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Pizza Madness 2009: I Left My Heartburn in San Francisco

And my documentation of Pizza Madness 2009 continues. Here, I'm just going to roll up my San Francisco leg into one post, since A) I had trouble getting photos in some of these darkened joints and B) this is where the Neapolitan pies really started to blur together. The Mgmt.

As I said in an earlier post documenting "Pizza Madness 2009," I knew Seattle and San Francisco were going to kick my pizza-eating ass. I was well-prepared for San Francisco going in, since I've now visited the city a handful of times and am familiar with transit options. But I had only two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) to visit a number of geographically diverse pizzerias. And, as is the custom of many of the Neapartisanal places I'd be going to, most were only open for dinner service.

Pizzeria Delfina

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The Margherita pie from Pizzeria Delfina, from a January 2009 visit. [Photographs: Adam Kuban]

I hit the ground running after arriving at SFO around noon, taking the BART to 24th and Mission and ducking into Pizzeria Delfina. I'd visited once before (my first time documented here) and wanted to go yet again, since I hadn't been in some time and because a commenter on that post (Pizzaologist) mentioned that consistency was an issue at Delfina.

At least from what I've had, I found no consistency issues. My pizza on this visit was very good—which was in keeping with what I remembered from January of this year. Having had a number of Neapolitan-style pies in the last few days, I was prepared for a certain level of ennui to affect my judgment, but I found Delfina's product superior to the Neapolitan-style places I tried in Portland (Nostrana) and Seattle (Tutta Bella and Via Tribunali): a flavorful, crisp-chewy crust (even from the gas-fueled oven there); a tangy sauce; and high-quality, creamy cheese.

"Would definitely eat here again," I noted. A sentiment not entirely unaffected by the fact that the awesome, awesome Bi-Rite Creamery is just across the street. (OMG, the balsamic-strawberry ice cream there is the bomb; as is about everything else.)

Pizzaiolo

After Delfina, I made my way to Girl Slice's parents' house, where I was staying for this leg (thanks, Girl Slice's parents!). I visited and chatted for a bit, recombobulated, and recharged my electronics before taking BART out to Oakland for visit to Pizzaiolo, Charlie Hallowell's celebrated wood-oven, Neapolitan-style pizzeria. Had a very good and much-needed salad and the Margherita. Good crust, simple if fairly standard sauce, but OMG, EXCELLENT CHEESE. So creamy, buttery, and almost nutty. This was by far the best fresh mozzarella I'd taste on the entire trip. But when it came down to it, the rest of the pie was not as memorable.

Emilia's Pizzeria

Emilia's Pizzeria, whole pie

I first visited Emilia's Pizzeria during a friends-and-family night in early September before the place was officially open to the public. But I wanted to see how it held up under normal operating conditions so I dropped in, surprising owner-pizzaiolo Keith Froelich, who had only one ball of dough left as I arrived none too soon (whew).

Had a half plain–half sausage pie. Was pretty much as I experienced in September, which is to say awesome.

Some belated news for you, as of late October, Emilia's is whole-pie only. Only a handful of people ever ordered by the slice, Froelich said, and it was easier to take orders for pies than have a long line for slices, anyway.

Flour + Water

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It was getting on in the night when I left Emilia's, and I was tired, but I knew Flour + Water was open late — a rarity among Bay Area pizzerias. So I took the BART back to 24th and Mission for a quick visit before I hit the hay for the night. Flour + Water has been making waves in San Francisco since its debut in May of this year. With opening pizza-maker Jon Darsky coming from Pizzeria Delfina and, before that, Pizzaiolo, the type of praise this place is garnering should come as no surprise. (FYI: SF Weekly has a great Q&A with Darsky.) But my half sausage–half-Margherita pie left me wanting more. The crust and sauce were nearly indistinguishable from Pizzaiolo's product—very good but not mindblowingly great—and it didn't have that amazing cheese that Pizzaiolo did. (Of course, now some smart aleck is probably going to come along in the comments here and tell me they both source the cheese from the same place.)

Anyway, like Nostrana in Portland, Oregon, it seemed like Flour + Water, despite the name, was more about the food than the pizza. All around me, people were ordering inventive and delicious-sounding appetizers (warm potato and lamb's tongue salad, lavender smoked duck breast with persimmon, beets, cress, and walnut) and entrées (roasted pork leg and smoked belly, seared pheasant breast with roasted pumpkin purée) and going all ooh-and-ahh and making the faces you'd expect to go with those noises. The two couples down the bar from me were engaged in a thoughtful though absurd discussion of wine and wine stores and marveling at the wine list. In all, it seemed more like a great restaurant (in a heretofore underserved area) that served good pizza rather than a destination pizzeria. Given that the walk from their respective BART stations are almost equidistant, if I were in the game for pizza, I'd head to Pizzeria Delfina before I trekked to Flour + Water.

A16

A16, whole pie

I was up early Wednesday morning to get a jump on my day. I uploaded some photos to Flickr, checked my various Twitter accounts, and headed out. I had only two places on my list—Pizzeria Picco, over the Golden Gate Bridge in Larkspur; and Tomasso's in North Beach in San Francisco. My plan was to Zipcar out to Pizzeria Picco for its 5 p.m. opening time and be back on the road into San Francisco at 6 p.m. Figured I'd hit Tomasso's around 7 p.m. at the latest. After all, the googs told me it was a 28-minute drive. I figured 45 minutes, to be safe.

I was all set to eat a much-coveted nonpizza lunch at La Corneta. Oh, how I was looking forward to a burrito and some agua fresca. And then I remembered A16. Seeing as how I had yet to try it, I figured I had to do my due diligence as a pizza dude and get there for lunch, even though the last thing I was looking forward to eating at this point was another Neapolitan-style Margherita pizza. So I set out on on the 43-Masonic bus to the Marina District. Fun times.

The Margherita at A16 was one of the better ones I had in the Bay Area. My list so far ranked, in order, Pizzeria Delfina > Pizzaiolo > A16 > Flour + Water. A16 was almost on a par with Pizzaiolo. Would have been right there if it could touch that amazing cheese at Pizzaiolo. This was easily the best VPN-certified place I'd had yet (and would turn out to be the best VPN-certified pizzeria on my trip). Here's the upskirt, which I had to take outside the pizzeria, since they were already looking at me funny for shooting the photo above:

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I had a favorable impression of A16's pie — and then I added some chile oil to it. That shit puts it over the top. With a Mexican Coke accompanying this pie, I was no longer mourning the loss of my Corneta burrito.

Pizzeria Picco

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So, yeah. Made the trek back to Glen Park to pick up a Zipcar and figured I'd be in Larkspur by 4:50 p.m. That was before I remembered that the Bay Bridge broke. "No biggie," I thought, "that just means a bunch of unlucky saps can't get to the East Bay. I'll just encounter some heavier traffic in the city itself, but things will clear once I head over the Golden Gate."

Yeah, right. Unfamiliar with Bay Area traffic patterns, I had no idea that shit would be tragic up 101 to Larkspur. What should have been "28 minutes," according to Google Maps, TOOK THREE HOURS.

But you know what? The pies I had at Pizzeria Picco WERE WORTH EVERY MINUTE crawling the 13 miles from Marina and Fillmore (where the gridlock started) through Marin County.

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This was Neapolitan-style pizza taken to the next level. And I'm not just saying that 'cause I was hungry (I wasn't—I actually ended up stopping at Corneta anyway). The Margherita was refreshingly good. Salty, savory, tangy, and flavorful. And the Cannondale (house-made sausage, roasted red peppers, spring onions, mozzarella, grana Padano, and basil leaves) was just something else entirely. (Yes, it's named after the bicycle brand, as are most of the pies; chef-pizzaiolo Bruce Hill is a big bike nerd.) I'm not sure I have much more to say in addition to L.A. Pizza Maven's rave review of Picco.

Even after a two-hour return trip, I still thought this pizza was worth it. I only hope the homeless dude I gave the leftovers to appreciated it as much! (See also: the homeless man I gave my Serious Pie leftovers to.)

Unfortunately, the crashing Bay Bridge catastrophe and nightmare traffic put the kibosh on my visiting Tomasso's. So it was back to Girl Slice's parents' place for some much-needed decompression and mental preparation for my first-time visit to La La Land aka Los Angeles. (Which I will blog about tomorrow, folks.)

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