Saturday, August 6, 2011


Portland foodies love Ken's Artisanal Pizza and A Pizza Scholls, two outstanding practitioners of the pizza maker's art.  But their lack of a reservations policy keeps people waiting forever for a table and then you feel you gotta eat up and get out for the next poor bastard staring daggers at you for dawdling.  Bummer. Can you say pizza mouth?

As followers of this blog know, I stumbled across John Mitchell and his remarkable pizza at Glastone Pizza within the first few weeks of my moving into my house.  John's pizza has never lacked for admiring reviews, especially on Yelp Portland.  But the pizza has also been widely praised in the pages of The Oregonian and other major papers and magazines in this city.  The Reed/Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood where Gladstone Pizza can be found is not a hot restaurant destination in SE Portland.  But that is slowly changing.  Located near the highly busy Cesar Chavez Blvd., one can see the gradual effects of some gentrification.  These are sleepy neighborhoods with modest to nice homes "close in."  Young families are buying houses and renovation can be seen on every street.  This is an area that could see a rise in new businesses to serve these young new households. And Gladstone Pizza has switched it's focus from being a coffee shop by day into a full-time pizza joint.  John and his wife, Grace, and I have become friendly.  I'm in there all the time, and I have touted the greatness of the pizza to anyone who will listen. He revealed to me that he had the lease on the store right next to the pizza shop. He was thinking of opening a lounge, where people could come and have a quality cocktail and eat pizza too.  "Great idea," I said.  "Do it, and soon," was my advice.

A detail of the giant mural that dominates a wall of Saint Pizza Lounge.

It took far longer than they anticipated to get Saint Pizza Lounge opened, but open it did today (Wednesday, August 3), and I went to get a gander at the new space.  Saint Pizza Lounge is indeed right next door to Gladstone Pizza. It's got a very cool retro vibe with a giant mural dominating one wall line with vintage vinyl banquettes opposite a long and nicely appointed bar with equally vintage black vinyl chairback stools. The big glass windows that flank the entrance door bring in a lot of light. The high ceilings have exposed wood beams and look very industrial.  The walls have a fresh coat of a Wedgewood-y dark blue that John's wife Grace, says look nearly purple at nighttime. They have cut a passage door between the more casual pizza parlor and this funky new lounge.  There is one large round table that can accommodate six or seven diners that is right in front of one of the windows.  From a perch at the bar you can watch diners outside in a few tables around the lounge and restaurant's front doors.

Vintage booths up against the giant mural--perfect for admiring.

Just a few doors down, you'll find a perfectly acceptable tavern selling okay food, beer, cheap wine, and your average bar brands.  They can pour a Jameson on the rocks, but ordering a martini or a Mojito, or a perfect Manhattan might not be the best idea.  John and Grace have bet on the fact that in addition to wine, a good IPA and some bar shots, the neighborhood would welcome a cocktail lounge with a knowledgeable mixologist.  I think they have found one with Steve.  As I sat at the bar on this hot evening, enjoying my vodka, cranberry juice and soda high ball, I was happy that Steve didn't try to talk me into overspending on a premium brand vodka, offering the house vodka, a Polish potato vodka that was fine for my mixed drink. There is a fine selection of premium bar brands on view, and Steve will be mixing some wonderful cocktails for customers.

Saint Pizza's wall of premium brand liquors.

I had a small pizza to go with my drink and John's pizza never disappoints.  The thin crust has both crunch and chew and full of yeasty goodness.  The sauce has personality, a tomatoey zestiness without overwhelming the crust and I like the restrained toss of mozzarella. If you want ooey-gooey, go to Pizza Hut.  Mine also had a a shower of chiffonaded basil for added flavor.   This is a pizza that stands up to the high reputation of John's more famous competitors. He promises a more expanded menu in the near future--stay tuned. 

There was and old bakery on the corner of SE Cesar Chavez Blvd. and Gladstone that has recently been renovated.  I think it signaled a sea change for the neighborhood.  A young man opened an art studio that also sells clothing and feature musical events in a club setting on the weekends.  The middle store remains empty, but the other end shop has a sign that the space has been leased. I'm not sure what will open there. Hasson Realty, one of the dominating real estate firms in town, has taken over the realty shop that was there and a really bad antique/junk store has blessedly closed its doors.  I'm sure something more interesting will soon open there. Now John has taken his original coffee shop and kicked it up by dropping the coffee and concentrating on his superb skills as a pizza-maker.  With the arrival of the Saint Pizza Lounge, I'm convinced the neighborhood has been repositioned to expand and that will be good for all our property values.  Best of all, there's no waiting in line to get a good pizza fix these days.  And now cocktails!

John serving one of his great pizzas.