If you're from Seattle, or anywhere west of the Mississippi, you've probably heard your East Coast friends complain (endlessly) about the lack of a good slice of pizza here in the Emerald City.
But there's hope for everyone: A group of Seattle friends, without the help of some revered 100-year-old Italian family recipe to lean on, have created what may be the perfect pizza that will please both East Coast connoisseurs and Seattleites alike.
"Oh, man. We have tasted a lot of pizza," laughed Central Pizza's Eric Ellsworth, as he and his partners, Ellie Rose and Steve Scalfati nodded wholeheartedly in agreement. "I mean, a lot of pizza. There's been so much trial and error in our recipe. We're constantly making tiny changes, but we like what we've got now."
And they should. Between the three of them eating endless pizza, and their kitchen managers helping to constantly tweak the recipe, Central Pizza's crust is now that perfect balance of crisp and chewy that's so hard to come by. The sauce is flavorful and the cheese is wonderfully balanced, salty but not too greasy. At happy hour, a giant slice will only set you back $2.50.
While Central Pizza has a lot of unique flavor combinations, the plain slice of cheese is perfection; the true test of a great slice of pizza. This is a lesson I've learned from my picky East Coast fiancé and his critical group of New York friends, the people in my life who love to complain about Seattle pizza. Even they approve of Central Pizza; a place where the slices can be folded in half and eaten, with the crust remaining crispy until the last bite.
"I think we're different than a lot of pizza places in Seattle because we're not trying for Italy's Neapolitan-style pizza," said Steve Scalfati. "Instead, we're going for an Italian-American style of pizza. And I think that's great because Americans are fantastic at taking something traditional and improving it, making it their own."
"We love pizza," said Ellie Rose. "But we're not chefs. We're really just bartenders who wanted to own a pizza place. We're so excited for the good feedback."
While you may never guess the lack of culinary experience from the consistency and excellence of the food, the bartending backgrounds of the group comes across in the everyone-knows-your-name atmosphere.
"We're definitely a neighborhood restaurant," said Rose, who lives in the Central District. "We feel so supported. We have a lot of regulars. People are excited we're here and want us to stay."
Self-funded, the trio started Central Pizza in August of 2013, replacing the former pizza joint, All Purpose Pizza and Ale House.
"I think the main difference between us and them is that the neighborhood has really changed since they opened seven years ago," said Ellsworth. "There used to be more crime, but things have really improved lately."
"That and the fact that we have a bar," chimed in Scalfati. "Where the bar is now? That used to be a play area."
"Even the parents that stop by now say they're glad we have a bar," laughed Ellsworth. "So that says a lot."
The three restaurateurs share the duties, with Rose cooking and doing the books, Scalfati providing money and moral support, and Ellsworth bartending and shopping for ingredients
The décor is warm and casual, not the cold and modern feel of a lot of new Seattle restaurants. There's generally 80's rock playing in the background and a game on the two televisions. Much of the furniture comes from salvage yards around Seattle and the tables are old gym flooring from Lakewood High School. The bottom of the bar is from the school bleachers, and you can still see romantic etchings from teenagers in the wood, a reminder of young loves long lost.
The menu at Central Pizza has the usual fare, with pizzas and pastas. But the specials change often and the desserts are also to die for. Rose comes up with both herself, and experimenting is the norm.
"I like to make unique pizzas with flavors from all over the world," she told me. "A lot of cultures have flatbreads, so I try to incorporate those ideas and flavors."
The day I visited, the pizza special was an eggplant, chicken, onion, cherry pepper and feta concoction on a chermoula base. (Chermoula is a marinade used in a lot of Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian cooking that's usually made with herbs, oil, lemon juice, pickled lemons, garlic, cumin, and salt.)
The dessert, at two bucks a scoop, was tiramisu ice cream, homemade with plenty of decadent mascarpone cheese.
The trio has big plans for the future, with delivery starting in June and a possible expansion of another restaurant if they can find the right location.
"Things are going really well," smiled Rose. "It's so exciting and we're really grateful to the neighborhood."
2901 S. Jackson Street
Seattle, WA 98133