San Francisco Pizza Safari Part 4

The time has come for the final installment of my San Francisco Pizza Safari. Between February 19 and 24 of 2010 I visited over twenty-five pizzerias and lived to tell the tale. I’m leaving some out of this four-part series because they’re either not exciting enough to mention or better suited for future posts. This final piece will tackle four pizzerias of note in the San Francisco Bay Area.

First up is one of the most anticipated stops of my entire trip: Cheese Board Collective, an offshoot of the renown cheese shop/bakery of the same name. The Cheese Board is a co-op, so it is owned completely by its members. They produce one type of vegetarian pizza daily and they rotate pies from day to day. This makes ordering a breeze because you just say how many you want and whether or not you’ll be staying to eat. Easy as pie!

The slices are great because they cut a single slice into two, so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck! There were a bunch of cooked and par-baked pies sitting around in piles and that got me a little down, but the pizza is pretty delicious. The crust left something to be desired, but I didn’t expect it to be revolutionary. This may be the most “California” slice I had on the entire trip because it embodies the west coast pizza virtues of topping experimentation and crust anonymity. You know what I mean. Overall, a great experience and something you need to check out when in food-crazy Berkeley. 

While San Francisco, it was my responsibility to check out some sourdough. Rumor has it that the Bay Area is a feeding ground for some delicious bacteria, which is why you can’t duplicate the robust flavor of local bread anywhere else. I heard about a pizzeria that uses a sourdough base of their pizzas, so I had to check it out. The Godfather and I went to Goat Hill Pizza for a taste of something different. The only sourdough crust I’ve ever had (or as bakers call it, “natural leaven”) was at New York’s Una Pizza Napoletana, which just so happens to be moving to San Francisco’s SoMa district this month!

The Goat Hill menu claims that the pizza is baked in a “traditional brick oven,” but all I saw was a conventional gas-fueled deck oven. BUSTED! But as we all know, the oven doesn’t matter as long as the pizza is great. Unfortunately the pizza wasn’t anything special. We each had a cheese slice and a specialty slice, which was actually just a cheese slice with some diced tomatoes and cheese on top. Oh well. It was worth a try.

That experiment out of the way, I headed out for a real treat. Jeff “PizzaHacker" Krupman joined me for a stop at a pizzeria neither of us had ever visited. When Boot and Shoe Service opened last year on Grand Avenue in Oakland, locals thought it was just another foot ware repair shop. It’s actually the Bay Area’s latest NEOpolitan pizzera.

One problem plaguing so many of these new pizzerias is their use of extremely low lighting at the tables. I love eating in dimly lit restaurants but it’s no good for those of us who like to document our food and write about it months later. I can’t publish the photos I took of my Margherita, potato-pancetta-fontina-rosemary, or green onion-guanciale-egg pizzas because they’re so dark. You’ll just have to trust me that they look lovely. At least the most important part of the restaurant is lit:

These San Francisco pizzerias all have a long wait but B&S was kind enough to feed us delicious olives as we marked time before being seated. The deliciousness continued with our pizza selections. All pies arrive at the table cut, but I was most impressed at the decision to cut our green onion-guanciale-egg pizza in such a way that the yolk was left intact. I enjoyed every pie but once again the toppings ruled the flavor party, leaving crust as a mere placeholder.

The final notch in my Bay Area pizza belt was marked at Beretta in San Francisco’s mission district. Once again, the menu had all the buzz words (“locally sourced,” “sustainable,” “seasonal”) and the wait was long. Thankfully, we made a reservation earlier in the day and managed to snag a spot with minimal trouble.

** For all you pizza tourists, don’t forget to call ahead to make sure you can get into a pizzeria. It can really ruin a pizza safari when pizzerias are closed or have a long wait you could have avoided by calling in advance. Planning ahead saves time in the end!

The pies are baked in a gas-fueled Wood Stone oven, which has a brick hearth and ceiling but a door wide enough to drive a Hummer through. With an oven mouth like this, you end up losing a lot of heat. This particular oven has a sliding glass door that keeps heat sealed in while still allowing you to see both the pizza and the flame. But as you can see from the thermometer below the oven mouth, the temperature is still in the 550 F range, far below what wood- or coal-fired ovens can produce.

Regardless of oven technology, the proof is in the pizza! Darkness once again prevents me from posting pizza pics, but trust me when I tell you they are just as pretty as other Bay Area spots like Gialina, Flour + Water, Boot and Shoe, etc. When you’re at Beretta, you absolutely must get the burrata. This cheese is a simple combination of mozzarella and cream in which the mozzarella acts as a shell for creamy center. Get it as an appetizer or get it on your pizza — JUST GET IT!

The Bay Area truly is a pizza wonderland and things are just starting to heat up with the impending opening of Anthony Mangieri’s SoMa resurrection of Una Pizza Napoletana. If you live in the area, get your pizza shoes shined up and ready for some dancing. If you don’t, book your flight now and plan your pizza itinerary. Trust me, you’ll be busy.