[I’m a big fan of Yelp, one of the apps I never leave home without. I check it whenever I’m looking to try a new restaurant, or some other hotspot. I am also a Yelper, meaning I write reviews of new places that I try, offering my own thoughts and opinions via the site. Oh, and it also helps satisfy my inner food critic when it needs expression.—jb]
There’s a history behind Stephen Lanzalotta’s migration from India Street (and Sophia’s, prior), where he was selling a famous style of pizza out of the back of a well-known Italian bakery, to Portland’s Public Market, on the corner of Cumberland and Preble. If you don’t know about it, then either you don’t follow Portland’s food scene closely, or more likely, couldn’t care less about history of any kind. Actually, there’s a great two-part interview with Lanzalotta at Eater Maine that you should check out from December, 2013, if you’d like more on this.
Pizza is a food that’s ubiquitous and can be found in all manner of styles and varieties in Maine and elsewhere, most not terribly cutting-edge or awe-inspiring. It’s also one of those foods that when I read people raving about others making it, I’m generally nonplussed (kind of like I am with barbecue). I find that with both of these foods, people like what they like, and often, their affections don’t mirror mine.
So when I kept hearing rumblings about Slab and Lanzalotta’s “perfect pillows of dough,” I was resistant—at first. I mean, what could he be doing with dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and whatever else you top a pizza with that hadn’t been done already in Portland? Plenty, actually—or perhaps, it’s not that he’s doing anything that’s necessarily new, but honing a style of pizza that Portland is lacking in—mainly, the Sicilian slice.
Sicilian-style pizza has its own deep and rich history—you can look it up. All you need to know in relation to Slab and for the purposes of this review is this—think thick, doughy goodness, topped with a flavorful, tomato-based sauce, mozzarella cheese, offered via abundant slabs of intense, oozing fusions of flavor. That’s Slab in one sentence and all the rest is superfluous (maybe?).
The Public Market, and the area just one block south of Congress Street is definitely in need of some love and something more than most of what’s going on there right now. Slab is a tasteful infusion of spark, plunking you down in an area that’s not quite as hipster as a few others in town, which is just fine by me.
My wife and I decided to sit ourselves down out in the picnic area/beer garden and as an added bonus, the amazingly-talented Eric Bettencourt was there serenading the small, mid-afternoon crowd of Slab-goers. This area is spacious, and filled with orange picnic tables, with birch trees surrounding the fenced in area. In my opinion, it offered the perfect spot for eating pizza and drinking beer, which is what we did. There is also a smaller, but homey indoor seating area, along with a small bar.
We both ordered the hand slab, which is a pound of pillowy dough, topped with Lanzalotta’s homemade sauce, and mozzarella cheese. It’s all you really need with a pint of beer, in my opinion. And when you have local beers like Bunker Brewing’s Salad Daze on tap, then you’ve really got something going on. Simplicity, leading to a profound experience of eating.
There are other things on the menu, variations of the hand slab, like the spicy meat wedge, for you carnivores. This one is less fluffy, dough-wise, topped with thinly-sliced pepperoni that bakes to a crispness similar to perfectly-cooked bacon—it crumbles, which I really liked. Oh, and the wedge was topped with a pepperoncini, which is always a plus in my book of foods and flavors, and comes with creamy blue cheese for dipping, which was also nice.
Slab offers an extensive specials board, too. We picked the Sea Slaw off this list of offerings, and it was the perfect accompaniment to slabs of Sicilian-style pizza. Purple cabbage dressed perfectly, and seasoned just the way cabbage should be, with fresh basil mixed in.
Slab is a partnership between Lanzalotta and Jason Loring, of Nosh, he of the bacon-dusted fries and meat-based exquisiteness, up on Congress.
Get you down to Slab for some Sicilian street food, soon!