Oh Slab, your Sicilian-style “Hand Slab” is formidable. For
this beautiful and delectable addition to the pantheon of things-we-Portlanders-want-to-eat
we must thank Stephen Lanzalotta and his pizza-ing skills.
No, we cannot simply thank chef Stephen. We must also thank the robust cooks of Sicily, through whose rugged individualism this fusion of Italian and Arabic flavors was born.
But that is not enough. Let’s go back to around 997 AD and thank the first chef — contested though his/her identity may be — to put tomato and cheese on bread and call their creation a “pizza.”
But then, why not just thank the first person, nearly 28,000 years back, to mix ground cereal grain with water and forget it on a particularly hot boulder, inadvertently creating the world’s first flat bread? Without the knowledge that grain could be eaten, and preserved, in such a portable, tasty way, there’s little chance the farming revolution could have ever taken root (as it were).
Actually, it might make more sense to go forward a bit and thank the Sumerian farmers of Mesopotamia back around 3100 B.C. who discovered that diverting streams to rain-starved portions of land tempered the soil, creating irrigation as we know it. We raise our pizzas in thanks to these early hydroscientists for irrigating modern civilization to more reliable and bountiful crop yields. Thus making grain and tomato and basil — the essential building blocks of pizza — available to everyone.
And if we’re thanking irrigation we should probably also thank the nameless Egyptian handy-man brilliant enough to create the Ard: early civilization’s proto-plough. Without that first beast-drawn wedge, we couldn’t till rocky soil nor make seed drills in any significant number or consistency. Thanks, Ard, for blowing the doors off farming by creating an easy and tremendously effective system to replace what had previously been the uncoordinated labors of malnourished, hob-footed, stick-wielding peasants.
Well, that actually leads us to thanking the first hominins, 30,000 years ago for thinking up the idea of using durable tools at all. Their manufacture of stone implements, like knives and hammers — rather than just disposable sticks and rocks and bones — ushered us into the modern age.
That being the case, we must also give a nod and wink to the first chimpanzee ever to pick up a twig and think, “hmm, I can use this to ‘fish’ for termites!” That little simian’s ingenuity was a watershed moment in mammal tool-use for certain.
In reality we should just thank primitive autonomization of the first carpometacarpal joint — otherwise known as the development of the thumb — which existed 70 million years ago in early primates. Without that thumb, we’ve got no tool-use. So thanks thumbs. Good on you.
Rather, let’s not thank thumbs. Let’s thank the first amniotes to crawl onto land and lay their eggs. Without their ingenious breeding tactics — namely, being the first mammal with the ability to lay eggs on dry land rather than in water — they staked our mammalian claim to dry land itself, allowing for all the glorious rest to unfold.
Yet, while we’re thanking amniotes we might as well salute prokaryotes, the single-celled grand pappy/mammy to every consciousness walking, squawking, swimming, hopping, digging, slithering or straight photosynthesizing on earth. If our prokaryotic parents hadn’t survived (and flourished) during the shelling of earth by asteroids 3.6 billion years ago, there’s no way we’d be sippin’ ‘Gansetts in the shade of Slab’s outdoor seating area.
In actuality we probably should thank the early atmosphere, consisting of mainly nitrogen, carbon dioxide and inert gases (and some hydrogen left over from the solar nebula which was pretty much just a bunch of dust left over from the sun’s formation) that created the necessary conditions for life to form, by giving us water almost 3.8 billion years ago.
Really, though, we have to thank the sacrifice of early stars that went supernova, exploding and expelling vast clouds of gas, dust and radiation at up to 30,000 K/per second. It was this star material — molecules heavier than iron — that mixed with elements from the Big Bang itself — like hydrogen, helium and traces of lithium — that managed to find its way into the gravitational thrall of our precious yellow dwarf star we call The Sun, and, with the power of gravity, swirl itself into a nearly perfect sphere upon which every single living being — that we have ever known — has lived their life; a small rock that found itself the optimal distance from a source of heat in its randomly generated orbit whose gyrations still allow for hospitable growth and love and livelihoods and existence as we know it, this lovely, confusing, hallowed, fragile, crowded, lonely, miraculous place we call Earth.
Thanks stars. Thanks for giving us the Hand Slab.
There are quite a few menu items that delight, but the Hand Slab (spiritual and physical successor to Micucci’s Sicilian Pizza) is a delicious, and nearly unrivaled, piece of pizza.
Hit and Miss
The Hand Slab is wonderfully priced. You certainly get bang for your buck in that delicious, puffy, fall-apart brick of pie. The rest of the menu is solid, taste-wise, but I’ve seen a couple dishes that are more expensive (by double in some cases) that serve up less actual food than the Handel’s Mcslabberson. It’s up to you what you’re in the mood for, but don’t let a higher price convince you that you’ll be getting a massively larger helping of food.
The indoor area has a cool vibe with poured concrete and a two-tiered layout. However, the outdoor area, smothered in orange, authentic German Bier Hall style tables is the place to be. As the weather turns to winter, outdoors won’t be an option. But during the summer and what little is left of our fall, there are few places more pleasant to crush a slab.
The servers are generally nice and prompt. Indeed I’ve had some great experiences. But twice of my five times to Slab, I’ve had underwhelming outcomes. Once, when I was alone, it took me about fifteen solid minutes to get visited by a server. After that initial wait it was a generally well-paced service experience. The second occasion was with some buds and one of our cohort had no U.S. identification, just his “I’m from Somewhere in Europe” I.D. card. He was not allowed to buy beer. Now, there was no question he was over 21, in fact he looks about double that age. And I (we) understand that Slab has regulations on which cards they can take or not take. Ultimately it’s a judgment call on staying completely safe (from a regulation standpoint, in case an inspector were somehow present), or keeping your previously-happy customers happy. By choosing the former, Slab earned the dubious company of Binga’s Stadium as the only other place in Portland to not accept that “I’m from Somewhere in Europe” I.D. card. With that last experience, Slab, unfortunately, lost a couple customers.
EAT OR SKIP:
That unfortunate event withstanding, I will still eat at Slab. The Hand Slab is just that tasty. And I know Slab doesn’t necessarily need my patronage, nor that of my friends, since business looks to be in business. However, what was once an immaculately excellent place to go now has a blemish, which, unfortunately, will not soon fade.