Off The Press

July 7, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Pizzeria gets Italian seal of approval

Warren Kagarise Press Reporter

Warren Kagarise Press Reporter

City leaders, so fond of the sister city relationships Issaquah forged with cities in Morocco and Norway, might want to consider extending the olive branch to a municipality in Italy.

Though city officials might be too late. Ambassadors from Naples, birthplace of pizza, have already forged ties to Issaquah.

How? With pizza, of course.

Issaquah staked claim to specialty pies last month when Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria and Zeeks Pizza opened within a day of each other.Customers clamored to both outlets, eager for slices from the Seattle chains. But Tutta Bella employees readied the ovens to impress more important guests.

For pizzerias to be labeled authentic, they must be certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana or, loosely translated, the pizza patrol.

When Tutta Bella opened in a space left vacant by the defunct Chili’s Grill & Bar, the clock began ticking for the pizza patrol to descend upon Issaquah. The restaurant welcomed customers June 15; Italian inspectors arrived a few days later.

The team from Naples would evaluate several Puget Sound pizzerias to make sure chefs used the right tomato sauce and allowed the thin crusts to blister just enough. At stake was the coveted Neapolitan certification.

Members of the pizza patrol and other dignitaries were feted at celebrations across the Seattle area. As part of the welcome, the VIPs were invited to the Space Needle roof — not just the observation deck, mind you — for a brief ceremony. Journalists were encouraged to document the moment in dinner table diplomacy.

Despite the association with pizza, the word “Neapolitan” still invoked images of tricolor ice cream. The proceedings at the Space Needle, I reasoned, would be educational. After all, I wanted to learn the difference between authentic pie and the cardboard delivery box variety from countless childhood birthday parties.

When I received my invitation, I wondered just what might be up there, on the roof of the Space Needle. Would the spindly tower sway with the breeze? Would I spot signs of the Wheedle — as in “on the Needle” — title character of the 1974 children’s book and inspiration for the long gone Sonics mascot? Would I be able to see flecks of the original color scheme — Astronaut White, Orbital Olive, Re-entry Red and Galaxy Gold?

First, before I set foot in the elevator, I needed to sign a liability waiver warning of the risk of death. Twice.

Needle employees assured me the risk was minimal. Besides, they pointed out how I had worn sturdy shoes, a safety must.

The group piled into the elevator for the first 520 feet of the ascent. We clambered single file on ladders through interwoven ducts and pipes to reach the roof, almost 600 feet above the grounds of Seattle Center.

At the top, dignitaries heralded the similarities between Naples and Seattle: Cities built in the shadows of volcanoes (Mount Vesuvius, Mount Rainier) with residents who nurse serious coffee habits.

The visit was reminiscent of the efforts Issaquah residents take to foster international cooperation with Chefchaouen, Morocco, and Sunndal, Norway — albeit slicked with olive oil and embellished with buffalo mozzarella.

I snapped some photos and shot a few moments of video before I climbed into the hatch for the descent. The structure held still in the wind, and I saw no signs of the Wheedle or the old World’s Fair color scheme. As for the bowl-shaped roof, it was white — plain, simple white.

Astronaut White? Maybe. Or, in the spirit of international cooperation, Mozzarella White.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this column at www.issaquahpress.com.

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