But until now Portland did not have a pizzeria with a pizzialo certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. What is that? The short version is they train and certify pizza makers (pizziali) in the making of pizza Napoletana - that is, pizza styled in the history of Napoli (Naples). Why there? Because, it's the best in the world. Anyone who tells you differently simply has not been there to experience it. (Full disclosure: I have. I spent the summer between my junior and senior years at the University of Oregon study at the Universita di Perugia per Stranieri (University of Perugia for Foreigners) and on one weekend trip we took the train all the way down to Napoli where one of my roommates, who had been to Italy before, took us to this tiny whole in the wall pizza place that was simply amazing. I don't know the name, I could never find it again, and I have no idea how it compares to what is considered the best in Napoli, but I will tell you the quality was simply amazing. It's difficult to put into words, to be honest. It's one of those things that when you put it in your mouth you just know you are having a transcendent experience. So yes, I'm a big fan of anyone who gets certified and will never say it's just another certificate. Well, maybe it is - a certificate of being awesome.)
Enter Via Tribunali. Via Tribunali started in Seattle and just a couple weeks back opened their first restaurant outside of Washington with a spot in downtown Portland next door to VooDoo Doughnuts on Second Avenue.
We tried Via Tribunali a while back on a food tour through Belltown in Seattle and really enjoyed it, so when the rumors started up almost two years ago about Portland getting their own outpost, we were of course excited, so on a recent weeknight when we didn't want to cook we checked it out.
First impression? Via Tribunali Portland is dark. Very dark. You walk in off the street and the building is long and narrow, with a bar to the right and booths on the left. At the far end of the bar sits the legendary pizza oven and a few more tables are to the left. In the very back is a stairway that leads up to more tables in a balcony (this is very similar to the setup at Little Bird Bistro and Mucca Osteria, so apparently this style of buildings is common in the older part of downtown Portland).
The tables are lit with candles and are the only thing with which to light the menu. I get the vibe they are going for, but it could be just a tiny bit brighter.
On to the food. We ordered two pizzas (sadly, no pictures since we forgot the camera, but the lack of light would have made it problematic). First was the MARGHERITA (pomodoro, fresh mozzarella, grana padano, olive oil, basil) for $13 (grana padano is a hard cheese, comparable to parmesan, and pomodoro is Italian for tomato, which in this case refers to the sauce).
To be blunt, this is one of the absolute best pizzas we've ever had. It's simple, but perfect. The crust had a nice char, thicker around the edges and thinner, almost soft, in the middle. The sauce also was perfectly seasoned and the cheese was spectacular. We'd get this again in a heartbeat.
Our other pizza was the VIA TRIBUNALI (pomodoro, smoked mozzarella, cherry tomato, ricotta, bufala mozzarella, grana, basil) for $17. This has an interesting presentation. Imagine a normal pizza with toppings. Now, imagine a quarter of it folded to the middle on each side. Then, sprinkle down the middle with bitter greens - that's the Via Tribunali namesake.
Just like with the other, the flavors were were very, very well done. If we had one beef it was with the topping distribution. The sausage and tomatoes didn't make it all over and clumped in spots. Again, the crust was nicely charred and hit the perfect amount of chewiness.
That crust...it's perfect. I told Wifey it transported me straight back to Napoli, it was that good. And really, that's the key to a real Italian pizza - the crust. Toppings are just there for flavor, not as the focus, and at Via Tribunali they take that to heart and execute it very, very well. It's no surprise their pizziali have the Napoletana certification.
Is this our favorite in Portland? Well...who knows, really? I tend to be most excited about whichever I've had last and each one of our favorites (mentioned at the top of the post) has something that is unique about them. This one, I will say, is closest to Italy and brings back those memories of a great two-month stay back in college. I really, really need to return so I can bring Wifey and so we can experience the flavors of Italy together. Until then, Via Tribunali, Nostrana and Mucca Osteria are going to have to be good enough.
We will absolutely be returning and can't wait to go back.
Oh, and one more thing. Keep in mind a key piece of physics if you sit in the balcony as we did: heat rises. And that pizza oven? Super freaking hot. I was wearing a sweatshirt because it was cold outside and by the end of the meal I was sweating. Not good or bad, just something to keep in mind. If you wear something warm, make sure it's a layer and you can take it off. I wasn't comfortable with the shirt under my sweatshirt, so I just suffered.
Have to Mention
If you order a pizza and don't finish it, or take your leftovers to go, they will be boxed in this:
(Photo via Scott's Pizza Tours)
Apparently these boxes are made by a company in Italy and Via Tribunali buys them for their stores. Their logo is nowhere on the box (a sharp departure from any pizza place I'm familiar with), but it definitely is...memorable, isn't it?