Popular Zeek's Pizza Is A Little Slice Of Heaven

Restaurant review

XX Zeek's Pizza, 41 Dravus St. ($) Lunch and dinner ($1.39 to $16) 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sunday. Beer, soft drinks. Major credit cards. No smoking. Information, delivery and takeout: 285-6046. -----------------------------------------------------------------

"What'll you have?"

"I'll have," I said with as straight a face as possible under the circumstances, "a slice of the Frog Belly Green. Oh, and a slice of the Organic Drift."

The order was relayed. A counterman expertly stretched a languid disc of dough over his forearms and sailed it up into the air. Another employee sidled over and snatched it out of the air.

"Hey," said the first.

"You don't like having your dough intercepted in mid-toss?"

"Actually," said the first tosser, "I am highly offended."

Zeek's Pizza, 41 Dravus St., at the north base of Queen Anne Hill, between Fremont and Seattle Pacific, is no ordinary pizza parlor. Indeed, it's too small to be any kind of a parlor.

Nevertheless, it was filled; pies and pieces of pies were flying onto the white plastic tables out front or into cartons and out the door.

Zeek's was started nine months ago by a pair of young, frustrated computer system analysts, Doug McClure, 25, and Tom Vial, 28.

"We both hated our jobs," said McClure, "and we were both tired of suits. I love to cook and had always made great pizzas at home, so we decided pizza was our calling."

In the pizza business, many are called - usually at Domino's and Pizza Hut. But few are chosen; even fewer small entrepreneurs make it. But Zeek's is doing just that. Why?

Emphasis on fresh ingredients

The Frog Belly Green arrived ($2.50 a slice; $6.95 to $15.25 for full pies). Despite its swamplike nomenclature, the FBG smelled heavenly. A glaze of olive oil had been laid over an uncommonly good crust, covered with a whole-milk mozzarella cheese, Parmesan, freshly made basil pesto with a high level of garlic, then finished with rounds of just-sliced Roma tomatoes.

Despite possible garlic overkill, it was a heck of a piece of pizza. The Organic Drift (similar prices) served alongside looked equally impressive. It was a basic tomato and cheese pie, but augmented with fresh-chopped oregano, leaves of spinach, mild red onion slices, tomatoes and nuggets of Feta cheese ($2.70 a slice; $7.15 to $14.75 for complete pizzas).

I mulled as I munched: What was Zeek's all about?

"We use everything fresh," McClure said later. "We even chop our herbs fresh twice a day. We don't cut the basil leaves at all until it's time to use them. The mozzarella is a Danish-style, whole-milk cheese. The sausage is made right in Ballard by Cascioppo Brothers, and we make our own dough fresh daily."

The dough is of course the heart of any really good pizza (and why I cherish the chewy yet tender pies at the Italian Spaghetti House in Lake City), and Zeek's has an unusual recipe. The basic white flour is made hearty with "a handful" of whole-wheat flour and a trace of soy flour.

I came back the next day for another bout of reaffirmation - and a slice of Thai-One-On. Made with peanut oil, mozzarella, Thai chicken pieces, a Phad Thai sauce, carrots and bean sprouts, it's not exactly downtown Naples. But it was surprisingly tasty. And, yes, you can order it from one to five stars of red pepper heat.

Zeek's doesn't make only novelty pizzas, although they have a lot of them (El Hombre with salsa and refried beans; the Texas Leaguer with barbecue sauce, cilantro and barbecued chicken, for example).

Lunches by the slice

All of this transpires in a tiny kitchen-bakery with two smallish Baker's Pride ovens. At lunch time, when most of the trade is in pizza by the slice, a half-dozen different pizzas are arrayed on the central work table, reheated briefly and served up hot and crisp. Pizza purists may quibble, but Zeek's pies seem to endure the double handling pretty well. Evenings, most of the pizzas are baked to order as whole pies.

You can design your own easily enough. Order the John Dough ($5 to $9.50), which is a basic tomato-cheese or olive oil pie, and add from a long list of custom toppings: from anchovies to (saints preserve us) mandarin oranges.

This clearly is an operation running on large reserves of entrepreneurial joy and youthful self-confidence. Any plans to expand?

"Sure," McClure said. "We'll grow until it stops being fun. Then we'll stop. We'll never be Domino's."

Maybe. Right now, Zeek's is baking 150 pies a day. "Our biggest challenge is keeping up with demand." (Copyright, 1994, John Hinterberger. All rights reserved.) John Hinterberger, who writes the weekly restaurant review in Tempo and a Sunday food column in Pacific, visits restaurants anonymously and unannounced. He pays in full for all food, wines and services. Interviews of the restaurants' management and staff are done only after meals and services have been appraised. He does not accept invitations to evaluate restaurants.