Pizza Venerdi returns

5 April 2020. Fourth week of COVID-19 quarantine.

When we lived in Rome, Friday nights were always pizza night or, as our friend and portiere Pellegrino dubbed it, “pizza venerdi.” 

It was fun to mark the end of the workweek with an outing for pizza. Arriving home about 18:00 on an average Friday, I’d change my clothes and we’d journey anywhere from 15 to 75 minutes to one of our favorite spots or to hunt down a potential new favorite based on recommendations of friends. After three years, we had quite a directory of pizzerias both excellent and marginal.

The pizza has to be off-the-charts-good to warrant a 75-minute one-way trip by tram and on foot. Pizzeria da Remo was, indeed, worth it. We could, in contrast, walk 15 minutes to Taverna Rossini, the neighborhood joint where, upon receiving our phoned-in reservation at 18:00, by 20:30 our favorite waiter would have “our” table set including a bottle of our usual Nero d’Avola ready to pour.

Even in retirement, we continued pizza venerdi. In summer, we headed out very late, usually no earlier than 20:00, due to the heat. When it rained or we were really late and way across town we would sometimes take a taxi home. These Friday excursions could take three hours what with coming, going, and eating. Having pizza on Friday anchored the week. It was a date, It marked the beginning of the weekend.

In retirement, one needs to mark the days carefully less they all become a blur. (My brother says the week is 6 Saturdays and a Sunday for retirees.)

The same holds true when sheltering-in-place.

PIzza venerdi is back in the life of the Barton household. There is no restaurant dining and frankly, on a good day, not a lot of great pizza options. Our favorite is 15 minutes away and they offer take out, but a take out pizza 15-20 minutes after it is made? Puh-leeze! Not happening. We turned to Papa Murphy’s

We have not frequented Papa M of late as we have not been eating a lot of American pizza. At least it’s hot, easy, and sanitary. We order online so no cash exchanges hands, I wipe down the plastic wrap when I get it home before opening it, and we bake it at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. That should kill anything.

Before baking, note the olives are moved to one side for Ric.

Papa M April 3 after

Baked to perfection with slightly caramelized cheese and crispy crust. Now we drink beer, not Nero d’Avola.

Ric says “It’s not Italian, but it’s tasty.”

We started this lockdown on a Friday, March 13, when we returned from Maui. Since then we have been good about shopping (mostly pickup, wearing gloves and masks as needed), we take out walks remote areas, and shout at our neighbors from 20 feet away. Friday marked the end of Week Three.

Pizza venerdi is a small indulgence to mark the passing of each week until we get to the other side.

What are you doing to mark the time? Finding any good pizza options out there?


Pizza Round-up, Italy and Switzerland; Autumn, 2018

Warning: this post may make you want a pizza!

Another trip is in the bag and a lot of pizza was eaten: 9 times in seven weeks!

We used to eat pizza every week, as evidenced by the title of this blog. It has been two years since we followed the weekly habit but travel gives us the perfect excuse reason to continue our research. Overall, we had a better pizza experience this year than in 2017 when we only found one truly great pizza (see Pizzeria Back to Basics) and several marginal ones.

Bar al Teatro’s peaceful and lovely dining room. It is a small place, so a reservation is advised.


We went to Liguria for seafood — and we had some excellent meals with grilled fish, clams, mussels, and marinated anchovies — but we also found the most outstanding pizza of the trip at Caffe al Teatro in Camogli. Caffe al Teatro is attached to a very grand theatre venue with appropriate elegance for such a fine building. Not your average Italian pizzeria. It has white tablecloths, crystal, soft lighting, a mellow playlist, and a server who would be at home in a Michelin-rated restaurant. But they crank out pizza. There are antipasti, one or two kinds of pasta, and desserts, but primarily it is pizza on the minds of the dinners.

Pizza alla Stefano.

At Caffe al Teatro the pizza choices are extraordinary and creative. There are the usual suspects, like Ric’s Pizza Romana with anchovies, olives and capers, or a simple Salami Piccanti. There are also more exotic and unusual creations. The Pizza alla Stefano was so good I had it on both visits: mozzarella di bufala, raddicchio, grana padrano, spinach, and prosciutto turned out to be a wondrous combination. Grazie, Stefano! The wine list is fairly robust for a small establishment, but we found the house wine to be a great pizza wash. Never made it to dessert.

Caffe al Teatro gets a solid 10 in the Our Weekly Pizza ratings. Quality product, great service, and a charming dining room merit 9 points, and an extra credit point for pizza choices. You can even pick your dough! Absolutely go there if you are in the region. Open evenings only, in true Italian tradition.

My charming pizza testing companion at Caffe al Teatro.

Ric’s choice, Pizza Romana.

Val Gardena

We “discovered” La Tambra of Santa Cristina in 2016 when we spent the month of July in Ortisei.  I am pleased to say it was worth the trip, still producing a great product. It is an awkward trip by bus: easy to arrive for dinner at 19:00 or so, but regular bus service stops and one has to wait for the hourly “Night Bus” to return to Ortisei. La Tambra still garners 9 points from us. Consistency and excellence. The rest of the menu looks good, too, but I’d have a hard time going there and eating anything other than pizza.

Maurizkeller in Ortisei is an old standby. We go there every trip and have probably eaten half-a-dozen pizzas over the past few years.  This trip, we went twice! Not much I can say that I have not said before. (See the link above about La Tambra.) It’s a reliable choice in Ortisei. Maurizkeller still gets a solid 8 points. And they have the largest selection of pizzas we have ever seen.

Located in a subterranean space, but light and lively with room for eveyrone.

Owner Alex (standing) is always present and seems to have time to visit with every guest. They are open about 9 months of the year so I hope he gets a good rest in the off-season.

Maurizkeller’s wood-fired oven turns out a great product.

The balance of our pizza-eating this trip was in Switzerland and we were delighted by the quality.


First up, Nostra Pizzeria in Pontresina. This was our first visit to Pontresina. Finding that most residents were Italian-speaking was a plus and a truly Italian pizzeria was a bonus. The service was in a mixture of German and Italian with a smattering of English. Beer dominated the drinks menu and the service was Swiss-efficient almost to the point of brusque, but they turned out a good pizza. The place was very busy even though Pontresina was headed toward end-of-season. Nostra Pizzeria is an 8-pointer. Excellent product, good service, nice dining rooms.

Ric’s pizza with anchovies and olives. Note the blackened crust, a sign of a wood oven.

My pizza with salami, mixed peppers, and onions. Not exactly traditional but delicious.


We love Lauterbrunnen almost as much as we love Ortisei. The transportation! The mountains! The beautiful hiking! The expense! A pizza in Lauterbrunnen — a pizza for ONE PERSON — will set you back $18-$22. (The same pie in Italy would be $8-12.) Interestingly, pizza is still one of the least expensive things you can eat in a restaurant there. A plate of Rösti (essentially fancy hashbrowns) will run $22-24! I’d rather eat pizza and we ate it twice during our Lauterbrunnen week. Nota Bene: We cook a lot when we go to Switzerland. Future blog over at http://www.Girovaga.com about cooking on-the-road.

Restaurant Wiedstuebli @ Camping Jungfrau: Salami, peppers, and onion, what else? Pizzas in German-speaking countries seem to feature onions more than in Italy.

The best was at Weidstuebli at Camping Jungfrau. In the middle of a camping park (think mini trailers and cabins, not giant RVs), this little place is always buzzing. We failed to make a reservation but they accommodated us at what seemed to be the last unreserved spot. Is this the best pizza we’ve eaten? No. But the service is lovely, the restaurant Swiss-cute, and the pizza is huge, more than I could eat. Ric helped me. The Weidstuebli gets 8 points. 

We also like to stop by Hotel/Restaurant Steinbock in Lauterbrunnen. We stayed here on our first trip to the area at New Year’s 2014. It’s a rather down-market hotel but we were very late planning a trip in the high season so we could choose the Hotel Steinbock or pay $400 per night. We went down market. It was fine: clean, private bath (only two rooms in the hotel have ensuite facilities), good breakfast, and a bonus for Ric: a view of the train station and trains. But I digress.

We eat here partly out of nostalgia. The pizza is fine, not great, the service is indifferent, the dining room typically Swiss, dark wood. Interestingly, a lot of locals eat here and are warmly greeted. I have to give Restaurant Pizzeria Steinbock 6 points as it really is nothing special. Prices, for the area, are not bad. And we had decent beer.


Moving to the French-speaking part of Switzerland, we found another fine-dining approach to pizza: white tablecloths, attached to the opera house. This is Restaurant du Theatre. The menu is quite high-end (foie gras or partridge anyone?) and goes well beyond pizza, but you know why we were there. Despite our proletarian tastes, the host and servers treated us with quiet deference. They should: pizzas averaged $24 per person! Wine-by-the-glass was also expensive at $7.50 per deciliter (about 3.4 ounces). We can down a deciliter in no time. Gulp.

The restaurant is huge with function rooms and a lovely terrace.

Was it good? Yes, indeed it was! The pizzaiola was right there in the dining room with his wood-fired oven churning out pies for an appreciative audience. Maybe not the best crust and the sauce was a little bland, but overall a fine product in a lovely space. Although the restaurant has a high-end feel and menu, if they did not serve pizza there would have been very few diners. From a single diner reading a book over his pizza to a lively family of five with a few two-tops as well, pizza dominated the food orders. I shudder to think what the bill was for the family of five!

My pizza, with eggplant and basil. Delicious!

Ric’s choice, salami piccanti with capers and olives.

Restaurant du Theatre gets 8 points: service a 3, ambiance a 3, and for the pizza, 2.

For now, pizza eating will take a backseat to healthier eating at Casa Barton. Seven weeks of travel takes a toll.

If you’d like to read more about our 2018 trip to Italy and Switzerland, hop on over to Girovaga.com and the Project Easy Hiker blog.


OldeLine Lanes and Kitchen, Lincoln City, OR, May 26, 2018

Bowling, pizza, beer, and great cookies. How can you go wrong? This unique new offering from the folks of Hearth & Table Kitchen opened in mid-May after a two-plus month closure. We used the occasion of a visit from our son to try it out.

Ric is not a fan of bowling, and although Derek and I had not bowled since the turn of the century, we thought to give it a go. We had a great time and terrible results: about what we each expected. The beer was stellar as OldeLine Lanes & KItchen features a fine selection of craft beers on a rotating basis.

Bowl a few lines then revive yourself with beer and excellent pizza.

The lanes are fine for family bowling but perhaps not up-to-par for league bowlers and an acceptable ball was difficult to locate; However, they are set up with gutter bumpers and ball guides so youngsters have a chance of actually knocking down a few pins.

After trying to dislocate my right arm for an hour (no success but some pains the next day), Ric joined us for dinner: more beer and the pizza we loved from Hearth & Table. (They moved their specialty pizza oven from the old location.)

The pizza is now only available in one size: enough for two but insufficient for three. Unfortunately, we did not realize the size problem until the pizza was delivered to our table. So we ate a rather light meal and followed it up with their excellent house-made cookies to-go.

We built a pizza from the choose-your-own ingredients: sausage, salami, and green pepper.

The offerings on the pizza menu are a bit gourmand for our tastes. Kale, feta, grapes, apples, and salt cod have no business on pizza. Luckily you can make your own, selecting from a small group of more traditional ingredients.

The pizza is still great, the atmosphere unique, the bowling a fun option, but the restaurant menu does nothing for me.

I would gladly stop by for a cookie, though.

Pizza Quality: 3 This is expensive pizza, but you get what you pay for. Fresh mozzarella, high-end meats, beautiful produce, and an excellent handmade crust.

Service: 2 Semi self-serve in that you order at the counter and they serve the table. They even tied our bowling games and refreshments to the dinner tab so we only paid once. But the servers were spread thin. Perhaps this is just shakedown as they had only been open about 10 days.

Counter seating. The 50s lino kitchen tables and lino flooring. Might remind you of your grandma’s kitchen.

Ambiance: 2  The subdued environment of the old location has been replaced by the sounds of bowling. The lanes are separated from the dining space by a wall and corridor, so the sound is dampened but it carries. The dining space is linoleum with no baffling and the kitchen is open. It is lively when there are a lot of diners, which was the case this Saturday night. I do like the retro furnishings and accessories (think 1955-1965), but it does not invite lingering.


Ambiance ala 1960.

This was originally the D-Lake Bowl. Former owners left behind some posters of the era.


Cute graphics from another era.


Papa Murphy’s, Lincoln City, OR, May 13, 2018

Ah, Papa Murphy’s, a port in a storm, refuge of the weary, and purveyor of bake-at-home pies! We have a love-hate relationship with Papa Murphy’s. Ric says, “It’s not Italian, but it’s tasty.”

Now-and-then we need a quick, fuss-free meal in front of the TV. This product is perfect for eating on the couch while watching a movie.



Papa Murphy’s is rather sterile, but it’s fun to watch them make your pizza.

For those unaware, Papa Murphy’s makes pizza you take home to bake. In 12-15 minutes you have a hot, fresh pizza for home consumption. They do not have ovens on-site nor a place to dine; Just unbaked pizzas to go, as well as salads, cookie dough, and soda. You walk in the door and 5 minutes later you wl out with a pizza. It won’t win any awards compared to pizza in Italy, but we’ve had worse. It’s better than frozen pizza and far better than Gallucci’s but not nearly as good as Hearth and Table or the Cafe on Hawk Creek. It is even better than the pizza at Cascade in the Val Gardena.


Our pizza master adds sauce to a pre-made crust. We like the thin crust as it comes out nice and crispy.


My Italian friends would probably be shocked at this product. But then, I have seen good Italian pizzas as takeaway and I cannot imagine the result is palatable. Pizza gets cold and soggy very fast in Italy. Maybe they reheat it? At least Papa M’s is hot.



A raft of decent mozzarella is added. Not fresh mozzarella, but it bakes up nice and gooey. 


This is not a frequent occurrence for us. Since Hearth and Table just reopened (so we want to give them some time to shake off the newness) and who knows when The Cafe on Hawk Creek will reopen, this is our best alternative to making pizza a casa



Fresh veggies and sausage complete our selection. At Papa Murphy’s one can get almost anything on a pizza, including many ingredients one would not find in Italy. I have to say. BBQ chicken pizza does not seem like a good idea but to each his own. 


I am assigning it 8 points. 2 for taste/quality (all fresh ingredients), 3 for ambiance (at home), and 3 for service as the young people at Papa M’s are always so pleasant. A large pizza was $16.50. Hard to beat, but all-in-all, I’d rather be sitting at Da Remo.



The finished product, just out of the oven! I moved the olives over to Ric’s half. 




Pizza a casa, Lincoln City, 2018

Since of late great pizza near us is harder to come by than an honest politician, we have been experimenting with pizza at home. For our first trial, in January, we had a new pizza stone and armed with the NY Times dough recipe, we invited our neighbors over and prepared the dough two days in advance. With the pressure of onlookers, I had trouble working with the dough so the pies were shaped like the state of Maine (or maybe Germany). Not pretty. We ate them with gusto and declared the crust worthy and the traditional pizza ingredient choices excellent.

Sorry, no pictures. I was too engrossed in the process and probably swilling wine

After-the-fact, I discovered my 48-hour-refrigerator-rise dough was supposed to be “proofed” for a couple of hours at room temp to make the dough workable. Duh!

Proofed dough – relaxed and ready for pounding and stretching.

Moving on, we tried again. Ric wanted pizza for his birthday in March, so I made the dough two days in advance and dutifully took it out to proof about 2 hours early. It was far easier to work with. I found a delightful video on YouTube about proofing, pounding, and stretching and I followed the steps easily enough. Not quite round, but not an irregular mess either. I slid the dough onto the pizza peel, which was dusted with flour as the video recommended. Ugh! The flour did not work! The pizza stuck miserably to the peel. (In January, I had used cornmeal with good success in the sliding-off-the-peel department.) We ended up folding the pizza calzone-style and dumped it unceremoniously onto parchment to bake. This was a sausage/roasted red pepper/sundried tomato combo with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. Tasty, but ugly and too much flour on the crust due to the mishandling.

Shaping the pizza. So far, so good.


Stretching is the hard part. No need for flipping it in the air. Do it carefully on the knuckles.


Now on the pizza peel, we add the toppings: tomato sauce, sausage, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and mozzarella.


Here’s where I got into trouble. The pizza would not slide off the peel onto the nice 450-degree stone.


We resorted to folding it ala calzone-style and flopping it onto parchment, then onto a baking sheet.

We did eat it, troopers that we are.

Pizza #2 came out better: smoked salmon, gorgonzola, and rocket with mozzarella, no tomato. I used cornmeal on the pizza peel which allowed it to slide nicely, although I still need to work on getting the dough even. The center was thin, the edges a bit too Neapolitan (thick) for me, and far from round. The crust did not brown well, as we only cranked the oven to 4500 Fahrenheit to avoid smoke detectors blaring.

Pizza number two with smoked salmon and gorgonzola. The peel is treated with cornmeal and slid easily onto the stone.


Finished product. Not exactly round, and a bit pale. The oven needs to be hotter, but my it was tasty!

Committed to trying again, I followed the advice of my Norwegian blogger friend Krumkaker and made pizza a taglio.

Success! Sound the trumpets!

As promised by Krumkaker, the dough was easy to work with. I did watch Gabriel Bonci’s video over-and-over to get my technique down and it paid off. I did not overwork the dough and there were air bubbles in my crust as desired. This is a bready type of pizza, with a base similar to the pizze one gets in a bakery in Rome: a focaccia-like base that is often simply spread with crushed tomatoes. Or as true pizza a taglio, it can be topped with any toppings one desires.

The Bonci-style dough I learned from Krumkaker is much softer, or morbido, and easy to work with.


Fits perfectly in my well-oiled baking sheet.

For our toppings, we had broccolo languishing in the freezer and used some spicy, American-style Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella, and a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano, along with Pomi brand Italian crushed tomatoes and a bit of oregano. We learned a long time ago you do not need to cook a sauce. Simple is best.

Adding cheese. I had already baked the crust with the tomato sauce on it for 5 minutes. See how happy I am with the outcome so far?


And now the tasty bits: broccolo, aka Romanesco, spicy sausage, a little grated pecorino.


A little side-story on the broccolo. Our favorite pasta is orecchiette con salsiccia e broccolo. Orecchiette are the little-ear pasta and you would know broccolo as Romanesco. The salsiccia is, of course, Italian sausage, and there are also a few anchovies, some white wine, and fennel. Simply delish! We have only seen Romanesco once since we’ve lived on the Oregon coast and that was a tired-looking head at Fred Meyer in Newport. We asked at our local small-town store, Kenny’s Beachside, and the produce manager said he’d see if he could get it and let me know. He brought in a dozen (I suppose a case full) and I felt obligated to buy two though I only needed one. At $7.99 a head (triple what I would pay in Rome!) I was not about to waste any, so I used one for the pasta then separate the florets on the second head, parboiled, and froze them. Voila! We had some available for the pizza.

We dared to crank the oven up to 4800 Fahrenheit and baked the crust with only the tomato on it for five minutes, then another 12-15 minutes once we’d added the toppings. The base of the crust was firm and slightly chewy. I was not thrilled with the broccolo texture as it got mushy from freezing and baking. It would probably have been better baked raw on the pizza for 15 minutes at that temperature. All-in-all, a satisfying pizza evening with enough leftover for breakfast.

E’ voila!

Next time we will try sausage with caramelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes along with fresh mozzarella and the tomato base. I also want to try the thin-crust variety I struggled with in my first efforts now that I understand proofing and the importance of cornmeal. And that I can get the oven a bit hotter without setting off alarms. Neither type will replace our local favorites at Hearth & Table or The Café on Hawk Creek, but it will be fun to master the skills.

Pizza making does make rather a mess of the kitchen. Organizing one’s mise en place is essential, as is a trusty clean-up partner.

%d bloggers like this: