Gioia Pizzeria has earned our praise in the past for dishing out solid New York-style slices bedecked with thoughtfully-applied, California-style toppings. But the place is just so damned far away, tucked up there in North Berkeley, that it couldn't become a regular destination for those of us who live in San Francisco. Well, Will and Karen Gioia have brought their pizza to us.
A little over eight years after their original pizzeria opened in Berkeley, the Gioias have raised the curtain on a larger, spiffier place in San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhood. Where Gioia Pizzeria #1 had no aspirations to be anything more than a neighborhood slice shop (a shoe box-sized one, at that), Gioia #2 offers a full restaurant experience.
When Will Gioia showed us around the 50-seat space, he told us, "We still wanted to keep the sense of a neighborhood joint where you could come get a slice, but being chefs and wanting to sow our oats in the kitchen a little, more than just making pizza, we sought out a spot that could accommodate a full-size kitchen." So, the pies remain, but there's also a full range of dishes, from a soft shell crab appetizer, to several pasta dishes and main courses, like an entree of skirt steak with broccoli di cicco.
As for the pizza, the new spot only offers by-the-slice service during the daytime. The pies come in 18-inch and 12-inch sizes. Otherwise, they're the same Brooklyn-meets-California pies that Gioia serves over in Berkeley.
You'll still find The Julian, a pie named for the Gioias' four-year-old son, with toppings that change to match his temperament. "He's a spicy little kid," Gioia explained to us, and so the combinations on this pie usually have some heat. These days, it's sweet and spicy prosciutto cotto, along with some chili, red onion, garlic, and provolone. Though, take note, just because it bears his name, it doesn't mean Julian wants to eat this pizza. "He definitely likes the attention that he gets when he comes here, but he typically does not want The Julian because it's too spicy. His favorites are sausage and pepperoni," says Gioia.
The other pizzas run the gamut from simple pepperoni, to an asparagus and ricotta pie. Gioia says their topping ideas spring from a bit of whimsy, but also from traditional combinations within Italian cooking. It's also clear they're taking advantage of the talents of the newest members of their staff. Gioia's sous chef, Ryan Cantwell, is a pickling fiend, and so Gioia has been putting Cantwell's pickled peppers on the sausage pie at the new restaurant.