by Claire Staley
Pizza Research Institute, or PRI as it’s referred to colloquially, is a staple among Eugene natives. Famous for innovative ingredients served from an all-vegetarian kitchen, PRI fittingly made the move from its cramped former location on 13th and Lawrence, residing now on the corner of 5th and Blair, smack-dab in the Whiteaker. As dusk began falling on Sunday evening, I decided it was a good night to research some pizza.
We were promptly greeted and led back to the dining room, a wide open room with an industrial air. The garage door installed in the wall facing the street was open, letting the last breezes of a pretty spring day wander in. Colorful paintings decorate the walls, while potted place lend an organic touch. The kitchen peeks out from what appears to be a big red train car.
Picture via The Oregonian
The place was lively with patrons, even though closing time was only an hour away. The happy chatter of diners and the Chinese zodiac place mats are the only vestiges of PRI’s former location.
Ten paper plates on the train car announce the rotating menu of beers on tap. Feeling hyperlocal, I ordered an IPA from Eugene’s Oakshire Brewery, while my companion branched out a little to a selection from Hopworks Urban Brewery, a Portland company. The waitress couldn’t give us any guidance on our drink selections, but was eager to know how we enjoyed our choices.
Perusing the menu caused some serious hesitation. PRI features nine feature combinations, daily specials, as well as the option to design your own pizza. Adding to this crisis is the choice between making any selection vegan (with white sauce and spinach), or non-vegan (delicious cheese). After eying a feta-spinach-kalamata-artichoke combo for a while, I ordered a non-vegan slice topped with asparagus, minced garlic and fresh tomato. My companion ordered the pear-smoked-gouda-walnut combo.
As our orders went to the kitchen and my stomach grumbled quietly, I couldn’t help but think of why I rarely eat at PRI, despite living ridiculously close to it, and despite how delicious it admittedly is. I don’t know why it is, but pizza here takes forever to cook. Maybe I’m just impatient, but I never have and never will understand why it takes 40 minutes for a piece of pizza to be delivered to me.
I forgot that upon arrival, of course. The slices are expensive at five bucks a pop, but the portions are fairly generous, and the quality of the ingredients is noticeable. The crust is crisp and hearty, and infused with herbs. The fresh tomatoes contrasted nicely with the grilled asparagus and the melted cheese. Because I was conducting some serious journalistic investigation, I demanded a bite of my companion’s slice, and I must say that walnuts on pizza suddenly made a lot of sense to me.
PRI has good atmosphere and great food, but it’s not a grab-and-go dinner. Rather, it’s a place to come to chat with friends, to spend an hour over drinks and pizza as the day winds down (or if you just need a break–PRI is open for lunch, too).