San Francisco: Well-Topped New York-Style Pizza at Pi Bar
Pi Bar Pizza
1432 Valencia Street, San Francisco CA 94110 (map); 415-558-9991; pibarsf.com/
Pizza style: New York–style with a California twist
Oven type: Gas
The skinny: Great toppings and great beer.
Price: 15-inch pizza starts at $14; 21-inch at $20; toppings are $2.50 to $4.50
Pi Bar, the rational San Francisco pizzeria named after the irrational and transcendental number (thanks private school education/Wikipedia!), hits nearly every note perfectly in its quest to bring delicious New York–style pizza to the city.
Pi plays a few clever games with customers. The name is a play on math and pizza, two favorite activities of engineer-laden San Francisco. From opening time at 3:14 p.m. until 6:28 p.m. every day, the "Pi R Square Special" is available: a single slice of cheese pizza and a pint of the beer of the day for $6.28. The beer is of the craft variety (and usually a local one at that), making it a steal in this town.
The menu is curated with great care. The meatballs and sausage are both made in-house. The flour, block mozzarella, and tomato purée all come from local family-owned companies. Anchovies are fresh, not canned. You can get your pizza topped with slabs of Nueske's bacon or onions sautéed in balsamic vinegar. The litany of choices makes it difficult to order.
I couldn't pass up the Death by Mushrooms pizza. The chef makes a duxelles and mixes it with Moonlight Brewing's fantastic "Death and Taxes" black beer. Since moderation is not a strong suit of mine, I added portobellos as a topping, along with the balsamic onions.
The sauce was delicious when I caught a taste of it, but despite having such charismatic ingredients, it didn't really make its presence known. The balsamic onions had a sweet pungency. The portobellos were chewy and rich, adding a nice dose of umami. The Belfiore mozzarella was salty and flavorful without being overwhelming.
The crust of the pizza was classic New York–style, made from Guisto's Peak Performer flour with a little malted barley added. It was very thin underneath the pizza, but it erupted into a full, bready lip around the outer edge. Once folded, the crust only cracked toward the edge of the slice, and maintained its structural integrity elsewhere.
I topped the plain tomato sauce pizza with balsamic onions, kalamata olives and housemade sausage. Like the other pizza, this pie could have used more sauce. I asked for some on the side and was thoroughly impressed. The sauce was rich but balanced with a nice acidity and a peppery bite, with visible chunks of garlic. It was a really delicious dipping sauce for the pizza crust.
The kalamata olives were large and a bit milder than usual, which was nice, since they can often overpower a pizza. The sausage blew me away. It was sweet at the first chew, followed by a hint of spiciness, and then plenty of fennel and other herbs to add complexity. Most impressive, the sausage was tender and savory, without any bits of gristle. This sausage was all killer, no filler.
Bottom line: Pi Bar serves solid New York–style pizza with excellent toppings, and fancy brews on the side. If you prefer only a gentle hint of sauce on your pie, this pizza will rock your world.