Pizza Hunter

| March 19, 2005 | 11 Comments
  • 11 Comments

My friends and colleagues don’t really like to bring up the subject of pizza in front of me. I have quite strong opinions when it comes to the topic, and some people might even think that I have a tendency to go off the deep end. Okay, well, most people. But truly, what is better than a perfect pizza? To me, when it’s perfect, it is the perfect food.

A perfect pizza comes fresh out of the blistering heat of a wood- or coal-fired oven (often around 800F!) and should be eaten as soon as possible (while avoiding the burn!). I am partial to the Margherita pizza because I think it shows off the best qualities of a pizza: a crisp chewy crust, fresh tomato sauce, just the right amount of top-quality mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. Of course, housemade sausage, roasted peppers, and sometimes anchovies are all welcome on my pizza too, depending upon my mood.

Over a decade ago I discovered this perfect pizza on a trip to New York City. John’s Pizza on Bleecker in the Village became my gold pizza standard. (It is how I have described the perfect pizza above, although covered with crispy-edged slices of meatballs.) Unfortunately I live on the west coast, where finding a good pizza, much less the perfect pizza, is painfully difficult. Yes, you can get a great thin-crust pizza at Oliveto and Chez Panisse, but I’m talking about the real deal pizza place. A pizzeria. (And I’m not talking about one of those by-the-slice places. As far as I’m concerned, only a place that sells whole pies, no slices, is serious about their pizza. More on that in another blog.)

When I first moved here, I started looking for pizza. This was back in 1994. The best pizza I found back then, and which I still love to this day (although it has been surpassed as my ultimate Bay Area pizza), was Tommaso’s. Tommaso’s is a family-run Italian restaurant in North Beach that has been around since 1935. It’s a great, casual, old-school kind of place. In the last few years, 3 other fantastic restaurants have opened that offer pizza as the main draw: Pizzetta 211 (well-known by any pizza hunter worth their salt), A16 (true Napoli-style pizza at its finest), and Dopo (beautiful thin-crust Roman-style pizza). I could go on and on about each of these places, the different styles of their pizza, how I love all three but for very different reasons, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. I still want a pizzeria. A real deal pizzeria, old-school pizzeria. Like you find in NY, New Haven, Rome, and Naples. Must I go to the east coast every time I want this experience? Fly to Italy?

Oh no. As I discovered last weekend, you can remain on this coast and still find fantastic NY-style pizza perfection. Unfortunately, it is not in the Bay Area. Nor is it in California. No, my friend, you do have to get on a plane and fly to Portland. I know, I had my serious doubts too, but when my brother’s girlfriend Amy (sister pizza hunter) started raving about this place, and became a weekly regular, I knew I had to try it.

Apizza Scholls started life in a small town outside of Portland as Scholls Public House. Recently (in January), due to a variety of reasons, the pizzeria relocated to SE Portland. The owners and pizzaiolos of Apizza Scholls take their pizza very seriously, as it should be. They strive to make the best pizza, using the best-quality freshest ingredients, and make only as many pizzas as they have dough. They even have rules: only 3 ingredients on one pie, and only 1 meat per pie. No meat-lovers pizza here. I love this place. And when this much love and determination goes into a pizza, everybody wins.

We ordered one of their amazing Caesar salads, 2 Margherita pies, and 1 sausage. Both pies had the ideal balance of crisp-chewy, thin-but-not-too-thin crust; fresh tomato sauce; and a blend of high-quality cheese, all topped with basil or housemade sausage. The pies come directly from the blistering 650F-900F oven and are so hot you will hurt yourself if you try to eat it immediately. Not that that stopped us. It was so amazing that it was hard to get the picture of it (above) before everyone was digging in.

So, I’ve found my gold standard. I wish it was in the Bay Area. But until a pizzeria of this caliber comes to my town, I’ll just have to start building up my frequent flyer miles.

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, restaurants, bars, cafes, reviews

About the Author ()

Kim Laidlaw is a cookbook author, editor, food writer, producer, project manager, and baker who has been in the kitchen covered in flour since she was big enough to stir the biscuit dough. She has over 16 years of experience in book and online publishing, and a lifetime of experience in the kitchen. Her first cookbook, Home Baked Comfort, was published in 2011; her second cookbook, Baby & Toddler On the Go, was published in April 2013; and her third cookbook, Williams-Sonoma Dessert of the Day, was published in October 2013. She was the first blogger on KQED’s Bay Area Bites blog, which launched in 2005, and previously worked as a professional baker at La Farine French Bakery in Oakland, CA. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and their toddler, whom she cooks for everyday. Find out more at http://www.kimlaidlaw.com.
  • James

    although [Tommasso’s] has been surpassed as my ultimate Bay Area pizza

    Out of interest, by what? One of the other 3 restaurants you mention?

  • Apizza Scholls

    Dear Pizza Hunter,

    Thank you for your kind words about our pizza. Since you are from the Bay Area and wish we were there, I just had to let you know that it is our plan to open up a pizzeria in SF in the future. No dates or timeline yet, but my wife and I hope to do this by 2010 if all works out.

    Best Regards,
    Brian Spangler
    Owner/Chef
    Apizza Scholls

  • Kim Goodfriend

    YAY Brian! That is the best news I’ve had in…well, a long time. You would be so welcomed here in the Bay Area. But until that time (which seems so far away), I’ll just have to continue to visit you in Portland.

    James, in answer to your question, yes, I tend to visit A16, Dopo, and Pizzetta more often to get my pizza fix, although I still have a place in my heart for Tommaso’s. Besides, all 4 places offer different styles of pizza and I appreciate all of them.

    Happy hunting!

  • DeniseSLinc

    Although I’m a huge fan of Dopo and go there regularly, I also occassionally go to Arizmendi, in Oakland on Lakeshore Avenue. Their pizza is baked in a bread oven (as Arizmendi is a bakery). Every day they offer a different vegetarian pizza. The toppings can be a bit untraditional, such as using lemon zest, and the crust is a little thick, but it’s a consistently solid choice for pizza in the East Bay. If possible, have it baked there and either eat it on the spot or rush it home. They also offer half-baked pizzas that you can finish off in your own oven, but unless you have a pizza stone, it’s better to eat it fresh from the Arizmendi bread oven.

  • Anonymous

    I think California pizza perhaps should be in another category, apart from the very excellent New York style pizza. Like for example, the Cheeseboard, or the place mentioned above, feature great crusty pizza with fancy schmancy ingredients, delicious in its own right, but perhaps not comparable to the east coast stuff.

  • gianni w

    My vote goes, after trying all the aforementioned pies, to the Cheese Board. Not Dopo thin, not Zachary’s thick,but just right with great cheeses (what else would you expect from CB)and inventive toppings (wild mushroom pretty damn heavenly). So what if it’s not a conventional NY pizza like Johns with the same choices year in year out. What the hell’s wrong with a little variety.

  • gimble

    I too love the Cheese Board pizza. Another great non-traditional East Bay pizza place is Pizza Pazza on Piedmont Ave in Oaland. All organic ingredients. Try a combo of their pesto and tomato sauces.

    I grew up in New York City without a whole lot of money, so I was never able to develop a belief that a place that sells only slices is no good. Slices of pizza and hot dogs from Gray’s Papaya were what I lived off of for far too long. As a result, you would think they would turn me off, but they are instead the comfort foods of my youth.

    Toward that end, the closest I have come to a walk-in, grab-a-slice, walk-down-the-street-like- John-Travolta, New York pizza experience is Arinell’s… They have a pizza place on Valencia in the Mission and one in Berkeley. They must even get their water from New York, because their slices taste just like the very first pizza I had growing up. And the Sicilian pie is *exactly* as I remember New York pizza parlors serving it up.

    Now if only they made zeppole and served orange soda, they would be perfect.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the recommendations. Everyone should check out Gioia’s Pizzeria at 1586 Hopkins Street in Berkeley. Great thin crust pizza.

  • Kim Goodfriend

    I have to agree that for a really great slice, I would go to the Cheese Board or to Arinell’s. They are both great for what they are, but it’s still just not my ultimate gold standard. But everyone’s tastes are different. Look how popular Zachary’s is.

  • Anonymous

    Pizza, Pizza, Pizza…

    NYPizza is a slice. It has to have cheese and tomato sauce (Neopolitan). That leaves out some of the mentioned places. Also, what is missing in the Bay Area is trying to get pizza at off days and hours. I’ve driven to Gioia twice only to find them closed. Also, standing on line and trying to find parking makes the effort frustating. So far, (26 years), my favorite is Arinelle’s in Berkeley. Escape From NY (Portland only) is my west coast favorite – NY Times sitting all over the place, and the same people working there for years, not to mention feeling at ease with my still noticable accent.

  • alison

    Gioia’s may be hard to find open, but is well worth it when it is. Perfect crust, sauce and toppings. Cheese Board pizza is also great (doesn’t matter what the daily special is, it’s all good), as is Arinell’s.