December 18, 2011

Pizza East of the Bay Bridge

I consider pizza the perfect food - it is simple, contains only a few ingredients, and can be eaten with your hands. So, what makes a perfect pizza? There is probably no right or wrong answer to this question; however, in my opinion thin crust, quality ingredients, and simplicity contribute to making a pizza superb. On my recent trip to the San Francisco bay area I visited my favorite pizza place in the east bay and discovered a new one.

On my first day on the east side of the bay bridge I met up with my friend at Oliveto Cafe in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland. Located in the Rockridge Market Hall (a collection of gourmet shops) this Italian cafe is downstairs to a more formal Oliveto Restaurant. The atmosphere of the cafe is neighborly and warm. We joined the other diners at a small table and ordered pizza with salt cod, tomato, and parmesan cheese. To accompany that we also got a green salad, and a roasted beet salad. The fresh greens were served with a simple vinaigrette and the beets were earthy and delicious. Then we moved onto the most important course of the meal - the pizza. The crust was made with whole wheat flour, giving it a rich nutty flavor. It was thin and chewy with crisp edges and I loved it. The salt cod, tomato, and parmesan were strong flavors but not overwhelming and perfectly balanced by the whole wheat crust. It was a perfect, delicious lunch! Eating at Oliveto had the feeling of a comfortable but fashionable cafe.

My favorite place to eat pizza in Berkeley, CA is less elegant, but equally delicious. It is Cheese Board Pizza Collective on Shattuck Street in the so called Gourmet Ghetto area of the city. This neighborhood is home to several wonderful restaurants, including Alice Water’s famed Chez Panisse. Across and about a block down the street from that acclaimed restaurant is Cheese Board Collective and it’s sister pizza shop. These shops began in 1967 as a small cheese shop and today they sell over 400 different varieties of cheese. The business is a worker owned cooperative and they make one kind of fabulous pizza everyday for lunch.

Yes, that is correct one kind of pizza per day. And each day brings a new round creation. Customers can purchase whole pies, half pies, or slices until they sell out. The toppings change daily, feature seasonal ingredients, include fantastic cheese from the shop next door, and are always vegetarian. Every time I had Cheese Board Pizza the toppings were fresh, creative, and delicious. On the day I visited Cheese Board the pizza of the day was zucchini, red onion, feta, mozzarella, and basil pesto with pine nuts. By the time my friend and I arrived the line for get today’s pies already stretched out of the restaurant and down the block. We joined the other hungry diners in line and awaited our turn to order.

When our opportunity arrived we ordered half a pizza and a salad to share. Pizza at Cheese Board is served on woven basket plates with brown paper on top and biodegradable spudware (utensils made from potatoes). The salads at Cheese Board are just as creative and delicious as the pizzas - our salad contained mixed greens, apples, and green olives with lemon vinaigrette. The pizza was fantastic! The crust was thin and chewy and the toppings had fresh and vibrant flavors. The salad was also very good - but lunch here is really all about the pizza and the fun atmosphere! While we were there the cafe was packed and there was a jazz band playing in the corner. It was a perfect Berkeley lunch - delicious pizza, good music, and a vibrant neighborhood atmosphere!


Bethany said...

LOVE the pizza reviews. My favorite in SF is The Plant Cafe Organic on the Embarcadero. It's heavenly- large, soft on the inside and crispy on the edges, and full of natural flavors. I always looked forward to it when I regularly traveled to San Francisco. Actually, that sounds great right about now...

Margo said...

*Drool* and it's 9am here. Have I ever told you that I think pizza makes the perfect breakfast? Gourmet ghetto is fine, particularly since I'm in pjs :)

Jessica said...

@ Beth - I like the Plant Cafe too! But, my favorite pizzas in the city of San Francisco are Pizzeria Delfina or Flour + Water. Delfina has 2 locations - in Castro and Pacific Heights. Flour + Water normally has a ridiculously long wait if you don't arrive exactly when they open or have a reservation. But, both are fantastic!

@ Margo - I think pizza is an excellent breakfast food too! Actually I think it's the perfect food for any meal! :-)