Berkeley, California: Bobby G's Pizzeria
Please welcome Brad Japhe (Diehard Nation) to the Slice fold. (Or should I say "fold hold"?) Brad will be around periodically with pizza reviews from around the Bay Area. His first is from this joint in Berkeley that reminds Mr. Japhe of where he grew up--NYC--but that has one distinct advantage ... burp!. Take it away, Brad! —The Mgmt.
Bobby G's Pizzeria
Great beer and great pizza—is there really a better combination? Probably, but I doubt it's legal. For my money, nothing satisfies the taste buds like a hot, handmade pizza washed down with a cold craft-made brew.
Coming from New York City, I'd have to go out of my way to not find a terrific pizza parlor, ubiquitous as they are throughout the Big Apple landscape. Yet here lies the rub: The best pizza I get is New York–style from back home, but the best beer I ever drink is West Coast–style IPAs from right here in California. As far as I know, teleportation is as of yet outside the realm of scientific capability, so alas I find myself stuck in a state of transcontinental flux, geographically torn between the coasts that I love.
That was, of course, until I discovered Bobby G's Pizzeria in my surrogate hometown of Berkeley, California, where bartender and proprietor Robert Gaustad has found a way to merge my simple pleasures into a fully functional East Coast–style pizzeria for beer-drinkers. And this guy takes beer seriously. I mean, you should see his face drop when a hapless patron is unlucky enough to sheepishly ask for a Bud or Coors Light. You might as well ask this lifelong Yankees fan to turn on a Red Sox game for you. Not happening.
Robert runs his bar and pizzeria the way any self-respecting New Yorker does—exactly how he wants to. He knows good beer, he knows good food and quality ingredients, and he demands his restaurant serve just that. The result is a friendly establishment that draws from both East and West Coast sensibilities to create something truly unique.
This uniqueness can be found, for example, in his pan-fried pizza, something I have not seen on either coast in all of my pizza-inspired pilgrimages. Supposedly a speciality in Naples (where it goes by the name pizzelle fritte or montanare) the pizza-maker rolls out a small portion of dough and fries it on a pan in a smattering of olive oil, occasionally covering the pan until the dough is crisped. He then covers the fried dough in the traditional collection of Neapolitan toppings and puts it into the oven for a quick reheating. The final product has a crisper bite than most thin crusts but also delivers a crunchy and oil-panned flavor not usually found in the crusts of thinner pizzas.
Gaustad makes this style at Bobby G's alongside Neapolitan, Sicilian, and New York–style round pies.
Now let me briefly tell you something about beer. True beer contains—to a varying degree—the divine bitterness of Humulus lupulus—aka "hops." About 50 miles north of here in Santa Rosa, California, Russian River brewmaster Vinny Cilurzo has balanced out the bitterness of hops into a refined complexity that he calls Pliny the Elder, named after the Roman jack-of-all-trades who originally classified the plant. Pliny the Elder is the grandaddy of imperial IPA, which is kind of like a regular IPA, only on crack, as it typically weighs in at above 7 percent alcohol by volume. Pliny is 8 percent, but you would just never know from drinking it because of how masterfully brewed this libation is. In my life I have never tried anything quite like it. I know this, real beer drinkers know this, and Gaustad knows this, and we're all the better for it.
Traditional New York– and Sicilian-style pizza is available by the slice and offered with a bevy of toppings that would satisfy Alice Waters and Alice Cooper alike. I ordered mine with crumbled free-range sausage that came served with added mozzarella, melted atop. It had a satisfying initial crispiness that wasn't overpowered by innards that were too doughy. All I really ask of exemplary New York–style pizza is that it maintains rigidity during the fold, and I am gracious to see that this slice can literally hold its own.
If you're a New York expat like me looking to feel at home in the exotic wilderness of Northern California, look no further than Bobby G's on University and Shattuck in the commercial epicenter of Berkeley. If the style and preparation of the pizza doesn't remind you of home, the live Yankees games—on all season long—will do the trick. Or perhaps you're a Mets fan. In that case, finding quality pizza is the least of your concerns.
For the combined nirvana that is great pizza and real beer, Bobby G's might just be better than a lot of the best Big Apple pizzerias. Because if you think you're gonna find a pizzeria in the five boroughs carrying a selection of ales like this on draft, fugheddaboutit!