Pizza never disappoints—from the wood fired variety, loaded with burrata or good greens, to plain old cheese and pepperoni. A few weeks ago, we found ourselves at Portland’s Dove Vivi, sizzling cornmeal crust pizza at hand. Naturally, as professional pizza critics, we weren’t prepared to be blown away. But just a few bites in, it was hard not to stand up and shout about how great it was. These guys may have, in fact, pulled off a minor reinvention of the wheel.
Owner Delane Blackstock was kind enough to show us around her restaurant, answer a couple questions, and send us home with a pie.
“Dove Vivi”, “where you live” in Italian, seems a very fitting name. Tell us the story behind the welcoming title.
It was important for the name to be Italian, because we learned how to make the food from Mike Freeman at Zelo (‘zeal’ in Italian) and he had learned it at Vicolo (‘little alley’ in Italian). We wanted it to reflect the lineage of the food and the people, as we see our learning to make this pizza as a gift from a friend- Dove Vivi is the third generation with many of these special recipes. ‘Where you live’ was supposed to be a reference to our place being a neighborhood spot, but then we learned what a double entendre it was in our early years of working 90 + hour weeks.
What makes your cornmeal crust just oh so good?
Ok. What makes the crust good. Good ingredients—high quality wheat from Shepherds Grain, a collective of family farmers in Oregon & Washington; organic cornmeal from Bob’s Redmill that is grown in Oregon & California; a lot of olive oil. Like a lot lot of olive oil. And we mix the doughs a day ahead to proof all day and night. The morning of service we start forming them and par baking them in seasoned tin plated steel pans- a process that takes 8 hours. The hand forming takes about 10,000 crusts to master. I’m not exaggerating. It takes about 30 hours from the mixing of the dough, to slicing the pie and serving. None of these things have a shortcut that we are interested in.
Aside from your nontraditional crust, Dove Vivi seems to be leading Portland’s creative pizza pack. Where do you come up with your eclectic recipes? Any advice for our next Tuesday night pizza party?
We learned some original pies from Zelo like the Corn and the Quatro. There have been many people offering their ideas and working on our recipes. We are so lucky to have such talent & enthusiasm, and are game to try almost anything. The crust is a force to be reckoned with, and we’ve found that spicy, smokey, and sweet flavors work very well with it. We usually start with a combination of a couple toppings that are inspired by a classic dish or maybe just ingredient that we are really in love with. Often its about rounding the flavors or making them pop with acid or salt or seasoning. Not surprisingly, mexican flavors are very complementary, like our Poblano with queso fresca or the Taco with our house pickled jalapeños and crema. But then something like peppadew peppers hits us and we pair it with an Argentinian chimichurri and its an instant favorite. Or the rosemary marinated grapes with brie. We are not tethered to traditional pizza combinations because we don’t stick to the usual base of tomato sauce- we often find other sources for our acid and sweetness, like smoked tomatoes or lemon on arugula; because the cheese is on the bottom, we can do whatever we want on the top.
Instead of going with a standard overall branding, you guys work with various artists to create you hand-drawn aesthetic. Why so?
The folks on staff, our nearest and dearest, are indiscriminately creative. They offer suggestions of ‘hot dog pizza’ just as readily as a tote bag design. Lettie Jane Rennekamp has slowly become our unofficial house illustrator with her being the natural go-to for things like light switch signage to pizza box design. She is a prolific talent.
I personally have a collection of about 7 Dove magnets on my refrigerator but who came up with the idea, and why?
All the magnet designs were actually intended to be sketches for me to pick a direction for her to work in. We just loved them all and had most of them printed instead. It was too hard to choose!
We come in on a Wednesday night, from appetizers to wine to pizza, what do you suggest we order?
If you came in on Wednesday, I would insist you order the Kale salad with ricotta salata & Stargazer Farm Mustard Greens salad with lemon and parmesan. And probably the Beet salad with blue cheese & walnuts. Its summer. Go crazy on salads. And then I would have you try a slice of each of the specials- the Fried Green Tomato from Gathering Together Farm with greens, pickled onion and a smokey aioli is so, so good, and the Buffalo Chicken with blue cheese is wild. Then I’d have you get 1/2 Corn and 1/2 Sausage & Peppers- they are always on the menu because they are always great. I’d insist you get a glass of the Rioja, because it’s perfect. I have to have 2 bottles at home all the time or I panic and order a case for the basement. Anything NW & hoppy on draft is good for a pint. That’s easy. If you still have room, order the Zuccotto- nobody else makes it, but its a delicious classic Italian trifle-like cake with mostly whipped cream & chocolate and a brandy soaked lady finger crust. We also have chocolate chip cookies we make in house from scratch every day. We were threatened with our lives when we took a hiatus from making them last year. So you should try one of those.