South Seattle Pizza Showdown: Pagliacci Brings Its Established Reputation to the South End

by Rosalind Brazel

(This is the second article in our series profiling South Seattle’s best pizza places)

A revival has come to the corner of Rainier Avenue and Ferdinand in Columbia City. A space that had its wanes and waxes in the past just got the new moon it was looking for. Pagliacci Pizza has moved in and offers a different take on pizza then its cross-street competitor. Pagliacci serves a quick, affordable but tasty meal with their menu of revolving slice options and craftily constructed salads. Customers step to a glass window to select from four different pizzas. Two out-of-the-box options include ingredients like artichokes, goat cheese, squash, cured pork loin, exotic herbs, and sometimes seasonal fruit, like this summer’s popular Peachza Primo. That’s exactly what it sounds like: a pizza with peaches.

“Customers love it,” says co-owner Matt Galvin. “Most of our ingredients are sourced here locally.” 

Several salad choices can be ordered and then are made from scratch. The house special Pagliaccio and the Caesar salads are popular. Slices stay hot and fresh and are ready to eat within minutes of making it through the line. Whole pizza orders are cooked to order with hand-tossed crust from Pagliacci’s experienced crew. Staffers toss the stretched dough almost carelessly into the air with a spin that rivals a Russell Wilson throw. They are caught effortlessly by deft hands, piled with quality ingredients and, slid into the deck-style oven where the cooks monitors closely until the pizzas are cooked to perfection.

Matt Galvin
Pagliacci  Pizza owner Matt Galvin. [Photo: Rosalind Brazel]
The recipes here are the same ones used by Dorene Centioli-McTigue and her family when they started a pizza shop on “The Ave” in 1979. The same dough recipe. The same sauce recipe. Why fix something that isn’t broken? But when Galvin and his partner took over the restaurant in 2000 they did change the philosophy of the restaurant chain just a bit. They’ve now expanded to 15 neighborhoods – one of the newest in Columbia City, and are looking to open more restaurants. The priority also shifted to add two delivery-only locations and a commissary where the dough for every store is made. Pagliacci has a call center that takes delivery orders with a sophisticated system that lets you order online.

Pagliacci cook prepares pizza
A Pagliacci’s cook prepares pepperoni pizza. [Photo: Rosalind Brazel}
“We realized eventually that we needed a couple stores to focus just on delivery to help our success,” said Galvin.

Galvin says one of the highlights of his shop is his staff. Many of his employees started working for him years ago and have advanced to become managers. Most live in the neighborhood they work in and have reconsidered to include pizza making in their long-term career plans.

“Most employees don’t start working for us and think they are going to retire at Pagliacci’s,” said Galvin. “We try our best to keep them here for as long as we can.”

Galvin says Pagliacci Pizza will always be a Northwest restaurant, but you could see expansion to Tacoma and Renton soon. Is Pagliacci the best pizza in South Seattle? The restaurant certainly has its following and has carved its name into Northwest history. The pizza showdown continues.

Rosalind BrazelRosalind Brazel is a self-professed food snob. She has been food obsessed since childhood and enjoys dining out as much as she does creating meals of her own. She was recently featured as a Cook-to-follow in Allrecipes magazine and served as judge on the cooking show Dinner Spinner. She calls South Seattle home.