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Pizza first bites: Paesan in Tacoma and Mod Pizza in Puyallup

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on July 5, 2013 at 6:00 am | No Comments »
July 5, 2013 12:03 pm
Paesan chef/owner Rodel Borromeo tosses  pizza dough at the new Paesan by Thea Foss Waterway.  Lui Kit Wong/Staff photographer
Paesan chef/owner Rodel Borromeo tosses pizza dough at the new Paesan by Thea Foss Waterway. Lui Kit Wong/Staff photographer

Some pizza restaurants serve deep-dish pies so thick, they’re more like casseroles. Some serve pizza with a crackery crust heat blasted in a wood-fueled oven – Neapolitan style, a nod to Italy’s famous pizza export. And don’t forget Sicilian-style square pizza, too. There are pies influenced by New York and California. Then there’s a whole new category of pizza that seems to be turning up on menus everywhere: artisan pizza. On the upside, the term quickly explains to diners that they’re going to find toppings with a flavorful edge — gorgonzola, pesto, pine nuts, capicola, pancetta, roasted red peppers and the like. On the downside, the “artisan” term is so overused — even co-opted by the big chains — that it has become a food term that elicits an eye roll.

Still, with apologies for the ubiquitous moniker, think of the newly opened Paesan Kitchen and Bar as an artisan pizza restaurant, although a closer relative to Seattle’s Serious Pie than Domino’s artisan pizzas. And what about Mod? The new pizzeria in Puyallup that opened Monday? Consider it a whole other category – speedy fast artisan pizza.

Paesan Kitchen and Bar

1715 Dock St., Tacoma; 253-301-2396,

At Paesan (pronounced “pie-zahn,” an Italian term for “friend” or “buddy”), which opened last week on the Foss Waterway, toppings are not of the ilk you’ll find at common pizzerias, which lands the restaurant in the “artisan” category. There’s everything from pears to pancetta, salmon belly to pomodoro. The kitchen at Paesan piles on flavor with sprinkles of fresh herbs and drizzles of flavored oils. The crust probably is too thick to be considered true Neapolitan-style pizza (plus, there’s this ginormous list of rules, if you want to get technical about throwing around the term Neapolitan).

Co-owner Philip Panagos described the crust this way, “Our crust is a modern representation of a Neapolitan style pizza.” He said diners should think of Chef Rodel Borromeo’s dough as an intersection of chewy and crisp. I like that description.

A salami pizza at Paesan on the Foss Waterway in Tacoma. It opened less than two weeks ago.
A salami pizza at Paesan on the Foss Waterway in Tacoma. It opened less than two weeks ago.

Pies arrive at the table looking the way they should — with heat-blasted edges from a trip in the wood-fired oven. Pizzas look hand-formed, shaped oblong and sliced into triangles. A single pie will feed one ravenous teenager, or two light eaters.

Paesan proved to be a pizzeria with a lot to like. It was kid-friendly, with high-quality house-made ingredients and yet another restaurant destination on the Foss Waterway. My only wish? That it was a touch more wallet-friendly considering the sizes of the pies. Pies on the opening menu were solidly in the $14 range. The appetizer menu is priced more moderately, with a handful of shareable starters and salads.

Paesan shares ownership with Social Bar and Grill, located around the backside of Thea’s Landing since July 2011. Paesan’s owners — Panagos, Borromeo and Jason Bailey — also are alumni of the locally grown Tex-Mex chain Matador.

Paesan’s space is small, with room for about 30. Much of the seating is communal — a small bar with about a half-dozen stools and bench seating that encourages scrunching around high-top tables. An eating bar flanks the street-side windows, offering a view of Dock Street and nearby rail traffic. There are only two tables for four diners each.

Like Social, which has a mostly open kitchen, Paesan will appeal to those who like to kitchen gaze. The pizza prep is on full display adjacent to the wood-fired oven that takes up a good chunk of real estate in the dining room.

My first-bite visit during its first week showed a kitchen performing just fine in its fledgling days. We dug into a margherita pie, the classic trifecta of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil ($14). The flavors sparkled; the sauce tasted sharp and fruity. A pancetta and pear pie ($15) boomeranged between sweet and savory, with toppings evenly distributed for consistent flavor with every bite. A salami ($14) pizza came with a neat surprise — fresh arugula that added a peppery bite.

While the flavors of the pizza were noteworthy, the crust proved a touch inconsistent — one slightly overdone, another slightly underdone — but I attribute that to opening-week jitters and a new wood-fired oven that can prove mercurial. This should be a restaurant on your to-dine list, but give them another week.

Mod Pizza

10301 156th St. E., Puyallup; 253-864-6663,

Speaking of pizza, Mod Pizza opened Monday in Sunrise Village on South Hill. This is the Seattle-based chain’s first South Sound outpost.

Mod is a pizza chain that specializes in fast pizzas made from scratch. Aside from a few exceptions on the menu, nearly all the pizzas are one size and one price — $7.17 — and made to order in a matter of minutes. Want 15 toppings with every kind of meat on your pie? Well, you might suffer from cholesterol shock, but you can have your pie any way you want it and still pay one price. I tested the theory and ordered a pie with every meat on the menu – I paid $7.17.

A first-bite visit this week showed a restaurant that was exceptionally kid friendly – because the music is so loud that there’s no way you can hear a screaming baby, a toddler beating a rattle on your head or sometimes the adult sitting next to you. Joking aside about HOW LOUD IT IS IN THERE, it really is a place that appeals to families because of the casual order-at-the-counter setup, the self-serve drinks and the wallet-friendly prices. A family of four could eat well for around $30. In family-centric suburban South Hill, that’s a concept that should be well embraced.

A Tristan pizza at Mod comes with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, asiago and mozzarella, with pesto.
A Tristan pizza at Mod comes with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, asiago and mozzarella, with pesto.

The pizza falls into that ubiquitous artisan category because toppings rate high – fresh basil and rosemary, gorgonzola and real-deal anchovies push it over the edge of average fare. The restaurant previously offered just a red sauce, but diners now will find white garlic sauce as an option. Find a toppings list here.

Pizza fans who like a crust so thin that it crackles – or borderline shatters -  will appreciate Mod’s dough. It’s got a light, chewy resistance, but in the scheme of crust texture, it skews in the direction of very, very crispy and thin. Pizzas are cooked in a brick oven fueled by gas.

I liked topping distribution – sauce, cheese, meat and vegetables were evenly applied, giving consistent flavor for each bite. I thought the mini salad ($4.47) was a screaming deal considering the salad was practically entree sized and I added everything I wanted from the ingredients list (the same as the pizza list, plus a few add-ins like garbanzo beans). They’ll even toss the salad with your choice of dressing, if you like. That is one of the best salad deals I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s nice to have pizza back in Sunrise Village. Remember Fondi?

A Mod Pizza also will open in September at Tacoma Mall in the same building that will hold Blazing Onion’s new outpost when it opens late this year.

Mod founders Scott and Ally Svenson are Seattle natives. They have a background in coffee — they opened Seattle Coffee Co. in Europe after moving to London for Scott’s job in finance. They sold that company to Starbucks, then moved back to Seattle. They founded Mod in 2008.

Cafe Vincero on the way

And one final mention of pizza. Cafe Vincero will open this month in downtown Tacoma at 714 Pacific Ave. Like Paesan, the restaurant will make its pies in a wood-fired pizza oven. The menu also will have pasta, sandwiches and calzones. Read more here.

Sue Kidd dines anonymously, and The News Tribune pays for all meals.

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