RENTON — Drama. Mystery. Monkeys in space. At the center? Really good pizza.
It’s a little strange, I know, but bear with me. I’m talking about Smoking Monkey Pizza, located in downtown Renton and owned by Sean and Ping Ping Bullock.
Bullock brings the drama and quite a bit of artistry as he’s the one responsible for the multitude of paintings featuring monkeys in spacesuits, monkeys eating pizza in spacesuits and monkeys smoking cigars. As he tells it, “Smoking Monkey Pizza is the coolest mom-and-pop science-fiction-themed pizza in the world. I would say we’re a cross between ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Planet of the Apes,’ ‘Snow Crash’ and ‘Stand on Zanzibar,’ with aspirations of becoming the first interplanetary pizza delivery service and asteroid mining company.”
Smoking Monkey originally opened in 2012, the logo a monkey in a fez with a cigar. There was a small Italian-focused menu and pizzas baked in a wood stone oven with the ability to heat to up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Bullock says when he bought it in 2014, he thought it had the perfect motif, “except it was a tiny little place with only six tables.”
He changed a few things up, serving what he calls “East Coast-style pizza with heavy influence from Central Ohio,” alongside crispy fried cauliflower, stromboli, wings and pasta. In 2016, the space next door became available, allowing Smoking Monkey to double in capacity and add a lunch buffet.
“We have created a universe with monkeys, rockets and pizza,” Bullock says, calling downtown Renton “the new center of the universe.”
“The entire town is a science-fiction/fantasy land,” he says. “You can walk up and down the street and see all sorts of far-out things.”
Smoking Monkey fits right in.
Outside of the decor, the menu features a dozen specialty pizzas, each packed with toppings. Provolone takes center stage over mozzarella, while marinara, chili oil, creamy alfredo and olive oil all take turns serving as the base for various pizzas.
Bullock says his favorites are the Spicy Monkey, the Goatsmary with salami, and the Pepperoni Perfection.
The Goatsmary has a chili-oil base and is topped with provolone, goat cheese, rosemary, roasted cashews and parmesan ($16 for a 12-inch pizza). We added salami as the menu (and Bullock) suggested, which was a great call. The chili oil isn’t too spicy, and even with goat cheese, parm and salami, the pie isn’t overly salty. The cashews provide a buttery crunch and the crust strikes a balance between thin and thick, with good developed flavor and a wonderful chew.
The menu description for Pepperoni Perfection ($18 for a 12-inch pizza) warns of “wall-to-wall” pepperoni, and it does not lie. The pepperoni here is medium-to-small slices that turn upward into cups when baked, getting a little crispy and a little greasy in the best way. There are strands of shredded provolone melted over the top and a perfect blistered crust.
And because no one can live on pizza alone, my friend Sarah and I added an order of the crispy cauliflower ($6 for a half order, $9 for a whole) and a Monkey House Salad ($11).
The cauliflower has a fine-crumbed breading, each one a crunchy, creamy bite served up with an extra kick due to the cayenne aioli it comes with.
The house salad is mixed greens tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with gorgonzola, onion, toasted almonds and bacon. It’s nice to see a pizza joint delivering salads that feel like they’re designed for people to enjoy instead of stuff that serves as an obligatory green item in a sea of carbs and cheese.
You can also get slices from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. If you’re at Smoking Monkey during the week for lunch, the buffet rolls from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and seems to be a place for pizza chefs to play with flavors, showcasing special pizzas not on the normal menu, like the Red Baron with a ranch-dressing base, buffalo chicken, blue cheese and green onion. There’s also two pastas and a substantial salad bar for $11.95 per adult.
As far as elements of a good restaurant go, I’ve often talked with friends about how there’s good service, good ambience and good food, and often times you can only get two. At Smoking Monkey, you get all three: monkeys, rockets, friendly servers who split your salad without asking and don’t bat an eye when you knock over a cup of water, and darn good pizza.
Smoking Monkey Pizza, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday; 613 S. Third St., Renton; 425-291-7560, smokingmonkeypizza.com