On Wednesday, Bloomberg food editor Kate Krader published around 1,500 words that will inevitably piss off New Yorkers and create a microcosm of food-themed vitriol that absorbs some fraction of Twitter for at least 24 hours: After tasting hundreds of pies in cities across the country, Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya, the authors of the celebrated Modernist cookbooks (Modernist Cuisine, Modernist Bread), have decided that Portland is America’s best pizza city. “(Myhrvold) calls out two 15-year-old artisan pizzerias there, Apizza Scholls and Ken’s Artisan Pizza, that have set the standard for up-and-coming pizzialos [sic],” Krader writes, but the two chefs — who are currently working on their upcoming book, Modernist Pizza — don’t exclusively attribute the city’s pie-throwing success to those two longstanding pizza chefs. “Portland pizzerias... offer genius in multiple styles, from New York-style pies at Scottie’s Pizza Parlor to Neapolitan-style at Nostrana and creative, ingredient-driven pizzas at Lovely’s Fifty Fifty,” the article reads.
While many on the internet will see this conclusion as outlandish — unlikely, even — there is precedent for such an opinion. Roberta’s alum Anthony Falco, who has branded himself as an “international pizza consultant” since leaving the legendary New York pizzeria, called Portland the country’s greatest pizza city way back in 2018. Falco’s argument, at the time, had a more direct tie to qualities inherent to the Pacific Northwest, if not Portland specifically: Falco attributed the city’s success to the access to local produce and high-quality flours milled nearby, which set up many of the city’s pizzaiolos for success.
Pizza aficionados in Brooklyn and New Haven are likely fuming in their corners of the country, infuriated that anyone could even suggest that the crunchy, slow-paced plebes in the upper left could understand what it means to make good pizza, let alone surpass the Big Boys in the art of the slice. We’ve seen it before: Any time people make a claim about Portland’s culinary scene (excluding its claim as the country’s best vegan city — no one’s arguing that), opinions split between “Look at those little guys go!” and “Why on earth does a city that size play among the true Major American Cities?”
Frankly, Portland does have a glut of exceptional pizzerias, with chefs who moved here after working in some of the country’s most noteworthy pizzerias and restaurants. Tommy Habetz, the owner of the beloved Cully parlor Pizza Jerk, spent time working for Bobby Flay before moving to Portland. The perpetually underrated Gracie’s Apizza, which deserved to be mentioned by the Modernist Men, comes from Craig Melillo, who grew up eating at New Haven institutions and worked for the buzzy Ops in Brooklyn. Not to mention, Portland is home to experts in the art of dough and Italian food: Ken Forkish, the owner of Ken’s Artisan Pizza, is the author of James-Beard-Award-winning books in the art of bread- and pizza-making, Flour Water Salt Yeast and the Elements of Pizza. And Cathy Whims, the owner of Italian mainstay Nostrana, studied under iconic Italian chef Marcella Hazan and is a leader in her own right in the world of contemporary Italian cooking.
Where Portland stands in comparison to other cities, on the other hand, is irrelevant. Portland is not New York. We, as diners and as chefs, value different things. Portland is not a city with hundreds of slice shops; in fact, slice culture has barely survived the pandemic in Portland. Trying to define the city’s specific style of pizza would be difficult, outside of thick, multi-grain crusts piled with seasonal vegetables — and still, some of the city’s finest pizzerias don’t make pies anywhere near that form. Those looking for tangy, multifaceted crusts — thick or thin, soft or crispy, sourdough or inoculated — will find them here, often made with non-white flours milled just a few hours south of Portland (Camas Country Mill flours are ubiquitous in Portland). You’ll find a range of styles, from the Detroit style at Assembly Brewing to the Chicago tavern-style at Jerry’s or Bridge City. You’ll find pizzerias proudly eschewing tradition, like the ranch-accompanied pies at Ranch Pizza, and ones often trying new things, like the specials at Red Sauce. Then again, there are likely many cities in the country doing that — even if a journalist, international pizza consultant, or award-winning cookbook author hasn’t noticed it yet.
Here’s the thing: Portlanders do not care. We don’t care if you think we’re great, and we don’t care if you think we’re trash. If anything, we resent the ways people talk about Portland as if it’s an underdog, whether it’s a visiting chef talking about its restaurants with a condescending sense of enthusiastic surprise or a snarky commenter questioning the city’s presence on any sort of national stage. The appeal of Portland as a culinary city, or as a city in general, is the simple fact that we are uninterested in the opinions of anyone, especially on the East Coast; the chefs that move here come to Portland to cook without pressure, with access to a better quality of life (daily hikes! swimming holes! camping! a backyard!) and closer proximity to ingredients (Willamette Valley fruit! Columbia River salmon! Painted Hills beef! Portland-grown vegetables!). Without the weight of Michelin stars or an impossible-to-please audience, people can just cook. If there’s a reason our culinary scene is interesting or special in any way, it is its breeziness — the way people can experiment, or not, and cook in a way that’s relaxed and honest to them.
So, yeah, our pizza is good. If you live in Portland, you probably know that; then again, if you moved here from Manhattan, or Chicago, or New Haven, you may have an overriding sense of nostalgia that keeps you from enjoying the pizza that’s here. That’s okay — these pizzerias will continue to churn out pies, regardless of who’s paying attention.
Correction: This story has been corrected to show that Camas Country Mill is based south of Portland, as opposed to “just across the river.”