As research for their new restaurant, Pizzeria Gabbiano, Mike Easton and Johannes Heitzeberg walked around Rome eating pizza for a full week—no transport but their feet, two men on a mission. They returned still fitting into their clothes, thanks to all the walking, and six months later, they're making pie in Pioneer Square that's so good, you should just stop reading this right now and go eat it. My friend Ben made it to Pizzeria Gabbiano before I did, and words failed him when he was trying to describe it; his eyes just rolled back in his head, and he emitted a guttural moan. Later, he texted expletives about it.
But before you go, two things you need to know: Pizzeria Gabbiano is only open for weekday lunch, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Easton's other spot, the nearby and also-unstoppably-excellent pasta place Il Corvo, is only open at lunchtime, too. Easton has a family, and he likes to get up early and not work late. He says he might eventually do some weekend lunches at Pizzeria Gabbiano, long ones with lots of wine.) And Pizzeria Gabbiano is also a little hard to find. The address is 240 Second Avenue South, but the space faces Main Street between Second and Third, just east of the Pioneer Square fire station and the tiny park with the waterfall in it.
Some other things you might want to know about Pizzeria Gabbiano: The pizza here is Roman-style, with a focaccia-type crust that's made in the mornings, then sits on a rack in all of its golden, bubbly beauty, waiting to be topped and re-baked throughout lunchtime. Combinations might include mortadella, house-made mozzarella, and pistachio pesto; or, right now, while they last, saffron-colored zucchini blossoms with ricotta, mozzarella, and niçoise olives; or, also for a limited time, chanterelle mushrooms piled up high with lobster and cremini ones, dotted with garlic aioli. Behind the marble-topped counter, in the busy open-air kitchen, you'll see more lovely stuff being prepped, like rounds of eggplant. Every combination you try seems, impossibly, to be better than the last. Last week's incredible chanterelle one was arguably superior to the merely completely delicious eggplant with Parmesan and basil, but then a gorgeous heirloom tomato version with olive-and-pine-nut pesto might've bested them both.
The pizza is cut to order with big shiny scissors, and the staff don't mind if you try a few inches of several kinds. Do it! All the pizza is sold by weight, $32 per kilogram (translation: 2.2 pounds). And while "This isn't the place where you're going to get a $5 slice and a Coke," Easton notes, you can fill up for under $10. Easton went with Roman-style crust because it is filling, and because it lends itself to a quick lunch, unlike cooking Neapolitan pies to order. (Don't get him wrong—he likes Neapolitan pizza, especially at the Independent Pizzeria, an often-overlooked and awesome place near Madison Beach.)
The secret ingredient to Gabbiano's crust? Time. Yes, it's made with good flour—"We're using really nice flour: whole-grain, organic, non-GMO, high-gluten bread flour," Easton says—and water that's gone through a really nice filter. But it's a days-long process—one that begins with a 150-year-old starter—that lets the yeasts and starches and gluten and fermentation do their thing making fluffy, bubbly, almost nutty, slightly sweet-and-sour magic.
Easton and Heitzeberg, who's running the shop, did most of the build-out themselves. They salvaged doors they found in the basement of the building for use as elegant-looking wainscoting and tore up three layers of flooring to get to the original 1883 fir. (Along the way, they found a layer scattered with buttons and pins: "I'm thinking a seamstress?" Easton blogged.) There's red metal stools; one wall of classic Pioneer Square brick, one painted the color of butter; and, at the moment, a bouquet of dahlias on an antique gilded Toledo scale.
Easton was on the vanguard of the Pioneer Square renaissance, opening Il Corvo way back in 2013. But, he says, "I haven't noticed a lot of changes per se, other than a lot more restaurants." He sees the same number of people working there, and the same number who aren't working, though he notes Weyerhaeuser will soon bring more of the former. He'd love to see the neighborhood get "a not-fancy grocery store, a grocery store for the people" (brand-new Cone & Steiner is not in that category). What he likes for lunch, besides Il Corvo and Pizzeria Gabbiano: La Bodega, especially the vegetarian sandwich, with smoked Gouda, avocado, and tomato.
If you're curious about the construction on either side of Pizzeria Gabbiano: To the west will be Good Bar, from the women-of-Seattle favorite Marination (the original molding and old safe doors in that space are knockouts). To the east, a couple guys who've worked at Stumptown and New York's Joe Coffee are opening a roastery and cafe called Elm.
And what's a gabbiano? As befits the neighborhood where you can smell the Sound, it's Italian for seagull.