The Real Deal at Italian Family Pizza and the Unreal Von Trapp's
All Photos by Kelly O
I had lunch last week at Italian Family Pizza with an opinionated guy from Queens. He loves pizza, this guy, and he especially loves Italian Family Pizza, a relatively new place on First Avenue. To orient you to his pizza convictions: Big Mario's and Via Tribunali are all right; he does not care for Piecora's or Delancey. Doesn't he find Big Mario's too crowded at night? Yes, but he enjoys it in the way a cultural anthropologist would. Does he know how much work Delancey put into their pie? Yes, he is conversant with the backstory—a blogger and a pizza-obsessive met cute online, cross-country crust research ensued, pizza place named after New York subway stop opened to widespread acclaim. But, despite the R&D, it's Delancey's dough that does not meet his expectations.
"Now his dough," the guy from Queens says, gesturing toward the back of the humble cinderblock storefront of Italian Family Pizza, "his dough is worth eating." With the red-and-white-checked oilcloth on the table in front of him, the tricolore outline of Italy painted on the wall behind him, and his Queens accent pleasantly chiseling the air, it is difficult to doubt him. Italian Family Pizza, he says almost tenderly, has filled a void in his life. People stop by his table to say hello.
This guy from Queens used to drive 70 miles to stand in line in New Haven to eat the famous pizza there (including the local clams casino pie, made with olive oil, garlic, clams, and bacon, but, he states vehemently, "I hate white pies"). He advances a stunning theory of geographic pizza-superiority: The southern border for good pizza on the Eastern seaboard is Trenton, and the northern border is New Haven; all else is beneath consideration (or, to quote Wolfman Jack, which he does, "The rest of America is just Hartford").
He discusses the travesty that is Ray's in New York, and the famous feud of the Manganaro brothers, who owned two rival Italian delis next door to each other, but he says very little about the feud involving Seattle's Italian Family Pizza. What everyone knows, roughly (for unless you're in the family, descriptions of family feuds must be rough): The Calozzi brothers moved from Philadelphia and opened Calozzi's Famous Cheesesteaks in Pioneer Square. Some sort of falling-out occurred (money? A recipe? Some say it was over whether or not to make pizza, or serve alcohol, but who knows?). Brother Al kept the Pioneer Square spot, started making pizza and then stopped, opened a second location in Georgetown, then closed the Pioneer Square shop, which is moving downtown. This past November, brother Steve opened Italian Family Pizza. The name carries an edge, given the circumstances.
When Italian Family Pizza opened, The Stranger noted that it was "run by one of the Calozzis (of local cheesesteak fame)." Al Calozzi sent a polite e-mail saying that after the split (in his words, "after my brother stopped working for me at Calozzi's"), they had signed a contract that his brother was "never to make any claims or associate his future business with mine." The Stranger's mention of local cheesesteak fame, to Al's mind, violated this contract. But The Stranger was not a party to the contract, I explained; we were just reporting the (well-known) facts. A number of e-mails later, we arrived at the surprisingly mutually satisfactory verbiage "run by one of the Calozzis (though it is legally separate from the two local Philly cheesesteak places of the same name—the two brothers split)." Even to be a party to this tiny corner of the dispute was exhausting. The brothers reportedly haven't spoken in a long time. One can only think: Their poor mother.
At any rate, Italian Family Pizza is the real deal. The crust, thin but not too-upscale-Neapolitan thin, is browned and blackened and bubbled in all the right ways. The crust has exactly the amount of salt, of chewiness, of plain old goodness, that makes every bit worth eating. The pies are irregularly shaped, and the toppings are unstintingly applied (though the mushrooms are canned; the guy from Queens says that's what he grew up with, but that doesn't make it much better). A small pizza costs just $7, plus a dollar per topping, and is probably enough to feed two; the large pies are unbelievably enormous. Last week at lunch, the guy from Queens ordered a tomato pie—it's called marinara pie where he comes from, and it's got a still-exposed layer of sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan instead of mozzarella—and (naturally) he got it with anchovies. It wasn't what we're used to around here, but a salty, savory knockout nonetheless. And Italian Family Pizza's regular pies somehow taste like home, no matter where you're from.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the family von Trapp has yet to file a cease-and-desist against brand-new Von Trapp's. The name for the massive "Bavarian-inspired" beer hall was taken from The Sound of Music, the romanticized, much more fun version of the real family's life in Austria around World War II; the place is a triumph of artifice. Installed in the warehouse that most recently housed Dixon's Used Furniture on the east side of Seattle University, Von Trapp's has fireplaces, wall-sized photomurals of Alpine mountains, fake beams stained dark brown, crystal chandeliers imported from Vienna, two mezzanine seating areas overlooking five indoor bocce courts (with two outdoor ones coming in spring), and a surprisingly restrained amount of taxidermy. Racks of sturdy, sparkling glassware seem to glow golden from within; the rich wood of the main bar—there are two more—looks warm and supple enough to wear. As for the servers, they wear T-shirts printed with lederhosen suspenders.
"It's tiny and it looks like they didn't put any money into it," someone joked at the opening party last week. "They" are James Weimann and Deming Maclise, who've already brought Seattle the amazing set pieces that are Bastille, Poquitos, and Macleod's Scottish Pub. They've outdone themselves with Von Trapp's—it's like a theme park. They pillaged decor elements "from Vienna to Munich to Prague" for the 10,000-square-foot space, and one can't help but imagine forlorn places denuded of their interior finery. But come now, they've got tons of that stuff in Europe—plenty enough for us to have some on 12th Avenue.
The in-house bocce tutor demonstrated the perils of the courts' raised dividers by almost stumbling off one in her high-heeled boots. The game itself requires a level of finesse that may make later-night games rather challenging for the neighborhood's weekend party-warriors, and the courts are lit spottily and already don't seem completely level. But still, it is fun, and fun (sometimes) for the whole family: Children are allowed until 10 p.m.
Von Trapp's is set up for 25 beers on tap, and will carry both European and West Coast drafts—the list is yet to be finalized, but early indications are promising for beer nerds. They're also serving cocktails involving beer, an interesting idea, though the one that I tried—the Roll Pin Shandy, with Scotch, pear brandy, lemon, orgeat, double IPA, and bitters—tasted like metal. (A drinking game to play at Von Trapp's: Rename all the cocktails after Sound of Music songs, e.g., How Do You Solve a Problem Like Tequila.) The Germanic menu includes a cheese spread called obatzter, which is cheese blended with tons of butter, plus a little onion and paprika and (usually) beer: Good lord, it is good. The housemade sausages that were sampled, however, were so mild as to cause sadness; one person at the opening party put salt on their frankfurter. No one should ever have to put salt on their frankfurter. Easily solved, if Von Trapp's just fires up the in-house sausage-grinder with a lot more spice. But, truth be told, it hardly matters: Von Trapp's is sure to do bonkers business, and if the sausage isn't right, the vast majority of the vast crowd will never notice.