Overall Experience - 9.4
Summary : Everything about this pizzeria screams Portland. The pizza, the service, and the decor are everything you'd want from a pizza place. Ken's gets it right.
Over the summer, my girlfriend and I headed out west for a roadtrip of epic proportions. During the course of 12 days we drove more than 1,600 miles — from Portland, Oregon down to Los Angeles, California. Although this was not a “pizza trip” it won’t surprise you that pizza worked its way into a few meals. Over the next four weeks, I’ll be reviewing four of spot we dined at, starting off with my favorite: Ken’s Artisan Pizza (304 Southeast 28th Avenue) in Portland.
This was my second trip to Portland and the only spot I visited back in 2009 was Give Pizza A Chance. This website was in it’s infancy back then and although I’d heard good things about other pizza places in Portland at the time, none of them had earned a “must visit” status on my itinerary. Fast forward to 2011; much has changed. Over the past two years, Ken’s Artisan Pizza and another spot — Apizza Scholls — have garnered national media attention and thus, were highly anticipated stops on this visit to Portland.
Moments after landing at Portland International Airport, my girlfriend and I set out for Ken’s where we encountered a 45 minute wait around 8PM on a Sunday evening. Oddly, there were tables outside, where you could order drinks while you waited. But they weren’t serving pizza at these tables which would have undoubtedly shortened our wait.
Ken’s is located in Southeast Portland which has an interesting layout. Although there are a couple of main drags with restaurants and shops, many establishments are located in pockets amongst what is generally a residential area. Hence why Portland is a great biking city. Only a handful of people live within a short walk of Ken’s, but anyone within a five mile radius can bike there in 30 minutes or less.
By the entrance of Ken’s is the main dinning room and oven. Head towards the back of the restaurant and you’ll pass the bar — with approximately a dozen seats — and find yourself amongst about six additional tables. That’s where we were seated. Ken’s has a rustic feel to it — not so different than Paulie Gee’s — but what really distinguishes the spot are the floor to ceiling widows which make you feel as if you’re eating outside.
There were about a dozen pies on the menu and they rotate so frequently that Ken’s only posts a “Sample Menu” on its website. When trying a new pizza place I almost always order a Margherita. The best way to judge a place is by having a taste of their most basic pie. Plus, it provides me with a good basis for comparing it with other places. But… I was on vacation and feeling adventurous. So instead of ordering a Margherita pie, we spiced things up (literally) with an Arrabiata pie (tomato sauce with Calabrian chiles, mozzarella, and basil). We also ordered a Spring Onion pie (mozzarella, Grana Padano, spring onions, and fresh herbs).
Both were delicious, but the Spring Onion pie was out of this world. Maybe I was just excited for the start of our trip, but it was amongst the best things I ate over the course of our 12 day vacation (and trust me, we ate a lot of good food). The onions were roasted to perfection prior to being cooked in the oven. They combined with the mozzarella and herbs to provide an unbelievable flavor for a pie with so few ingredients. I’m not sure how often this pie appears on the menu. But if you see it… get it.
The Arrabitata was also great — think your basic pie with a kick. I love spices and this pie stepped up to the plate. It wasn’t so spicy that your mouth was on fire, but it was the level of spiciness that most palates would feel good about. My only regret is not having enough of an appetite (or a large enough party) to try more pies including the Margherita.
Despite the fact that Apizza Scholls has received a bit more national media attention than Ken’s, I had a much better experience at Ken’s. The pies were as good as I’d hoped, the space is comfortable, and the service was excellent. I can’t think of a better way to kick off a trip to Portland. If you find yourself in Portland, Ken’s is a “must-visit” stop.