APPETITE San Francisco is obsessed with pizza (particularly the Neapolitan kind). A recent indulgent survey of pie joints took me from Oakland’s recently opened Nick’s Pizza (www.oaklandstylepizza.com) — the highlight there actually being local Temescal Kombucha in jars — to brand new Bakeworks in Hayes Valley (www.bakeworkssf.com), with its potato quinoa crust pizzas. Big kudos for the Bakeworks business model: providing employment and training to those at risk or with disabilities.
Most anticipated is Capos, a sister restaurant to unparalleled Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, soon to open in North Beach and serving the one style Tony’s doesn’t do: Chicago deep dish. I recently returning to an SF classic: A16‘s (www.a16sf.com) pizzas continue to evoke travels in Italy, alongside Campania-style dishes — those meltingly soft pork meatballs! — and wine director and owner Shelley Lindgren’s impeccable, Italo-centric wine list. I value A16’s consistency over the years, cooking authentic Neapolitan pizza before it was trendy. A particular joy is lunch in the mellow, sunny, skylit space (note the new 3-course, $20 tasting menu at lunch — a steal).
Of the new pizzas in town, Del Popolo (www.delpopolosf.com) is exceptional. Its much-hyped — and expensive — $180,000 pizza truck boasts a 5000-pound wood-burning oven from Naples. The national press of course means long lines. But even when it’s parked downtown in Mint Plaza (follow on Twitter for locations: @PizzaDelPopolo), I find if I arrive a few minutes before “opening” at 11:30am, I avoid a line and have my pie within 10-15 minutes. Del Popolo serves only two to three basic pizzas ($10-14), including the classic Italian margherita: a glory of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil on a doughy crust laden with luxurious pools of olive oil, more akin to the incredible pies at Una Pizza Napoletana than thinner, but still bona fide, versions at say Beretta or Gialina.
In a different style, the other noteworthy newcomer — which is ultimately not so new — is Russian Hill’s Gioia (2240 Polk, SF. 415-359-0971, www.gioiapizzeria.com/sf). With pies cooked in a deck oven rather than a wood-fired one, Gioia’s pizzas hark back to the East Coast. Not your greasy, fold-in-half NY slice (such as you’ll find at Arinell), but New York-spirited, with hearty crust and California-fresh toppings — think Brooklyn’s Roberta’s, yet years before Roberta’s existed. Opened in 2004, North Berkeley’s Gioia has long been on my list of beloved places I don’t get to often enough. Husband-wife owners Will and Karen Gioia have made the SF locale a full-on restaurant rather than take-out shop like their other location. The bright, open space, with marble bar countertop, gleaming white tiles, and jars of house-pickled items lining the walls, is industrial but not cold, with the kitchen in full view.
Gioia’s pizzas (12-inch is $16, 18-inch is $27) are thankfully sold by the slice as well as whole pie. I know it can be impractical, but I long for all pizza joints to offer slices of every pie they make. Obviously, I have professional reasons to taste as much as possible, but even when I didn’t, I’d sample the entire menu at any given place if I could. There’s the fishy fun of acciughe (Sicilian anchovy) pizza doused in Calabrian chiles, and oregano, next to a gorgeous asparagus ricotta pie laden with asparagus, red onions, chiles, ricotta, pecorino cheese. The “white” (sauceless) Julian is heartwarming with fatty prosciutto cotto, parsley, red onion, garlic, aged provolone, chilis. Alongside asparagus ricotta, my favorite reflects the other side of the coin, the salsiccia: housemade Sicilian sausage, pecorino, and Ryan’s pickled peppers.
Suffice it to say, pizza is still the number one reason to visit Gioia — just as satisfying and special as it has been in Berkeley these eight-plus years. In addition to the pies, there’s a classic Caesar ($9) with no visible Sicilian anchovies (though listed), merely a hint in the dressing. At lunch there are sandwiches, at dinner joys like fried squid with broccoli di cicco, spring onions, pimenton, and Meyer lemon aioli ($12), or pasta shells stuffed with ricotta, spinach, and nettles in red sauce ($17). The just-launched brunch (naturally) tops pizza with an egg, but also dishes up buttermilk flapjacks and frittatas.
As is typical, I prefer to go off hours, midday or whenever I can avoid the crowds already flocking here. No reservations means dinner hours can be rough although add your name to a waiting list and you’ll get a text when you’re up. Grabbing a slice to go is ideal any time as Gioia is blessedly open all day. In a city awash with world-class pizza, Gioia is a refreshing and welcome addition.
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