Portland is getting its first entirely vegan Detroit-style pizzeria. Odie O’Connor, the man behind the Portland’s only vegan wood-fired pizza cart Baby Blue Pizza, Boxcar Pizza opens this weekend within the Zipper food hall on Sandy.
Last summer, O’Connor opened his pop-up turned food cart Baby Blue Pizza on SE Hawthorne, specializing in wood-fired sourdough pies topped with San Marzano tomatoes, seitan pepperoni, and tofu ricotta. The pizzeria quickly became a hot food cart within the vegan community and among general pizza enthusiasts, impressed with O’Connor’s gently tangy crust and house-made toppings.
While Baby Blue was temporarily closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, O’Connor began experimenting with different regional styles of pizza, from Detroit to New York to Sicilian. In early July, a friend mentioned to O’Connor that the Slice Pizza space within the Zipper was available. The chef says he wasn’t planning on opening a place, but after driving by and daydreaming, one thing quickly lead to another. “A month and a half ago, I had no idea this would happen,” he says.
Made from the same naturally leavened sourdough starter as Baby Blue — a souvenir from O’Connor’s days at Gracie’s Apizza — Boxcar’s pies are baked at 550 degrees Fahrenheit in oiled 8-by-10-inch pans. The oil and high temperature result in a spongy, thick crust with a golden brown exterior that’s nothing like Baby Blue’s soft and crunchy, char-blistered pies. “I really love Detroit style,” he says. “It’s a lot different from Baby Blue Pizza.” The chef layers the chewy crust with a generous blanket of gooey dairy-free mozzarella, then tops each pie with flavor combinations like marinated seitan steak with house chimichurri and Nashville hot fried “chicken” with sliced pickles and a drizzle of vegan ranch.
Baby Blue fans will recognize many of Boxcar’s toppings, but as Detroit-style pizza is heavier, the menu has more vegan meat alternatives, including a textured vegetable protein sausage, hickory-smoked seitan bacon, and gluten-free soy curl chicken. O’Connor uses a coconut oil-based mozzarella, which few other pizza places use, in addition to his house made tofu blue cheese and tofu ricotta. He intentionally steers clear of tree nut-based cheeses to accommodate customers with nut allergies.
At Baby Blue, gluten-free pies are only available on Mondays. Even though Boxcar is not a dedicated gluten-free kitchen, gluten-free pies — that are almost as airy and fluffy as the gluten-based crust — are a regular menu item as each pie has a dedicated pan and covering. However, it may not be suitable for those with severe gluten allergies.
Designed by tattoo artist Virginia Hicks, Boxcar Pizza’s logo and signage depicts Homer, the cheerful Blue Heeler puppy that O’Connor and his partner Allegra Noelle adopted during quarantine. O’Connor is keeping the operation small due to COVID-19: For now, Boxcar is only accepting online orders for pizza, beer, and cider takeout. Customers can enjoy the Zipper’s outdoor patio seating, which is socially distanced and wiped down after each use. In a couple weeks, O’Connor hopes to launch delivery via CCC bike courier.
Starting on August 22, Boxcar Pizza will be open within the Zipper at 2705 NE Sandy Blvd from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays to Sundays. No walk-ups; pre-order online on the website.