Some of Portland’s best new pizza is coming to St. Johns. Traveling pizza cart Gracie’s Apizza, one of Eater Portland’s essential food carts and a nominee for 2018 Food Cart of the Year, will open a casual pizzeria on Lombard, complete with inexpensive wines by the glass, farmers market salads, and no-joke individual pizzas.
Gracie’s owner Craig Melillo says his pizzeria, opening September 12 in the former 87th & Meatballs space, will stick to 10-inch pizzas, salads, ice cream, and glasses of wine all under $15. Melillo makes almost everything himself, from his mozzarella to his naturally leavened dough(“If you’re not making your own dough, you’re not making pizza,” in his words). Pizzas may arrive topped with everything from Castelvetrano olives and capers to chorizo, but Melillo likes to keep his pies simple — he’s particularly fond of his plain-old tomato pie, a favorite of East Coast pizza nerds. The pizza menu will have 10 pies or less, with rotating pies based on what he can find at the farmers market.
The restaurant will also have a solid list of wines by the glass, which Melillo wants to keep in the single digits. He’d like to keep some wine on tap, as well as beer; those seeking cocktails will have to grab one from the Garrison next door. The space itself will be minimalist without heading too far into Instagram-trendy territory, with what Melillo calls “counter-service-plus” — diners can order at the counter, but servers will deliver food to the table and take requests for second drinks or additional items; the owner is playing around with the idea of customers opening a tab at the counter, so they can order new drinks without signing a check each time. “People have been asking me, ‘Is it going to be a family place or a date place?’” Melillo says. “I say, ‘I don’t want it to be either. Or maybe I want it to be somewhere in between.’”
A Connecticut-raised pizza nerd, Melillo takes inspiration from the famous New Haven pizzerias, with a touch of Neapolitan style techniques thrown in. He grew up going to Sally’s Apizza (which once appeared on Eater’s list of essential American restaurants), where he’d wait in line for hours with board games, just to scald the roof of his mouth on first bite. After spending time in kitchens in Philly, Melillo was burnt out on restaurant work — until he started making pizza for himself at home. He quickly fell in love, working at Brooklyn’s legendary Ops before moving to the Pacific Northwest — specifically, North Portland. That’s partially why he sought out St. Johns as a location for the new restaurant: The chef knew he wanted to be in his neighborhood. “That’s where I live; I want to see the people I live with,” he says. “I want to be the one bringing the pizza to your table.” The original cart, which opened in 2018 and hops around the Portland area, will remain open.
Correction, July 3, 2019, 3:15 p.m.: This story has been corrected to show that pizzas start at $9, not $7.
Updated September 10, 2019, 9:21 a.m.: This story has been updated with the restaurant’s intended opening date.