One of the things we most missed after returning with family from three years in Verona, Italy back in 1994, was our regular Friday night at the Pizzeria Ca' Trentina. About week two after arriving in Portland, in a daze of folly brought on by desperation, we tried a popular local chain, and ordered a Margherita, a feast of simplicity and flavor when eaten at any pizzeria in Italy. It arrived slathered with melted cheese, soggy with too much tomato sauce, and almost pickled from the exaggerated quantities of garlic all over it. Being emotional when it comes to Italian food, I broke into tears.
How things have changed. Thursday night, we went to Ken's Artisan Pizza, open only a month and packing them in, and had a margherita with arugula from a wood-fired oven and it was as close to the real thing as I have encountered outside Italy. It is too much to expect an exact duplicate -- if that were possible, why look forward to a return to the Ca' Trentina? But the fact that a chef wants to honor the values of real Italian pizza enough to get this close shows how much more sophisticated Portland has become in culinary matters. Now if someone could figure out how to make real, fresh, ricotta to drop in a few spoonfuls on a basic pizza, we'd be in heaven.
Ken's is a friendly, unpretentious, efficient place. The fact that it is hugely popular doesn't mean you will have a long wait for a table. It only serves salads, a few pizza choices, and a couple of desserts, so diners tend not be long at the task. We were told we'd have a wait of about 20 minutes, and at about 22 minutes we had our table. It was a great idea, I think, to keep it a simple operation.
Ken's will probably become our "go to" place locally for pizza. There are at least two other places with wood-fired ovens, but the service is lousy there. At Nostrana's, despite very good pizza and a more extensive and quite authentic Italian menu, I had my single worst service experience at any restaurant in my life and did not receive even an attempt at an apology for it, so am reluctant to reward the arrogance with a return visit. So Ken, thanks.