A Hamburger Today
San Francisco: Pizza at Blondie's Doesn't Justify the Crowds
2340 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley CA 94704; (map); 510-548-1129
63 Powell Street, San Francisco CA 94102; (map); 415-982-6168
Getting there: BART to Downtown Berkeley for the Berkeley store; BART to Powell Street for the San Francisco store
Pizza style: New York-style, I guess
Oven type: Gas
The skinny: A local institution with droves of customers, but mediocre pizza.
Price: Regular slice, $3.23; daily special slice, $3.46
"Make pizza, not war." It's a slogan befitting a pizza place with its roots in Berkeley, California, the historical epicenter of hippiedom. Blondie's Pizza embraces their flower power pedigree, choosing toppings that pizza purists might find distinctly psychedelic—and not always in the good trip sort of way. Though I'm no purist, I struggled with the toppings, and finding them layered on top of a disappointing crust left me slightly aghast at the droves of customers who choose Blondie's over other local slice shops.
Most people come to Blondie's for New York–style pizza by the slice. It comes in the typical flavors, with the added bonus of a daily special slice. These specials can be as staid as tomatoes with roasted garlic and basil, or as overloaded as Blondie's "Hyphy Pizza," which comes with jalapenos, pepperoni, olives, and pineapple. Of course, you can order whole pies too, and this becomes a sort of build-your-own operation, with a choice of crust (thick, New York, or whole wheat) and sauce (tomato, pesto, white garlic). If you're feeling frisky, all of the 17 possible daily specials are always available as whole pies. For this review, I paid a visit to both Blondie's locations—San Francisco and Berkeley—ordering by the slice, and making sure to try the daily special.
The crust at Blondie's is bland and slightly sweet. Think Wonder Bread pizza. At the San Francisco location, in particular, I found it soft and bready, with no crispness at all. Not exactly what I hope for in a New York-style slice. The Berkeley location appeared to have left their pies in the oven longer, and there was some crunch at the edge. However, that didn't stop the bottom two-thirds of my pepperoni slice from taking a nose-dive towards the plate as soon as I picked it up.
The cheese formed a slightly tough skin across the top of the plain slice. Immediately noticeable were the orange squiggles that dotted the otherwise white cheese-scape. This wasn't grease, but rather strands of cheddar, which Blondie's mixes in with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan. I found this cheese mixture salty, but not particularly flavorful. The sauce beneath was herbaceous, though largely obscured by the cheese on top. I was underwhelmed.
The daily specials I tried at both locations were chicken-centric. On the Pesto Chicken slice in the San Francisco shop, the chicken was way too dry, and stringy to boot. The pesto lacked moisture as well, giving the pizza a mealy quality and surprisingly little additional flavor.
But the Berkeley location managed serve up moist meat on their BBQ Chicken slice. The thin slices of dark meat chicken had been marinated in BBQ sauce and could easily have been mistaken for bacon. Had they served this slice sauceless, it could have been a contender. But slathered with BBQ sauce, the pizza was so sweet it became cloying.
Since the Berkeley store is located on Telegraph Avenue, and the San Francisco store is just up the block from the famous cable car turnaround, Blondie's Pizza is typically mobbed by starving students and tourists. And their pizza has plenty of fans. I hope I won't raise their ire too much when I state my opinion that Blondie's Pizza simply isn't that good. After all, I'd much rather make pizza than war. But just not this pizza.