If you live in Portland, chances are at some stage or other, you’ve been to Apizza Scholls. It’s a culinary institution in this town for a reason: a top notch neo-Neapolitan crust, simple ingredients, creamy ricotta, tongue-sized bacon. As our food critic Karen Brooks has pointed out, “seven nights a week, arguably one of America’s top 20 pizzas is emerging from an electric oven on SE Hawthorne.”
It all started when baker Brian Spangler moved up to Portland from the Bay Area with his wife, Kim, and set out to build a bakery, complete with a wood-fired oven. But baking can be a lonely pursuit: Spangler found himself working alone for eight hours a day and he didn’t care for that much solitude. So he kicked off a tradition: pizza Sundays. Corks would pop, cheese would sizzle, and Spangler would perfect his pizza game. And people loved it.
“I’d never made a pizza before,” he says. “Suddenly, I’m making 60 pizzas on my day off!”
He experimented with dough, and ultimately stuck with an unrefrigerated method, with small amounts of yeast and long periods of time. “I modeled the whole thing after basically a baguette formula,” Spangler says. Inspired by Brooklyn’s L&B Spumoni on a trip back to New York, he began to model the “upside down” approach: thinly sliced mozzarella cheese on first, then San Marzano tomato sauce, and then keep it simple with the toppings. “And we have never deviated from that,” he says. “We spend four hours a day slicing cheese.”
The Spanglers eventually brought their pizza to the masses at the now-shuttered Scholls Public House, located 40 minutes west of Portland between Hillsboro and Newberg. A glowing Oregonian review galvanized the hordes, and drove the need fora bigger space—the SE Hawthorne home was found, and Apizza Scholls became a city fixture.
Since its opening there in January 2005, the Spanglers' pizza has garnered rave review both locally and nationally. Here at Portland Monthly, it’s regularly made our Best Restaurants lists for “muscular pies with char-speckled bottoms that make East Coast devotees swoon," or so we've written. Anthony Bourdain even showed up to sample the Spanglers’ wares—Apizza Scholls appeared in the third season of his No Reservations TV show. More recently, the Modernist Pizza authors deemed Spangler's pizza as among the best in the country.
But for the Spanglers, the local clientele is everything. “We’ve seen a lot of kids grow up, go to college, we’ve made a lot of great regulars and we’ve become a part of their lives which is why we never opened up a second restaurant,” says Spangler. “We want to be the same old mom and pop. There’s something special about that.”