A paladin is a knight with a strong ethical, or even religious, motivation — they crusade for good and honor, and are known for their chivalry. It’s known as a class in Dungeons & Dragons, a game chef and pizzaiolo Leo Brill is particularly passionate about. But the rationale behind the name Paladin Pie, the pizza pop-up and soon-to-be food cart, was more than just a reference to a tabletop game; it was about the ethos of the project itself.
“A paladin is someone who commits to certain personal goals, a system of morals, whatever they may be, that guides them,” Brill says. “I don’t think I’m a shining beacon of morality, but I want to do as much as I can.”
Paladin Pie started as a pandemic-era pop-up, after he was laid off from Portland pizzeria Oven & Shaker. He borrowed an Ooni pizza oven from a friend, and started raising money for organizations like Don’t Shoot PDX, Mxm Bloc, and other bail funds related to racial justice protest. Now, almost two years later, Brill will open Paladin Pie as a food cart on NE Alberta, making food and raising money for various mutual aid projects.
Living in New York state, Brill grew up around pizza; he says countless trips to the city allowed a passion for pizza take over “through osmosis.” He and his bandmate decided to move to Portland to pursue music — Brill is in a band called Mouthbreather — and worked at places like Levant before moving to Oven & Shaker. He started experimenting at home with his own approach to pizza dough, which became the foundation for Paladin Pie’s: a two-day sourdough ferment at about 70 percent hydration, which gives it an airier, chewier crust. “A lot of places I’ve worked have done sourdough,” Brill says. “It just stands out so much more, it complements savory toppings so well, it can be so deep flavor-wise [in a way] that dry yeast or fresh yeast can’t really do.”
At Paladin Pie’s cart, Brill will be sliding those sourdough pizzas into a wood-fired oven, which will give the pies an additional layer of flavor and char. The cart will churn out both whole pies and slices, with a range of traditional — pepperoni, vegan marinara, cheese — and Paladin-specific topping combinations. For instance, the Druid comes topped with roasted mushrooms, parmesan cream, mozzarella, basil, and lemon, and the Jazz Cabbage pairs mozzarella and cheddar with bacon and kimchi. The Red Dragon is an homage to his home state, a Buffalo chicken pizza with Frank’s, chicken, red onion, and house ranch.
In addition to pizza, Paladin Pie will offer vegetable sides like smashed cucumbers with Calabrian chile crisp and almonds, as well as cheesy bread and his house hot sauce, named after his band — Mouthbreather hot sauce uses a blend of chile de arbol and guajillo alongside pineapple and chocolate.
While the menu is locked in, a facet of the Paladin Pie food cart Brill is also working out is its approach to its initial mission, to use his craft to benefit the community. “Since moving to Portland I’ve wanted to open a food cart, taking what I can out of the mutual aid concept and applying it to the business model,” he says. “From that jumping off point, I want to continue to stock free fridges, do mutual aid benefits, feed people whatever way I can. And also making a good workplace [...] I figured out, during the pandemic, working is a part of life, it doesn’t have to be your whole life. For the time that you’re spending there, you should be enjoying yourself, otherwise what’s the point?”
Paladin Pie will open in March at the 23rd and Alberta food cart pod.
• Paladin Pie [Instagram]
• A Dungeons & Dragons-Themed Pizza Cart from a Nostrana Alum Is Coming to Alberta [PoMo]