Ballard Pizza Co.: Where's the Beef?

Ethan Stowell
As pseudo foodies, when we heard that Seattle restaurant heavy weight and Food and Wine’s 2008 Best New Chef, Ethan Stowell (owner of the former Union, Tavolata, Anchovies  and Olives, Staple and Fancy and How to Cook a Wolf) was going to expand his empire and lay claim to the title of King of Ballard, it was like anticipating the release of the summer’s new blockbuster movie (any good ones coming out this year?).  More exciting than a new restaurant offering was the humble nature of the concept at Ballard Pizza Company.  There was new found respect for an established chef and James Beard Nominee taking his self taught Italian cuisine to a more basic level, pizza and beer.  Simple= good.

After a few weeks of being open (we wanted to make sure some of the new kinks had been worked out) we ventured in on a Monday after work to check out the highly anticipated opening of the first of three new, basic concept restaurants Ethan is currently working on. 

We were overwhelmed with the menu board when we first walked in.  We were unsure of whether it was overwhelming itself or if we just had a case of the Mondays.  It became obvious this was not just a slice and suds.  The pizzas were laid out on the counter behind a glass partition (you can buy a giant slice or the entire pie) and they all looked great.  FloJo was immediately eyeing the asparagus pizza (it is spring/summerish in Seattle).  We took a few moments to try to absorb the menu and what our options were (remember we are “chewsy”).  We walked down the line to the cash register with our questions and a rough idea of what we wanted to order.  We were greeted by a young man that was nice, but did not know the menu or drink selections any better than we did.  Of course, he did explain that he drove six hours to rescue a co-worker that didn’t show up for a shift, so we have to give the guy an “E” for effort.  

Photo courtesy of
We were excited to see wine tapped (we love how environmentally friendly and economical for restaurants this option is -- they don’t have to waste a bottle that is opened and not consumed).  When asked what kind of wine it was, the young man said it was from CA and was a house red and white.  Upon checking with a co-worker it turned out to be Rock River Red from Rock Point Wines OR.  We ordered a glass of the red which is supposed to be a medium bodied blend, but fell flat upon tasting.  We suspect the amount of time it was in the keg played a little part in it, but could not confirm it.

Photo courtesy of Maui Brewing, Co.
The restaurant does have a good selection of beer, which is good considering it is fifty percent of the pizza and beer concept (bonus points for having Maui brewing represented).  We ordered the Hoedown Brown and it was a nice medium bodied beer sure to pair well with our food.  

Here is where the wheels started coming off of an already bumpy ride.  The special of the day was the meatball stromboli and per the menu board was to be comprised of mortadella, meatballs and peppers.  We weren’t quite sure what a stromboli was so we asked the young man fresh off his six hour road trip.  He described it as being similar to a calzone without the pizza sauce.  We love trying something new so we ordered the daily special, the meatball stromboli.  The young man questioned whether they made a meatball version of strombolis (foreshadowing).  However, upon checking yet again with the chefs down the line he came back and confirmed it was indeed on the menu as the special of the day.  We added a chopped salad and two $3 New York style slices (the aforementioned asparagus and a mushroom slice).  

The chopped salad came out with fresh romaine lettuce, olives, salami and chunks of cheese.  Ironically, it became the best menu item we ate that night.  4 thumbs up!  The pizza slices followed and they stayed true to the NY style, thin, crisp crust with a brick oven charring.  They were both good and definitely a bargain for the price.  Our thought, great place to come after a long Friday or Saturday night on the Ballard town.  And finally, the much anticipated stromboli arrived.  We divided it in half.  FloJo started right in on it, curious to see how this tasted.  We will now do our best to recount the comedy of errors that ensued.

FloJo: “Hey Ro…I don’t see a meatball in my half of the stromboli.”  
Ro: “No, that can’t be…maybe I got it all in my half. Let me check.  Hmm…I don’t see any either.”

After examining both pieces we called our waitress over to help identify the missing meatballs.  The waitress happily came over and described the meatballs to be sliced in half and brown and they most certainly should be in there.  Her line of reasoning, was because they were sliced in half, perhaps we weren’t expecting them as half moons and we possibly were looking just for the normal full moon variety.  

We took her words to heart and conducted a second investigation into the case of the missing meatballs.  We became downright surgical at this point, as if doing an appendectomy on our stromboli.  Sadly, to no avail.  There was no brown, sliced meatball to be had.  We were left to ask the classic eighties Wendy's commercial catch phrase, "Where's the Beef?"

The waitress returned to see if our search had led us to the missing meatballs.  We notified her that after deconstruction of the entire stromboli (which looked completely unappetizing at this point) we really believed the meatball had escaped it’s fate and had indeed not made it into the stromboli.  On a side note, we later came to find out the table next to us was also questioning their gnocchi entree.  It didn’t come out as they expected and the head chef also paid a visit to their table.

Check out Pure Wow's stromboli recipe
Our deconstruction of the stromboli was enough to prompt the server to go check with her head chef, because she still denied that could be possible, but our effort seemed to warrant it.  The head chef, upon coming to the table, saw the stromboli corpse and immediately declared there was no meatball.  He was embarrassed that this could happen.  I mean really-- special of the day-- featuring one of the most popular Italian ingredients there is-- meatballs-- and ours was severely lacking.  He immediately blamed it on the guy that just left (whoa, what happened to the all for one, one for all philosophy the cashier exemplified?-- out the garage door that serves as the front of the restaurant).

The head chef that night initially offered us another glass of wine (which was horrible so we declined that offering).  He urgently asked if we could drink another beer because of the meatball mishap.  Well now he was talking our language because the Hoedown was something that would strum our pain away.  Curious though that he wouldn’t want to try making us another stromboli with the actual secret ingredient inside.  But, that is a mystery not to be solved that night.  After delivering the beer, the head chef returned to inform us that he hate texted the employee allegedly guilty for the mishap.  That seemed a little harsh, but we found comfort from brown meatball deprivation by drowning our sorrows with brown beer.  What can brown do for you?

Photo courtesy of
We offer a simple suggestion Ethan, we don't expect this to be at the level of your more up scale affairs and we are all for expanding the empire.  But, basics must be mastered first (baby steps before walking or even running).  Meatball stromboli as your featured item of the day MUST (no exceptions) contain said meatball.  Pizza and beer sounded like a basic concept and had we just ordered those two items we would have been happy customers.  However, there are obviously still some kinks to be worked out.  Check this place out next time you are in Ballard during flour hour 3-5 and 10-11 pm M-TH for $2 slices.

Aloha! Live life with flavor and fun

Ro and  FloJo

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