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Lovelys Fifty-Fifty tries to redefine local pizza

Bread and Brew
by: L.E. BASKOW, Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty specializes in wood-burning oven-baked pizza with toppings that are local, seasonal and grown-up – like this pizza with asparagus, green garlic and tartufo cheese.

Pizza is a broad term, and I wish we had a wider vocabulary for describing it. That way, all those people who used to say, 'Did you know that Eskimos have 34 different words for snow?' could go around saying 'Did you know that Portlanders have 13 different words for pizza?'

Also, it would make it easier for me to explain what kind of pizza they serve at Lovely's Fifty-Fifty.

It's the kind with a thin, bubbling crust that's cooked in a wood-burning oven. It's the kind that's sort of expensive and doesn't have a 'chose your own toppings' option. The toppings are seasonal and grown-up: rapini greens, morel mushrooms, chard.

Like many Portland restaurants, the focus at Lovely's Fifty-Fifty is on local, seasonal ingredients, but here those ingredients are channeled into two very specific creations. Pizza and ice cream are the twin pillars of Lovely's, which is run by sisters Jane and Sarah Minnick. There's no one named Lovely - that part of the name comes from the parent restaurant, Lovely Hula Hands, which used to be next door but closed in December 2009, right before the pizza spot opened.

The sisters have successfully transferred the cute and cozy feeling from their two previous ventures (they started out in an old house farther down the street.) There are familiar framed prints on the walls, colorful patterned curtains and beautiful retro schoolhouse lights.

A glass case right inside the front door holds five or so flavors of homemade ice cream (the first strawberry batch of the year recently arrived, and it's excellent.) The rest of the long, narrow space is lined with wooden booths and little tables with bright red chairs, and the kitchen is partially visible in the back. All sections of the menu are very concise, with the exception of the list of red wines by the bottle.

One night we started with a salad of baby gem lettuce topped with shavings of breakfast radish and green goddess dressing. Breakfast radishes aren't as hot as regular radishes, and added a mild peppery flavor to contrast with the creamy dressing.

Another night we started with roasted new potatoes and artichokes, which were heavier and not as successful. The potatoes were cooked just right. The small artichokes were tender and fresh enough to be served al dente, which they were, but their delicacy was destroyed by severe over-salting.

Like the appetizers, the pizzas are about the right size for two people to share. Of the pizza trinity - crust, sauce, toppings - the toppings are the most important here. Most pies are sauceless, and the light, tasty crust is largely a conduit for artisan cheese and meats and fresh vegetables. The crust pretty much disappears in the heart of some pizzas, such as one overflowing with leeks, fresh mild cheese and pancetta, with a big sunny-side-up egg shining in the center. It was a messy, life-affirming pizza.

A different but equally satisfying pie was topped with slivers of grassy asparagus, spring green garlic and truffled cheese. Rich and pungent, its flaw was that it didn't leave us in the mood for ice cream.

Lovely's ice cream is worth a separate trip, though. Chocolate, caramel and coffee flavors come through bright and genuine, and the texture is velvety and lingering. Get a cone - they're homemade, crunchy and buttery. They're also fragile, so a bowl might be good as a backup plan.

Lovely's Fifty-Fifty, 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday, 4039 N. Mississippi Ave., Suite 101, 503-281-4060,www.lovelysfiftyfifty.com, pizzas $12-$17

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