Boo! Scared ya, didn’t I? Today’s Mastication Monologues entry will be dealing with another Portland institution that I visited during my brief yet enjoyable stay there. After a long day of learning about how to be a better teacher and help my students speak the Englishes more good, I knew I had to get out and see some of the city. After looking over Wikitravel, I decided to get one of my favorite foods, pizza, at Old Town Pizza. There are two different locations, one in the northwest part of the city and the other, the brewery, on the east side of the river. However, reading further I found out the northwest location on Davis is supposedly haunted and a “must-do” for anyone who comes to Portland. Ghosts and rave reviews? I’m sold!
The actual story of the ghost revolves involves sex, slavery, and mystery. Back in the late 1800s, some of the local timber barons built the Merchant Hotel where Old Town Pizza now stands. Along with offering guests rooms and beds, the hotel also had the option for customers of the male persuasion to buy hookers to help them “enjoy” said rooms and beds. One girl, Nina, was sold into this prostitution ring against her will. Thankfully, a local missionary group was attempting to shut the hotel/bordello down, and Nina became an informant for them. Unfortunately, she suffered a terrible fate for her attempt to shut down the house of ill repute as her corpse was found at the bottom of an elevator shaft which is now a booth in the restaurant. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see the ghost of this departed dearie…
Anyway, I managed to find the restaurant quite easily after a quick stroll through Portland’s underwhelming Chinatown. I knew it was going to be a quirky place when it said on the door that they only were closed on Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. I don’t know if that’s a joke or not, but I did enjoy the randomness. Upon walking into the dark interior, it added to the ambiance of it being a haunted former hotel. The staff was the Portland I was expecting complete with tattoos, ironic facial hair, and plenty of piercings, but that didn’t take away from their service. They supplied me with a menu, and then I had to order at a booth that was attached to the kitchen. Note: the entrance was the former lobby of the Merchant Hotel, and the ordering booth was the reception desk.
I put in my order of a small original house pizza which contained signature pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, olives, bell peppers and topped with house made sausage. . 10 inches for $14.50 is a little expensive for my taste, but then again I was on vacation in a haunted restaurant. They gave me a playing card with the two of diamonds on it as their way of keeping the orders straight, and it’s the only place in the world I’ve seen them do that. I then moved on to the bar next to the ordering booth where my hipster bartender hooked me up with an Old Joe Chocolate Dark Ale that was brewed at the Old Town Brewery. Once the pint glass of dark ambrosia was in my mitt, I had the task of finding my own seating. To my dismay, my original seat I scoped out was already taken. So after wandering through the packed restaurant I found an empty seat that would accommodate me and make Harry Potter feel at home since it was under the staircase going up to the second floor. It was a lot more comfortable than it sounds since I had plenty of room for my head, and I would describe it more as a cozy experience.
After about half an hour, my hand tossed pizza finally came out. It looked wonderfully flush with toppings, but I had a hard time trying to find the cheese under them. It was piping hot, so I sipped on my Old Joe while it cooled off. I really liked the ale because it was a full bodied libation that had whispers of chocolate/coffee in every drop. Eventually my pie cooled off enough for me to actually touch it, but I found the bottom crust to be quite floppy which I really didn’t like since the toppings were cascading down my fingers as I attempted to transfer a slice to my smaller plate. I was eating it with a fork and a knife for the wrong reason. The only type of pizza I should be eating with a knife and a fork is deep dish because it’s piled so high with toppings, not thin crust because it doesn’t even have the constitution for basic ingredients. Structural problems aside, I found the flavors and ingredients to be delightful. The peppers stood out for me as they weren’t soggy and baked to have a crisp, clean snap that jived with the savory and spicy pepperoni. It didn’t seem like they focused a lot on the cheese since it was buried under waves of ruby red marinara sauce that was slightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so. Then at the end of each piece, there was a substantial crust that was on the chewier side and had a strange but pleasing cinnamon undertone. By the time I finished the last piece, I was stuffed with some hauntingly good pizza.
I don’t think it can measure up to New York or Chicago pizza, but Old Town Pizza is a slightly pricy but quality dining experience with plenty of ambiance that won’t scare you away.