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So we’ve already discussed the tragic paucity of proper pizza in Seattle and praised Tutta Bella for saving our Neapolitan asses. But what about traditional, American-style pizzeria pizza? Pagliacci isn’t particularly terrible quality-wise, but the “restaurants” are all cookie-cutter chain storefronts with zero character and less ambience. No, Pagliacci should be a last resort and even then, strictly for takeout. So what about going out for pizza? Is there really nothing? Well my friends, all is not lost. There is indeed a single mecca within city limits and it can be found in the industrial wilds of Georgetown. I’m talking about Stellar, haunt of the rockabilly and savior of pizza.
I don’t think there’s ever been a time that I’ve been to Stellar when it hasn’t been rollicking to the max. Seriously people, if you are inclined to rollick, this is the place for you. They’ve got kind of a retro-60’s kitschy vibe going on, with lots of weird mismatched crap scattered everywhere. There are two main rooms with tables and booths and a pool table and pinball. The lights are neon and the music is loud. Tattoos are apparently a work requirement. There is a painting of Johnny Cash on the wall. More recently, a life-size cardboard Obama will greet you upon entering. The jukebox will rock your face off.
And so will the pizza. Mammoth 16-inch pies hand-tossed and made to order, so get comfortable and order a pitcher of Diamond Knot India Pale Ale (my absolute favorite local microbrew). Order a salad? By all means go for it, but they are approximately the size of your head. You may be tempted at some point to inquire about the status of your pizza – don’t bother. The waitstaff are all totally punk rock and they don’t have time for your shenanigans (I love them). The patrons are mostly from the neighborhood or celebrating a birthday or getting shitfaced at the bar after work. You know, like a real pizzeria!
What makes Stellar’s pizza stand out from every other place in town is their red sauce. It’s really quite distinct, fresh and sweet and peppery. The mozzarella is apportioned correctly, and the toppings are generous but not overdone. In the best of all possible worlds, the crust would be a little more flavorful, but it’s always crispy and never overcooked or soggy. There are lots of different specialty pies to choose from, the classic being the Georgetowner – pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, black olives and onions. The sausage is ground with caraway and fennel and packs some heat. Another unique favorite is the Corson Classic, which features sliced Yukon potatoes, gorgonzola cheese and beautiful sweet white onions. It’s definitely an experience, but generally I prefer to build my own pizzas with the usual toppings on hand (and something called Mama Lil’s Kick Butt peppers). I am partial to the roasted garlic, whole cloves scattered over the pizza surface, toasty and smooth.
We’re lucky to have Stellar, even if it is a bit of hike to get down there. Look for the gigantic neon “S” and a fleet of Vespas parked out front. Go get your rollick on.
Do you like pizza? Then don’t move to Seattle. The dearth of decent pizza in this town is one of the great mysteries of the West. I’ve eaten more mediocre slices of cheese + paste + cardboard than I care to admit since moving here. New York thin crust, Chicago deep dish, take-and-bake – if it’s local, it’s probably bad.
Which is the primary reason Tutta Bella is such a goddamned treasure.
Tutta Bella serves authentic Neapolitan pizza, and they are not shy about letting you know it. CERTIFIED BY THE ASSOCIAZIONE VERACE PIZZA NAPOLETANA is engraved on nearly every surface of the restaurant, and you can’t wait for a table without hearing the Story of Tutta Bella. Naples is the birthplace of pizza blah blah the owner Joe Fugere traveled to Naples to hone his pizza skills and crush his enemies in battle yada yada the VPN certification is only conferred on those who have walked through the shadow of the valley of death, etc. It’s a story as old as time.
But the pizza rules, if you enjoy Neapolitan style pizza. The basic margherita is easily the best on the menu, and really highlights Tutta Bella’s greatest strength – the fresh Pomodoro San Marzano tomato sauce. Sweet and tangy and distinctive, used sparingly so as not to overwhelm the toppings (which are also used sparingly so as not to overwhelm the pizza crust). The margherita is perfectly balanced, with slices of mild, fresh mozzarella cheese, chiffoned basil and a touch of olive oil. The pizzas are wood-fired in a brick oven, so the crust is soft with blackened blisters on the top. It’s also got great flavor (bland, flavorless crust is the most criminal and prevalent pizza offense in Seattle). There are about ten other pizzas on the menu to choose from, but I rarely make it past the margherita (although the “Four Seasons” is fun, with roasted mushrooms, peppers, onions and ham divided into quadrants).
The other thing Tutta Bella does surprisingly well are salads! From their basic house salad (white beans, red onions, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers and balsamic vinaigrette) to a perfectly prepared caeser with focaccia croutons and anchovies available upon request, the greens are good. The Salerno salad is particularly tasty, with crunchy cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and creamy mozzarella balls. And lots of cracked black pepper all around. The wine list is inexpensive, and features a number of wines from Tuscany.
I’m partial to the original restaurant in Columbia City, but Tutta Bella has opened other locations on Stone Way and in Westlake. The Columbia City location is spacious, with lofted ceilings and crowds and noise, as a neighborhood pizza joint should be. Go enjoy a glass of Super Tuscan and eat a slice of certified neapolitan pizza. You’re not likely to find much better around here.