Not feeling in the mood to cook and thinking, "Hmmmm...pizza!" our friend Kim suggested heading over to the newly opened (only three days!) Ken's Artisan Pizza on the south end of the 28th Ave. restaurant row. Normally we give a place the courtesy of a couple of weeks to shake down and work out the kinks, but since owner Ken Forkish has been doing pizza at his NW Portland joint for several months, we figured we'd be in good hands even in these early days.
And were we right! Even though the back bar is still on card tables and the plumbing for the taps is right out there in front of God and everybody, this place is already humming along. Service is fast and efficient, Ken himself is there and doing everything from pouring beer (thanks, Ken!) to busing tables. Oh, and the food is absolutely wonderful.
We started with beers (Terminal Gravity IPA and Roots Red) and then I switched to wine. They'd be better off carrying Laurelwood's Red and their incredible Tree-Hugger Porter instead of the brownish (there's a reason it's called red ale, guys) Roots Red and the tired Deschutes Porter. The wine list looks good if a bit limited, but they've got a couple of nice Cameron wines from John Paul. Our server pointed out that the wine barrels in front of the humongous wood oven used to be full of Cameron wines.
But before I get to the wood oven, their starters are looking mighty promising. We skipped the two salad options and went right to the appies, one a roasted apricot and prosciutto with apricot vinaigrette that only needed the apricots to be warm instead of cold to make it sing. Then the roasted veggie platter with its simple mix of seasonal vegetables carefully roasted and drizzled with a nice balsamic was so very nice, especially when we used the little slices of Ken's ciabatta to sop it up.
And from that monster of an oven? Pizza in all its woody, smoky, blistery loveliness. Several local places have put in wood ovens, some with more success than others. But we're voting Ken's the best of the bunch we've encountered so far. Simple seasonal ingredients treated respectfully, with the merest modicum of charring so that you don't feel like your food fell into a fire and this was what they pulled out.
There are only four options for 'za right now, but we expect that to be expanding as they grow into the new space. It'd be great to see a combination using fish or anchovies and others with vegetables from the farmers' market as the season progresses. For a place that's been open less than a week, it's cooking and definitely worth the trip right now!
Details: Ken's Artisan Pizza, 304 S.E. 28th Ave.; Phone 503-517-9951; Open dinners only, Tues.-Sat.
Oh, and I almost forgot! You absolutely must check out the very zoomy bathroom facilities. First off, the doors are frosted so the door glows from within. But don't worry, the person outside can't see what you're doing in there. (And no, I don't want details!) Then, when you go in, the lavatory has two flushing options, a half flush or a whole flush. (Again, no details, please!)
The best thing, though, is the mysterious-looking lighted fixture on the wall. While it looks like a very odd fax machine or perhaps something that will deliver "Earl Grey, hot," it's actually a hand dryer that looks like it was designed for a starship. The thrill comes when you stick your hands (nervously, in my case) into the slot. You know those hideous hand dryers in most restrooms that tell you to rub your hands together under the blower and are so useless you end up drying your hands on your pants? The air that comes out of this puppy literally blows the water off your hands in a blast so strong it could be put in the alphabetical lineup of this year's hurricanes. Cool!
So whether you need to or not, check this out!