Pie Versus Pie
Two New Seattle Pizza Places (One with Live Chickens)
Was Humble Pie beamed via satellite from Portlandia? The new restaurant—really more of a pizza gathering space, with nearly all outdoor seating, herbs growing—is at the otherwise weedy, trafficky corner of Rainier and Weller. Humble Pie's most notable neighbor is Linc's, the beautifully decrepit tackle shop (with "LIVE WORMS & MAGGOTS!"). Within Humble Pie's boundaries, on a sunny and still-summery evening, it feels like an earnestly relaxed community P-Patch party—one transported from, it must be said, a far whiter neighborhood. Its structures, handmade by owner Brian Solazzi in a simple, contemporary, attractive style, center on two repurposed shipping containers. The sign on the roof has a distressed typeface carefully routered into wood:
people • planet • pizza
The sign also has a depiction of the head of a chicken, and, at Humble Pie, there are actual chickens in a coop by the farthest picnic tables. These actual chickens lay the eggs that you can get on your very own pizza; no need for a supercilious server to tell you the bird's life story, for its life is right there. (The chickens live so close to the tables that you have to admire Humble Pie's assiduous husbandry, for there is no chicken coop smell.) "Let's go say hi to the chickens," a man with a beard says to his friends, and they amble over while they wait for their pie. A woman processes endlessly on her cell phone while she eats, the hapless couple across from her privy to all the current politics of her emotional life.
At any rate, everyone who works at Humble Pie (it's order at the counter, get your drinks, then they bring the rest out to you) is very nice, and the pizza is... pretty good. Since the egg-makers are on premises, a pie like the Mushroom Egg—fresh mozzarella, mushroom, caramelized onions, not too much truffle oil, and an egg—tastes extra rich and bright. The Prosciutto, Egg, Arugula has an impressive bright-green heap of greens. There's a pie with pulled pork and Beecher's cheese. In general, the toppings are fresh and plentiful and tasty; it's the crust that leaves something to be desired. For wood-fired pizzas, the three I've tried ($8 to $12) were sadly lacking in any char, their bottoms pale, the texture spongy, the taste neutral—no saltiness or toasty-yeastiness, no air bubbles or elastic pull for rewarding chewing. It reminded me of attempts at homemade crust, where you can tell that you did wrong by the gluten somehow. But hey, you can say hi to the chickens.
The Masonry on Lower Queen Anne—it's on Roy, across from that church with the weird roof, just down from 88 Keys—is notably lacking in visible masonry. The stones are inside the pizza oven at the back of the room, encased in shiny metal. When the owners were building it—they did it themselves, since anything they could've bought wouldn't have fit through the door—the mason came in, and, as the affable Matt Storm puts it, "We needed a fuckin' name for this place," and there they had it.
The airy, dim, midsize room is utilitarian-stylish: a couple long tables, open kitchen, light fixtures made out of beer bottles, a long line of 20 taps. They change out their beers so much that the printed-out tap list usually contains quite a bit of chicken-scratch handwriting, and then there are 40 beers in bottles on the back, getting as far-flung and esoteric as anyone could ever want. Storm, who came from Malt and Vine—"the Bottleworks of the Eastside"—says he had to really, really resist naming the place something beer-nerdy. They also like their football at the Masonry; when the game's on, showing on two big screens, there's a definite sports-and-beer-nerd feeling, one that's mellow and inclusive rather than testosteroney. During the Patriots versus the Jets, two women nursing beers left for a few minutes, then came back with a pack of cards and started playing.
The pizza at the Masonry is up there with the best in the city. Lucas Neve runs the kitchen; he (and a few other staff members) came from Cafe Lago in Montlake, which had been making wood-fired pizza for approximately 117 years when this recent, most welcome trend began. His crust is very thin in the middle, puffed up at the edges, blackened in spots on the bottom, buoyed by air bubbles; it's got the right amount of chewiness, the gentle resistance to the bite. It's not too salty, and it's tasty enough that you'd never dream of leaving any on the plate. The Mushroom ($12) has creamy-salty taleggio cheese, tiny twigs of pungent fresh thyme, big pieces of not-too-heavily marinated cremini, punctuating tastes of garlic; if you think you don't like white pizza, this one will change your mind. The Sausage ($11.50) has mild, house-ground meat, fontina, a rich but not bossy tomato sauce, and the brilliant addition of a little shallot. The amounts and the flavors of the toppings are ideally calibrated. If you get add-ons (pancetta on the Mushroom, picked pepper on the Sausage), it is very pleasurable overkill.
Just beware of the Masonry's "snack mode": They're open all afternoon, but from two to five o'clock, they use the oven for prep, meaning no pizza. The salads and the house-made pickles are good, but they're not as good as the pie. You could always drink beer and watch the game while you wait.