Pizza Showdown: A Legacy of Italy in South Seattle

by Rosalind Brazel

A big player in the South Seattle pizza scene comes from Seattle Italian Royalty. Vince Mottola was born into the restaurant world. His parents owned one of Seattle’s oldest restaurant companies and one of the first to sell pizza in Seattle, Vince’s Italian restaurants – named after his father. In its heyday, Vince’s had multiple locations, the first of which was in Rainier Beach. Three are still running in Renton, Burien, and Federal Way.

“I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a restaurant family,” said Mottola.

Mottola’s Pizza Pulcinella on Rainier Avenue is a restaurant all his own. The building itself is an impressive beacon along a wooded, residential strip of Rainier Avenue. He revamped the old Lakeside Tavern which operated there for 50 years. The warm, inviting décor comes courtesy of his wife of 35 years, Carla, who, along with him, is a Rainier Beach High graduate. The fire pit is the focal point of the space and where the magic happens. Leo, a head chef at the restaurant, has been making pizza in the wood-fired oven for many years. Mottola says Leo has a certain finesse of spinning the pizza in the oven to get just the right cook every time.

Pizza Pulcinella serves Neapolitan-style pizza, and is a certified maker of that style. Neapolitan pizza is made with San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese. It must be cooked in a stone oven with wood fire. Pizza Pulcinella is just one of a handful of restaurants in Seattle that have this certification. To sum it up, these are pizza experts who know how to make a pie.

“We serve great Italian pizza at Vince’s and great Neapolitan pizza at Pulcinella,” Mottola said when asked about the difference between the two restaurants.

Vince Mottola and his wife Carla
Vince and Carla Mottola [Photo: Rosaline Brazel]
Although 90 percent of what Pizza Pulcinella serves is pizza, they also have a well-rounded Italian menu that includes pastas, breads, and salads. They have a filled pizza, similar to a calzone, with ricotta, mozzarella, ham, and sauce. The Margherita is one of the most popular. It’s topped with the typical sauce and cheese, along with basil, and olive oil. For those who like a little kick to their pizza, there’s the Diavola with spicy olive oil, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, pepperoni, fresh tomatoes, and basil. The Giovanni is also popular. It’s served with roasted red pepper, pesto, mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, onion, cremini mushrooms, and fresh tomatoes.

Mottola is not just a successful restaurateur, he also dabbles in the tourism industry. He leads a trip to Italy every year. There, he connects with the roots of his family and the traces of how they got started in the food industry. He often visits and shares with others the very spot where his parents got started.

Chef Leo
Chef Leo preps a pizza. [Photo: Rosalind Brazel]
“I’m Inspired every time I go,” Mottola said. “I create new dishes with some of the products that you can’t always get here.”

Mottola through his restaurants keeps a piece of Italy right here in the Northwest. Pizza Pulcinella was a great stop on quest to find the best pizza in South Seattle.

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.