It’s 5:15 at Seattle’s Delancey restaurant. Dogs are tied up out front next to the parked strollers of families who have walked down for dinner. A hurried woman bustles through the door and arrives at the hostess station. The restaurant is full and the staff are busy handing the line that has been forming since 4:45, but the woman gets an “Oh, how are you? Nice to see you!” from the hostess, followed by a big hug before she joins her husband and daughter who are already seated. It’s not their first time here.
In her column for Bon Appétit, Molly Wizenberg described the phenomenon of the neighborhood restaurant, the Cheers-esque bistro where you become a regular and everybody knows your name. When she and husband Brandon Petit opened a pizza joint in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood several years later, luckily for us locals — and the many that drive from all over the city for dinner — they created just that.
Delancey feels like a friend’s house where you could take off your shoes and play cards at the dinner table. Molly’s handwriting lists the daily specials on the chalkboard menu and, from his post behind the counter, Brandon asks after the two-year-old I’m toting. The hostess station is home to pictures of the couple’s daughter, June, a cookbook collection of friends and favorites, and copies of Molly’s books — Delancey and A Homemade Life — in various translations. (La Mia Vita Fatta in Casa, anyone?)
The restaurant draws a local cast of characters. A middle-aged couple shares a sausage pie and matching glasses of red wine while a nine-year-old dines with her dad and grandma at a table in the middle of the room. A couple of girlfriends sit at the counter and sip signature Delancey Negronis, outstanding cocktails mixed at Essex, the adjoining bar next door.
Though the vibe is welcoming and familiar, it also has an upscale feel not typical of a local pizza joint. Between the all-white walls and concrete floors are the trendy restaurant staples — candles in mason jars, mismatched vintage flatware — and a few custom additions like Weck jar pendant lights and floor-to-ceiling wine-storage-meets-art-installation. The ambience brings a little bit of New York to Seattle, not a surprise given that the restaurant’s namesake is a Manhattan subway stop. Any of the 40-odd seats feels like a spot at the cool kids’ table. I choose a place at the concrete counter with a front row view of the action.
Two guys in street clothes chat while they assemble and cook each pizza in the tight kitchen that’s not much bigger than a modest-sized walk-in closet. The small space makes it feel like you’re part of the family, hanging in the kitchen at your host’s dinner party. The staff is like an improv troupe behind the counter; as soon as each pizza comes out, it’s sliced by whoever is closest and topped with fresh Grana Padano.
I wish I could tell you I ordered “the usual” like I imagine you should at any good neighborhood joint, but the truth is I like just about everything on the menu. It’s fairly limited: a selection of nine basic pies with a rotation of seasonal add-ons like braised beef tongue, housemade pork fennel sausage, or Walla Walla sweet onions. This is not a place to come if you’re in a hurry — the wood-fired oven fits only two pizzas at a time — though there are a range of starters to stave off hunger. The roasted radicchio salad with preserved Meyer lemon and anchovy vinaigrette is surprising and takes a brave palate, while the charcuterie and Jersey salad could make a meal on their own.
I watch every mushroom pie get assembled, wondering which will be mine. A regular takes his seat at the counter next to me; he goes into the computer as “Mark” rather than “Counter seat #3.” The pizza shaper and one of the servers both ask after his recent bike outings and trade tips on their favorite routes. We get to chatting over salad and he tells me has only missed one week since he started coming here.
After patiently waiting its turn in line, my pizza emerges from the oven.
Probably every college graduate thinks they have at least some form of authority on pizza, but I can definitively tell you this: this is good pizza. The crust is almost impossibly thin and crunchy all around; it packs a remarkable amount of flavor and perfect saltiness. Plenty of chewy chunks remain while one piece is so crispy it tastes like a cracker with sea salt. Fresh olive oil and grated cheese top every pie and the sauce is rich and warm, like an Italian grandma’s Sunday gravy.
The pizzas here are built to share — I can only ever eat half. As I’m finishing my meal, a customer comes in from the main dining room to scope out the kitchen. “There’s not a lot of good pizza in this town,” he tells me. He might be right, but I wonder, “Why would we need anywhere else?”
Delancey gained national fame last year upon the publication of Molly Wizenberg’s book by the same name. In it she notes the “mistaken notion that running a restaurant is like having a dinner party every night.” While Molly and Brandon’s experience sounds very much the opposite — when’s the last time you spent back-to-back 17-hour days prepping for a dinner party — they still manage to make dining at Delancey feel like exactly that, like they’ve causally invited you over for dinner in the neighborhood.
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