We put the Chop salami on right when the pizza comes out, so we don't lose the flavor. If we&'re adding specialty cheeses like tartufo, or parmesan, or adding arugula and herbed salads or shaving fennel, that's happening after the pizza comes out."
Pet pizza peeves:
While the menu includes a basic margherita, Minnick implores status quo pizza eaters to branch out and explore the pie list. "We have an ongoing debate about the margherita, and I'm so tempted to take it off the menu," she laments. "It's one of the most ordered pizzas, but I feel bad when people order two margheritas because it's so sad, I want them to get a different one, there are so many other delicious pizzas to get."
"I don't know! They're like my children," Albee agonizes. "Probably the nettles pizza, and in the winter we do a squash and ricotta pizza with brown butter and almonds that I really really like. And at the end of summer our forager brings these baby chanterelle mushrooms that look like little thumbtacks and those are really good with corn, that's one of my favorites."
Not content just to turn out pizza, Lovely's also churns some of the city's best ice cream, a must-order regardless of how much pie you indulged, or over-indulged, in. "Our ice creams change in the same way as the pizzas, and right now we're just starting to get in a bunch of awesome summer ingredients — wild ginger, flowering thyme, fresh elderflowers, strawberries, and we just got apple mint from Viridian that we'll use in the straciatella," Minnick says. "When I came here for dinner on Sunday I got a little triple mini-scooper, I wanted to eat them all."
Wait, a triple mini-scooper? You can do that?
"Yes," Minnick says. "It might confuse some of the new servers, but just ask for it. Tell them you want three mini-scoops, and not to give you any hassle."
· Lovely's Fifty-Fifty [Official site]
· All Previous Pizza Week Coverage [Eater PDX]