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Oakland, California: High-Quality Neapolitan Pizza at Boot & Shoe Service

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[Photographs: David Kover]

Boot & Shoe Service

3308 Grand Avenue, Oakland CA map); 510-763-2668; bootandshoeservice.com
Pizza style: Neapolitan-inspired
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: More excellent pizza from Charlie Hallowell of Pizzaiolo fame
Price: Pizzas, $10 to $16

The exterior of Charlie Hallowell's first restaurant, Pizzaiolo, is so nondescript that LA Pizza Maven claims to have driven right past—twice—when he went to review it last year. Hallowell has gone one better with his newest spot, giving it as un-pizza-y a name as he could muster: Boot & Shoe Service. (It was named after a former business in the same space.) Nice try, Charlie, but as the lines outside will attest, we'll still find you and your excellent pizza.

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The mission at Boot & Shoe is much the same as at Pizzaiolo. Neapolitan-inspired pizzas are topped with locally sourced ingredients and cooked in a wood-fired Mugnaini oven. The menu of about eight pies rotates regularly, but Hallowell's greatest hits from Pizzaiolo have a permanent spot on Boot & Shoe's menu as well. Though I had intended to branch out, the potato-pancetta pie and the rapini-sausage pie both found their way to my table.

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Biting into the airy and tender cornicione of the pizza at Boot & Shoe Service, one discovers a faint sweetness, and a generous allotment of salt—a close look revealed the crystals speckling the crust's exterior. Who knows how the strange soup of Bay Area fog and micro-climates affects the rising of pizza dough from day-to-day and from restaurant to restaurant, but the cornicione at Boot & Shoe had puffed just a bit less than what I'd been served on a recent visit to Pizzaiolo. It had also browned more evenly, producing a firmer skin on the exterior, less sag in the middle. I found myself quite enjoying this extra crispness, though the thin undercarriage sometimes lacked a bit of the char that gives Pizzaiolo pies a great deal of their flavor.

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The Margherita at Boot & Shoe Service is a sauce-forward pie. The red sauce sang with the bright tang of raw San Marzanos. They use mozzarella curd, rather than finished balls of mozzarella, to top their pies at Boot & Shoe, and I'd have taken just a bit more of it. The tasty cheese chunks had been applied in little polka-dots, and so quite a few bites from this pie were sauce-only. True to Boot & Shoe's locavore mission, out-of-season basil was left off in favor of a sprinkling of parsley and marjoram. This meant that the herbs permeated the pie, instead of that aromatic burst here and there you'd get from a few fat leaves of basil. No matter what you think of some of these little deviations from tradition, this was a likable Margherita.

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The California-style toppings on Hallowell's other pies certainly celebrated the produce. If the sausage on the rapini-sausage pie was surprisingly mild; it allowed the grassy flavor of the greens to take center stage, with the pungency of some red onion providing a nice counterpoint.

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The sauceless potato-pancetta pie boasted a creaminess from the potatoes and Fontina cheese that paired well with the saltiness of the pancetta. Though beware: the pancetta was so powerfully salty that a pork-only bite could be a bit overwhelming. A gentle hand with some rosemary provided an aromatic background.

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The menu at Boot & Shoe Service is shorter than at Pizzaiolo—no pastas, no proper entree section (though a few entree-like dishes appear to hide amongst the Antipasti). Still, there are a few things to take note of beyond the pizzas. The crisp fritto misto is an addictive way to start a meal. The cocktails are worthy of attention as well. Gin and tonics get mixed with homemade tonic water that is spiced with whatever herbs happen to be growing in the bar manager's garden, producing a surprisingly-perfumed drink.

I suppose, at some point, we may reach wood-fired pizza saturation here in the Bay Area. For the time being, however, with one more high-quality place, people continue to wait in line for pizza. At Boot & Shoe Service, I will be there with them.

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