Steven Miller

Seattle is a city in crisis. The war rages in its neighborhoods and in the hearts and minds of its citizens. Do we want to embrace the idea of Seattle as a dense urban center or work to maintain the vision of our city as a collection of sprawling neighborhoods? Each side struggles daily to convince us that its urban vision is correct, honorable, sensible, while maligning proponents of the other Seattle as either retrograde or rash.

But can't we have both? A vibrant, dense, urban city core surrounded by residential neighborhoods that maintain their own personalities? Am I being naive? I decided to find out the best way I know how. Not at City Hall or in the cluttered offices of some city planner, but out there on the frontlines, in the heat of the fire. The fire that bakes the pizzas.

All-Purpose Pizza is one of those places proponents of neighborhoodism tout while explaining what would be lost if all of Seattle became high-density, faceless urban towers. And you feel it upon entering; there's a family vibe to the place. Bright paintings cover one wall, two large TVs silently broadcast basketball, and a low murmur of pleasant conversation pervades the small, warm room. In one corner, two metal tables sit at kid level. This is the "Kid-chen" where children roll raw balls of dough between their tiny hands.

All-Purpose lets you split a pie half and half ($1 extra), so we end up trying four of their specialties. The Weed Eater ($21.88, mushroom, sun-dried tomato, a bit too much spinach, red onion, and a bland pesto) struggles to contain its surfeit of delicious but not completely complementary flavors. It shares its dish with the aptly named Hullaballoo ($23.19, delicious house-made meatballs, smoked provolone, mushroom, onion, bacon, garlic, and olive-oil sauce), which explodes in the mouth with a meaty bounty that's almost overwhelming. The other pie is split between the Afternoon Delight ($20.42, apple, a creamery full of gorgonzola, and caramelized onions that sadly get lost in the interplay between the fruit and cheese) and the Fromage a Trois ($18.42, with mozzarella, gorgonzola again, and shaved parmesan blanketing a sweet red sauce). The crust on all the pies remains crisp and tasty, and while sourdough might seem a strange choice for pizza crust, none of us really notice the flavor underneath the generous toppings. We pass a convivial few hours eating the good if not great pizza and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere that will make even the most harried city dweller feel at home.

I know right away I'm not at home when I walk into Tom Douglas's new restaurant, Serious Pie. Even at two in the afternoon, there's a line and the small space hums with power chatter. This is the city. Everyone is on their way from somewhere to another equally important destination. But we've all stopped for some serious pizza on the way.

Pizzas here are served in individual sizes, so we order three from the rotating menu of seven. The Yukon gold potato and rosemary on an olive-oil base ($11) smells pungent, but doesn't offer the zing I'm hoping for. My friend's foraged mushroom and truffle cheese delicacy ($15) tastes perfectly autumnal, all smoke and forest. However, the true star of the oven is the traditional pie with house-made mozzarella and life-altering San Marzano tomatoes ($15) that almost make me cry with their sweet tang. Blackened around the edges by the wood fire kept around 650 degrees, the crust on all of the pies is a thing of wonder—salty and crispy on the outside, chewy and primal on the inside. Serious Pie is exactly that. It makes no attempts at coziness (though the service is both excellent and cheerful); instead, it glories in its hard-nosed dedication to crafting an elegant pie in a decidedly urban space.

Some might say that All-Purpose Pizza represents the Seattle of the past (homey, warm and welcoming, slightly provincial) or that Serious Pie shows Seattle trying to be something it's not (professional, perfectionist, coolly cosmopolitan) but let me propose that our city is big enough to encompass both visions. The urban core with its charred, delicious crust and densely packed tomatoes, and the homey neighborhood with its thick, comforting cheese and its friendly "Kid-chens." Here's to having it all.