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Flying Squirrel's Pizzaiolo Raine La and Brian Vescovi

[Photos: Ronald Holden]

For Eater's inaugural Pizza Week, we interviewed some of our favorite pizza makers in Seattle. In this piece, Eater had the chance to sit down with Flying Squirrel's co-owner Brian Vescovi and pizzaiolo Raine La at the Seward Park location.

Brian, tell me about Flying Squirrel.
First of all, Bill Corey, who founded Flying Squirrel, his fiancée just had a baby, so he's not here tonight. In 2008, Bill was a manager with Starbucks, in their music division, and got laid off. He'd been passionate about pizza for a long time, so he decided to start a pizzeria. I'd met Bill in Bellingham 12 years ago and we became great friends. I got involved with the build-out of this place, which was a Chinese restaurant called Golden Palace. I had a boring desk job with the Canadian Consulate, and I started spending more and more time here. Two years ago I quit and became a partner in Flying Squirrel.

What's different about Flying Squirrel? What accounts for its popularity?
It's a New-York style pizza. And it's amazing. But a pizzeria is about more than food. It's atmosphere are service, too. We've been accused of over-staffing our service, but a lot of families come in here and they don't have to wait forever for their food. It's become an anchor for the neighborhood. As you can tell, the atmosphere here is loud, and very informal. It's a rad place to hang out.

Now you've got three locations.
We opened here in Seward Park on October 2nd, 2008. We have 80 seats in the dining room and 20 in the bar. The neighborhood's been very receptive. Maple Leaf is insane. It has 60 seats. The Sunset Tavern in Ballard is a partnership (with the tavern). We've turned the corner there now.

Tell me about the name, Flying Squirrel.
Bill knew he wanted something different, something that wasn't tied to a specific neighborhood, like Genesee Street Pizza. I think he was already looking ahead to other locations. He didn't want an Italian name, either, like Tutta Bella or Via Tribunali. So we started playing around with animal names, and Flying Squirrel had the right ring to it.
Then we came up with the logo, that sort of fat little squirrel floating through the air with a bunch of balloons tied to his middle, and we knew we had it.

How long do you proof the dough?
We proof overnight, but we don't use an industrial proofing box. We're more punk rock than that.

A lot of your pizzas all have musical names, right?
A lot of them, because Bill's a musician. Boston Space Ships is named for Robert Pollard's band. Then there's the Zappa, the REM, the Lightnin' Hopkins, the Eartha Kitt, the Booker T, even the Count Basil.

How do you handle all the customizing? Isn't it a logistical nightmare?
Yes it is! Bill's got an amazing palate, he's always coming up with new combinations. The regular menu has a dozen or so “classic” combos, and another dozen that have their own names, like the Maggie (that's our Margherita). We have something like 25 toppings you can order, and then we have the seasonal specials like the Corleone with broccoli rabe, the Boston Space Ships with fennel sausage, and the Gus Williams with asparagus.

Is this why you're not open for lunch?
We tried opening for lunch but the logistics were just be too complicated. As it is, we have a guy coming in (here at Seward Park) at 8 AM just to prep, and he's working straight through until our 5 PM opening.

Raine, your “make line” is impressive.
It has to be. It's not like there's just one pizzaiolo who does everything. We've got one guy at the back who stretches and tosses the dough, and two guys at the front of the line who add the toppings. They're 15-inch pies. I put them in, I take them out, I slice them with the mezzaluna (half-moon) and grate the Parmigiano.

And your oven?
We have this double-deck, gas-burning oven from Marsal with has a brick floor that runs at 650 degrees. I can have six pizzas at a time on each deck.

How many pies can you turn out in a night?
We'll do maybe 150 on a weeknight, 180 to 200 on weekends.

You keep track of a dozen pizzas at a time?
You develop a sixth sense. I've been at this a long time.

Back to you, Brian. What's your favorite part of the job?
I get to meet the customers and pour the beer.

--Ronald Holden

· All Pizza Week Coverage on Eater Seattle [-ESEA-]

Flying Squirrel Pizza

8310 5th Avenue Northeast, , WA 98115 (206) 524-6345 Visit Website