Loaded down but flying high at Flying Pie

Italian cooking expert Lynne Rossetto Kasper writes in "The Italian Country Table": "One of the secrets of Italy's irresistibly light pizzas is ... not overloading the pie with toppings." At Issaquah's Flying Pie Pizzeria, this advice is studiously ignored, to great effect.

The American-style pizzas at this family restaurant impress first with their sheer bulk, then with their flavor.

When I was growing up in Portland in the '80s, I ate more than a few pies from this Oregon chain's several locations. Mostly I remembered the pepperoni, rounds of it stacked three deep like pennies in a "take one-leave one" tray. So when a fellow Portland native mentioned that there was a Flying Pie near Seattle, we piled into the car and headed for downtown Issaquah to see if it could live up to our memories of youthful pizza excess.

Feats of salami architecture do persist at the Issaquah location, which has been open for five years without anyone telling me. The shop sells slices at lunch (and all day Mondays), but at dinner it's about the whole pies, the more toppings the better.

After you order at the counter, your ticket is clipped to a zip-line and sent "American Gladiators"-style down to the assembly station, where cooks reach into barrels of meats and vegetables and plunk toppings down onto a substantial round of dough. Crust — white or whole wheat — is available in four thicknesses (try for a crust proportional to your level of topping). The pizza is then placed on one of the rotating shelves of Flying Pie's glass-front pizza oven. If the Jetsons had a pizza oven, this would be it.

If you think I'm exaggerating about the toppings, check out the popular Combo Supreme 1 ("Look out!" warns the menu): pepperoni, salami, ham, linguica, ground beef, Italian sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. In its largest size, 18 inches (which serves six to seven adults and must weigh almost 10 pounds), it's $29.50. This edifice is several inches tall, but somehow it's possible to eat mostly by hand. It's also delicious.

Even though my ideal pizza is closer to Kasper's Neapolitan model, there's a soft spot in my heart (probably literally) for American pizza made with good ingredients and a conspicuous lack of moderation. It's no surprise that the mozzarella is whole-milk, but soy cheese is available — this is still the Northwest.

The menu also features stuffed pizzas (with a top crust), calzones and subs. I haven't tried Flying Pie's pizza sub (several meats, onion, tomato, green peppers, cheese and pizza sauce, $6.50), but something tells me it's a messy number that would do Dagwood proud. There's also a small salad bar that seems rather beside the point.

Expect standard pizza-place décor: children's drawings, pictures of local kids sports teams and the like stuck to the walls in layers as thick as a stack of pepperoni slices.

Service is slow, but there's a warning sign to the effect that their handmade pizzas are worth the wait. In the meantime, enjoy a cheap beer.

Local microbrews ($2.50 mug, $8 pitcher) include Black Butte Porter and Rogue's unusual Yellow Snow Ale, made with juniper berries. Jug wine is on tap, and the idea of drinking burgundy with this pizza is somehow appealing.

A trip to Flying Pie won't transport you to Naples, but so what? It's an unapologetic, over-the-top American experience and a great pizza place.

Check please

Chickita Mesquita pizza: This thin-crust pie is topped with marinated chicken, red onions and feta cheese, in addition to mozzarella, provolone and Romano cheeses and tomato sauce. Chicken on pizza is often dry, but this was just right, flavorful and moist, and reheated well for breakfast the next morning.

Itemized bill, meal for two

12-inch Chickita Mesquita pizza: $12

Bottomless soda: $1.25

Unfortunately not bottomless Black Butte Porter: $2.50

Total (tax included): $15.75

Matthew Amster-Burton: mamster@mamster.net.

Flying Pie Pizzeria

30 Front St. S., Issaquah




425-391-2407, www.flying-pie.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, noon-9 p.m. Sundays.

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