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A burning passion for good food, great community

B.J. Willy's serves up classic Italian pizza along with pub favorites


by: VERN UYETAKE - B.J. Willys manager Cassy Gerhart shows off one of the restaurants popular pizzas - the Brick.Yes, B.J. Willy's Woodfired Pizza and Cafe has pizza in its name, but it's not your standard pizza parlor. In fact, owner Brian Johnson says it's not a pizza parlor at all.

"What we are is more of a pub-style restaurant," Johnson said, who has more than 30 years of cooking and restaurant experience. "We wanted to have a menu where you could come in and get something different each time."

The menu ranges from salads to seafood to pasta to sandwiches to burgers. But it's hard to ignore the brick oven that bakes the pizzas when you walk into B.J. Willy's.by: VERN UYETAKE - At temperatures nearing 800 degrees, B.J. Willy's woodfired pizzas cook in under five minutes.

Cooking with wood takes a special talent and a lot of practice. Because the heat of the fire is hard to regulate, it takes a quick hand and a sharp eye to get the pizzas in and out of the oven in just under four minutes with a crisp crust and golden melted cheese.

Because the oven burns so hot, between 700 and 800 degrees, the crusts have to be thin — reminiscent of true Italian pizzas. Johnson said it took him quite some time to develop the perfect crust. It is cracker-like, with crisp edges that are charred in the oven, resulting in a crunchy, smoky texture and flavor.

"It's hard for me to now eat pizza from anywhere else," admitted Cassy Gerhart, manager of the Central Village location. "Something about cooking in that wood fire makes a difference"

"That oven is a gem," Johnson said. "It produces great pies."

The pizza dough is even a hit with kids. When families visit the restaurant, kids are given little balls of dough they can play with like Play-Doh. After they make their creations, the dough is put into the oven and baked.

The pizza, and everything else on the menu, is a true labor of love. Workers show up at 8 a.m. each morning to put together the dough and start prepping food for the day. Everything on the B.J. Willy's menu is made from scratch.by: VERN UYETAKE - Saul Hernandez layers on the toppings for a pizza.

The fire gets lit at 10 a.m., and since the oven never completely cools overnight, it is up to temperature within minutes. The fire burns all day long — and so does Johnson's passion about good food.

He said he enjoys making people feel good, and "through food and drink is a good way to do that. I like to see people enjoying themselves."

Johnson said he chose West Linn to open his restaurants because of the people — the first B.J. Willy's opened in the Willamette neighborhood in 2009.

"One of the reasons we picked West Linn is that it really has a great community," he said. "It attracts some of the nicest people."

"Our guests are like family to us," Gerhart said.

Even one of their pizzas is named for the city — the West Linner, which features a pesto sauce, fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and fresh basil.

"We wanted it to be an affordable menu and family friendly. We want to make it accessible to the neighborhood," Johnson said. "It's not just about feeding people. It's about making people feel good."

So, be sure to stop by B.J. Willy's for a little slice of heaven, but don't forget to try some of their other popular items, such as the Italian sausage ziti, lasagna and handmade macaroni and cheese.

For more information or to see the menu, visit bjwillys.com.

Happy hour:

Daily 3 to 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. to closeby: VERN UYETAKE - Handmade lemon drops are on special every day during happy hour.

Get hand-muddled drinks margaritas' and lemon drops for $4.